Skip to main content

Prejudice vs. Racism

Politico-Socio issues stay ever with us. Gain perspective deciding if these words resonate with your understanding and thinking.


Confusion exists in American society about what is racism and what is prejudice. It is understandable because of the crossover, society seems to use the terms interchangeably. In popular culture, racism has been oversimplified. Youth call things "racist" describing points of view with which they do not agree. The true meaning of a racist, or racism is lost to the connotation dragon of popular culture. In this article, the differences between what is racism and what is prejudice receive attention.

What Is Prejudice?

  • A group of Muslim men walking down the street on the way to a meeting, dressed in their Friday Best, pass two women at a coffee shop. Clutching her purse prepared to bolt at any moment, a woman exclaims to her friend, "I bet they're going to blow something up!"
  • Glowering in disgust, an older man sees a frantic mother strap her screaming child in the car seat of her van before entering. Turning to his buddy sitting next to him in the truck he says, "I bet she hits a pole. Women just can't drive."
  • "Girl, let's cross the street. I am not trying to get robbed today," says a young woman to her friends when two Black teens walk toward them on the sidewalk outside a yogurt shop.
  • "Oh my gosh! Look at him wearing that pink shirt! He must be gay," accuses a teen girl of the boy she passes in the lunchroom at school to her sniggling friend in agreement.

These are examples of prejudice. Prejudice is the judgment of others based on preconceptions about others in reference to appearance, speech, origin, race, etc. without factual data or experience to reference. The misconception that a person is racist because he or she is prejudiced brands many people who are simply ignorant.

Modern society uses prejudice in the connotation of race in America. The word is synonymous with racism when it is only racial prejudice alone. What is the difference? Racial prejudice is judging a group of people based on a misconception associated with a significant portion of a racial group. It does not necessarily make the prejudiced person racist, but prejudice can lead to racism if education does not correct the perception.

As commonly used in psychology, prejudice is not merely a statement of opinion or belief, but an attitude that includes feelings such as contempt, dislike, or loathing.

— S. Plous

Prejudice Happens

Stanley Milgram's Lost Letter Experiment involved four entities, two of socially acceptable reputation and two of socially unacceptable reputation. Each entity had 100 letters, with postage paid, placed in different locations giving strangers the option to mail the letters to the address on the letters. The result of the test indicated the letters of the socially acceptable organization received over 70% of their letters posted, while the unacceptable entities received 25% of their letters posted.

Though this experiment dealt with organizations and not people specifically, the information is telling of how people react in private regarding prejudice. The four entities:

  1. Personal letter
  2. Medical facility
  3. Nazi Party
  4. Communist Party

Prejudice against organizations influenced the unsolicited help strangers were willing to give to each entity. Fifty people were willing to help the Nazi and Communist parties out of the 190 letters returned. 210 letters were discarded.

Prejudice based on race exists. "An action based on prejudgment is discrimination. A negative prejudgment is often called a stereotype. An action based on a stereotype is called bigotry."2 Bigotry based on race is racism.


What Is Racism?

  • The interviewer bid the woman interviewing farewell determining to flag her resume because the company does not want people of Asian heritage working for the firm.
  • The employee would not allow the boy to sit in the area because he was the only Black person, figuring he had no business being there alone.
  • The KKK marches in a parade down Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd with racial epitaphs depicting the inferiority of all other races to White people.
Scroll to Continue

Read More From Soapboxie

Racism is the act of judging those of other races as inferior. Racism can be limited in its scope or broad in application. Individuals may believe that another race of people is inferior to them, but treat them with fairness and equity in other aspects of life. It is still racist, but only a personal belief.

Those who use their beliefs to actively prevent those of other races from certain activities or enjoying rights are racist discriminators. Racism is not socially acceptable but legally protected as long as no person suffers an injury at the hands of a racist. Racism becomes illegal when laws are broken to support philosophical ideas based on racism.


Racism = Race Prejudice + Power

Heather Heyer lost her life in 2017 during the White Supremacist Rally. Heather was on the scene in opposition to the racially charged group of White Americans exercising Constitutionally protected rights to voice their opinions politically.

One of the White Supremacists, James Alex Fields Jr, in frustration drove his car into a group of counter-protesters killing Heather and injuring 30 other people. Racism, thinking that the White race is superior to all other races, has been taught in most European societies, Western societies. In the last 70 years, the ideas of White supremacy have diminished as an overt cultural practice but continues to have undertones in the cultures and languages of Western society.

The Power to Be Racist

Being that the human race is one race of people, it seems odd that society does not push more for understanding the racial sameness of humanity. Calling pigmentation different ethnicities will not make racial disparity disappear, however. In each segment of humanity, groups of people vie for racial distinction for a myriad of reasons, one being the human need for exceptionalism.

Prejudice people are not necessarily racist, but racist people are prejudice. Racially prejudice people tend to lean toward racist behavior but are not necessarily outspoken about their views. Since the presidency of Donald Trump, Americans with fringe social views have become more outspoken, not necessarily because Donald Trump is racist or prejudice. These people feel they have a voice with him in office because he speaks his mind about his views unapologetically encouraging them to speak openly about their views.

American society should protect the rights of racists to express their vitriol, but no government in a free society can protect them from the social consequences of doing so.

Racism or prejudice are not exclusive to White people. Any group of people can be racist or prejudice to another. There is a theory going around that Black Americans and Blacks, in general, cannot be racist because as a group they have no real power to exert racial discrimination. Besides it being incorrect that Blacks have no power, it is incredibly ignorant of the definition of power and world politics.

A Black business owner who does not hire a person simply because of that person's race is being racist. A Black person who beats a White person for walking in the wrong neighborhood is being racist. Not hiring someone because of race is exercising power to determine the course of a person's life. Beating someone because of racial identity is exercising power over the health of another person.

When the colonial influences of Zimbabwe collapsed and the Blacks of that nation commandeered the property of White farmers simply because there were no civil authorities who would stop them with the new Black president in 2000, it was racism.

The agrarian reform, presided over by president Robert Mugabe in 2000, displaced the mostly white commercial farmers without compensation. Mugabe said the policy was earmarked at putting productive land into the hands of black Zimbabweans although most of them were inexperienced and poorly resourced, leading to a fall in agricultural production and leaving the country a net importer of staple maize grain between 2000 and 2016.3

Racism and prejudice are real and alive in the world today. No group is immune; though, some groups are more often subjected to it than others. It behooves all people to protect the rights of each other to diminish the stain of racism and prejudice as best as possible from socially accepted behaviors without outlawing the freedom of speech and religion.

Supporting Information

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rodric Anthony Johnson

Related Articles