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COLUMN: Just so we’re clear, what exactly is racism?

Hail to the Chief


Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 21:01

It sounds silly at first, even when I say it to myself, but I’m not sure I understand what racism is.

Hear me out.

The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

I’d be very surprised if someone actually believed in his or her own superiority over another person just because that other person was of a different race. I’d even go so far as to say people in Utah do not think of themselves as racist.

But I think that’s the problem. I think the people considered racist don’t actually realize when they’re being discriminatory.

I mean, I can’t fathom — and I’m guessing it’s the same for others — hating someone because that person has a different skin color than I do or speaks a different language or whatever. I don’t understand why someone would ever want or be taught to hate anyone without an actual reason.

Not to say I’ve never hated anyone; I’ve had plenty of people who I’ve lost respect for because of one reason or another. I’ll even say I actually hated a few of them at one time. But that was because I didn’t approve of the way they conducted themselves around me or in the workplace or because — I’m a little embarrassed to admit — their voice just plain made my skin crawl.

But race, is that a real reason to dislike or discriminate against someone?

I remember as a child visiting my grandmother in a small Idaho town. There wasn’t much to do at her house, so my sister and I often resorted to wandering to the lot where the swimming pool and playground were located. We made friends there and brought some back to play in grandma’s yard.

I vividly remember Grandma’s stern, disgusted expression when she all but spat to my sister and I: “Don’t play with her, she’s Mexican.”

My sister and I responded with an identical “So?” that left Grandma speechless and unable to comprehend why her grandchildren didn’t share her backward, Great-Depression era views.

I’m sure my now-seemingly abrasive personality and sense of humor have left some with whom I’ve interacted feeling like I was the biggest jerk in the world. I’m sure some even thought I was racist.

I feel like diversity specialists and civil rights enthusiasts would jump at the chance to inform and educate me about racism with vague definitions designed not to hurt feelings. I feel like unknowingly racist people actually need to be shown specific examples from their own lives about what is considered racist.

It looks silly when I read it, but I’m guessing there are others who feel the same way I do, who have undoubtedly said or done something hurtful and racist without meaning to.

If we really want to end racism, we need to inform others — OK, inform ourselves — what everyday behavior is unacceptable in today’s society.

Tavin Stucki is the editor in chief of The Utah Statesman. His articles have won awards and appeared in numerous news publications throughout Utah. Send any comments to

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