Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Racism Definition:

Superiority-based ideology which discriminates individuals or a group, based on their immutable characteristic of race.

Related Terms: Bigotry, Xenophobia, Discrimination

Racism expresses itself as discrimination of an individual ,or a group of individuals, on racial characteristics.

In the United Kingdom, the Race Relations Act 1976, while not strictly defining racism per se, defines racial discrimination as follows:

"A person discriminates against another in any circumstances relevant for the purposes of any provision of this Act if - (a) on racial grounds he treats that other less favourably than he treats or would treat other persons; or (b) he applies to that other a requirement or condition which he applies or would apply equally to persons not of the same racial group as that other but - (i) which is such that the proportion of persons of the same racial group as that other who can comply with it is considerably smaller than the proportion of persons not of that racial group who can comply with it; and (ii) which he cannot show to be justifiable irrespective of the colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins of the person to whom it applied; and (iii) which is to the detriment of that other because he cannot comply with it."

The Supreme Court of Canada in R. v Zundel proposed,

"Racism tears asunder the bonds which hold a democracy together. Parliament strives to ensure that its commitment to social equality is not merely a slogan but a manifest reality. Where any vulnerable group in society is subject to threat because of their position as a group historically subjected to oppression we are all the poorer for it. A society is to be measured and judged by the protections it offers to the vulnerable in its midst. Where racial and social intolerance is fomented through the deliberate manipulation of people of good faith by unscrupulous fabrications, a limitation on the expression of such speech is rationally connected to its eradication."

In the same vein, these words of Kathleen Morris in her 1996 article:

"Racism is not only a crime, but a disease, infecting almost everyone."1


  • Mandla v Dowell Lee, [1983] 2 A.C. 548. In some presentations, this case is referred to as "Mandla v Dowell Lee".
  • NOTE 1: Morris, Kathleen, Through the Looking Glass: Recent Developments in Affirmative Action, 11 Berkeley Women's L.J. 182 (1996), quoting from The Id, The Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning With Unconscious Racism, published by Charles Lawrence at 39 Stan. L. Rev. 317 (1987)
  • R. v Zundel, [1992] 2 SCR 731 (Supreme Court of Canada)

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!