"Race" first appeared in the English language around the 17th century. North Americans began to use the term in their scientific writings by the late 18th century. Racism began to be studied by scientists in the 19th century and at the time the ideology explained some political and economic conflicts in various parts of the world and legitimized the dominant role of British capitalism in the world economic system. Racism is universal and is evident in many different ethno-racial groups and is not limited to Caucasian groups.

By the mid-19th century, there was general agreement that the worlds population could be divided into a variety of races: groups of people who shared similar phenotypical attributes, eg, skin colour, hair texture. This process of race categorization is referred to as racialization and is necessary for the emergence of racism as an ideology. At this time, this ideology also explained political and economic conflicts in various parts of the world and legitimized the dominant role of British capitalism in the world economic system.

Core Beliefs of Racism

Racism is an ideology that claims the human species can be divided into discrete biological groupings that determine the behaviour, economic, and political success of individuals within that group. This belief views "races" as natural and fixed subdivisions of humans, each with its distinct and variable cultural characteristics and capacity for developing civilizations. Thus, the biological factors can be used to explain the social and cultural variations of humans. This ideology also includes the belief that there is a natural hierarchical ordering of groups of people so that superior "races" can dominate inferior ones. It is not a study of race or of the present inequality of certain groups in society, but it is an assertion that inequality is absolute and unconditional.

Racist thinking presumes that differences among groups are innate and not subject to change. Thus, intelligence, attitudes and beliefs are viewed as not affected by ones environment. The existence of groups at the bottom or top of the social hierarchy is interpreted as the natural outcome of an inferior or superior biological makeup and not the result of social influences. Racists reject social integration as the mixing of the group would result in the degeneration of the superior group. Racist ideology is based upon three false assumptions: 1) biological differences are equal to cultural differences; 2) biological makeup determines the cultural achievements of a group; and 3) biological makeup limits the type of culture a group can develop.

Research shows these assumptions are wrong and largely based on the untenable position that nature (biology) is a single causal agent. Evidence showing that differences within groups are greater than differences between groups, and that social factors have an impact on behaviour argue strongly against racist beliefs. In fact, although the concept of race is used in everyday language, primarily to denote different skin colours, it is not a useful biological descriptor.

Changing Racist Discourse

By the latter half of the 20th century, the concept of "race" was viewed as an inappropriate biological description and an integral component to a host of discredited political platforms, from eugenics to the holocaust. However, today, the political and scientific conceptions of race have changed to allow the idea of "race" to once again contain biological truth. The new ideas of origin emphasize genetics in relation to personal and social identity, which may be affected by the market because of the allocation of, and access to, genetic technologies. For example, research in the areas of genetic diagnosis, drug development and pharmaceutical marketing include the study of "race-specific" drugs. The study of diseases and illnesses that are specific to particular "races" (eg, sickle-cell anemia) support the "reality" that race is a factor in illness and disease. However, connections between genetics and race are presented in a more neutral, scientific and beneficial manner.

If biological differences are not easily discernible, racists invent biological differences (eg, size of nose, colour of eyes). Racism does not exist because of the presence of objective, physical differences among humans but rather the social recognition of such differences. The application of the results of the HUMAN GENOME PROJECT is one example of this renaissance of biological racism. Even though one of the most significant findings of the Human Genome Project is that humans are far more alike than they are different - 99.9% of the genetic material is the same for all humans - others focus on the differences. For example, the search for differences has led to the Haplotype Project which is focusing on the 0.1% difference in human genetic material and raises the question as to the importance of genetics and social behaviour.

Forms of Racism

The concept of racism has expanded since the 1960s when racism was usually applied to the treatment of individuals and the belief that one individual was "racially" inferior. The term broadened to include institutional racism describing political, economic and social institutions that operate to the detriment of a specific individual or group in a society. Cultural racism is based on the supposed incompatibility of cultural traditions rather than ideas of innate biological superiority.

Most definitions of racism fall into one of the five categories - biology, ideology, culture, structure and power. In the case of biological racism, this is a belief in innate differences as socially significant through the relationship between biology and social behaviour. As such, individuals are singled out for different treatment based on their phenotypical (observable physical or biochemical characteristics) traits. As an ideology, racism is defined as the belief that the human world can be divided into a set of fixed and discrete categories of population known as "race." Moreover, these racial categories can be arranged in ascending order in terms of acceptability and desirability, thereby establishing a hierarchy of superior and inferior races. Cultural racism has largely replaced the preoccupation with biological race and the issue is now about the dangers that foreign cultural practices pose to national unity, identity and citizenship.

Racism is not only about ideas and individual-level expressions of behaviour. It can also be reflected in the ways that social institutions operate by denying groups of people fair and equitable treatment. In this case we talk about structure and power, otherwise known as institutional racism.

Institutional racism is the power to establish what is normal, necessary and desirable and reinforces superiority or preferences for one group over another. A second form of institutional racism exists when policies, which were initially founded using ideas about groups as being "racially inferior" still exists even if the belief is no longer held. The Chinese head tax is an example of institutional racism that stemmed from the belief that immigrants would be a burden on the predominantly White Canadian society. Chinese immigration from 1880 to 1885 was tolerated to ensure the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and a more recent example is the temporary migration of Mexican season agricultural workers. The belief that "coloured" workers were racially suited for physical labour supported the use of temporary workers from these ethnic groups however they were not to be considered as potential Canadian citizens.

The third form of institutional racism exists when policies or programs seem racially neutral but either intentionally or unintentionally, put minority group members at a disadvantage. For example, in certain provinces the current process for selecting citizens for jury duty results in Aboriginal people rarely being selected. These dimensions of racism reveal that power, and individuals in positions of power, can create or perpetuate racialized policies.

Contemporary views on Racism

In the later half of 20th century, North American scholars argued there were racial differences in social behaviours. A. Jensen, an American educator claimed there were IQ differences between Blacks and Whites. R. Herrnstein and C. Murray supported Jensen's work and argued that general intelligence varied according to race and claimed to have detected a pattern showing differences between Asians, Whites and Blacks. In Canada, P. Rushdon claimed to detect a clear social and psychological ranking among Asians, Whites and Blacks, in that order, for some characteristics including sexual behaviour and intelligence. These claims have not been supported by other researchers and the results are not considered to be scientific. Nevertheless, it would seem that new forms of racism are emerging in which old, biologically based racism is being masked in racially neutral language and rearticulated in an attempt to make them more socially acceptable.

Examples of individual and institutional racism in Canada's history are evident in its restrictive immigration policies (seeCHINESE), and practices regarding Aboriginal people and non-White immigrants, particularly Asians, Blacks and Jews. Over the past quarter-century, the provincial and federal governments implemented legislation to combat racism. In some cases the government has taken individuals, eg, KEEGSTRA and ZUNDEL, to court under the HATE PROPAGANDA legislation in an attempt to stop them from spreading their racist beliefs. While blatant racist ideology is uncommon (eg, KU KLUX KLAN), examples of racist beliefs are still evident. Today, racism and discrimination is more commonly experienced by visible minorities and as Statistics Canada predicts that by 2017, more than 20% of the population will be a visible minority, more government programs are proactively addressing racism against ethnic groups.

Racism in Canada today tends to be more clandestine. Canada has federal and provincial legislation to protect individuals, groups, and cultural expressions, however forms of racism and discrimination persists. The CanadianHUMAN RIGHTSAct makes it is a discriminatory practice to communicate hatred. The Act protects Canadians from public statements that promote hatred, or incite hate against an identifiable group based on their ethnicity and/or skin colour. Media and cultural productions are slow to represent racial minorities and some marginalized groups are stereotyped and misrepresented, perpetuating some of the subtler racist beliefs and attitudes.

As part of the Canadian Constitution, the CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS specifically addresses the rights and freedoms that are necessary in a democratic society and all Canadian law must be consistent with this legislation. The equality of all Canadians is protected under the charter, in addition to specific rights guaranteed to Aboriginal peoples and the protection of Canada's multicultural heritage.

The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on individual characteristics including race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, etc. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act protects groups from cultural discrimination and is a commitment to new Canadians that they may retain aspects of their culture in Canada. (seeMULTICULTURALISM) Other key pieces of legislation include the Criminal Code of Canada which prohibits the promotion of hatred and hate propaganda, and the Employment Equity Act that protects against discriminatory hiring practices that disadvantage women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

See alsoANTI-SEMITISM; PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION.