Racism is set of beliefs that some people are inferior or superior to others because of their distinctive and inborn biological characteristics which are defined by race. As a result there is an attitude of bias, prejudice and intolerance toward certain racial groups which are being treated differently, both socially and legally. The word racism was used for the first time in the early 1930s as a book title by the German physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 to 1935).
There are two notions of racism. One is to discriminate and exclude on the basis of ethnicity, color, race or descent and is defined as racial discrimination in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. According to this definition the terms ethnicity and race are interchangeable. The other notion is to discriminate and be prejudiced toward those who are not necessarily racially different, but differ in terms of gender (women), sexual preference (homosexuals), religion (Muslims), and class. However, racism has been the longest directed against those of color. The fear or apathy towards those considered to be "foreigners" or "strangers", that is to differ from oneself, is called xenophobia. It is also considered to be a form of racism.
Racism is the division of people into groups that are physically and innately different in social behavior, culture and mental abilities. On the basis of these beliefs, a "we feeling" is formed among the members of the "superior" group, distinguished with specific standards and values according to which the outsiders are measured and judged.
Racism is considered to be a psychological phenomenon and one of its preconditions is anxiety. It is commonly displayed in socially unstable societies and societies in transition which need a common enemy in order to strengthen their feeling of belonging and identity.
There are three main reasons behind racism manifestation: ideology, greed and fear. The main ideology of racism, that of superiority, has been manifested through slavery, colonialism, genocide and apartheid. Theology has also been used as a justification for racism. Greed for natural resources has been the main reason behind slavery and colonialism. The need of more living space for the superior race or the expansion of western Christian tradition and civilizing backward regions and races were only part of the justifications for colonialism.
Collective fear is the third cause for racism as well as for ethnic conflict. The collective fear held by the white minority in South Africa of the country's indigenous black majority saw the development and application of the system of apartheid. Collective fear can also come from globalization and the free movement of people, prompting xenophobia and racial conflicts.
Manifestation of racism is commonly violent and aggressive behavior toward the object of prejudice. One of the main displays of racism is structural violence. An example of it is the state-organized genocide during colonial times which was a result of the disappearance of several nations. Such behavior is called state-racism or institutional racism because it is a practice sponsored by national governments, corporations and different institutions and organizations. It played a major role in Nazi Germany regime and other fascist regimes around the world in the 1930s and 1940s.
There is also a form of domestic racism which is referred to as social stratification. It is a system of legitimated, social inequalities according to which some people receive more of the society's wealth, power and prestige at the expense of others. The reason is that society is formed of "irreconcilable groups," and a unitary government is not in a position to govern all of them. Such division is a precondition for good and orderly government. The apartheid theory was based on the belief that whites and blacks should be kept apart in the name of peace and prosperity for all. As well as racial divisions, there can be cultural, linguistic or religious divisions applied in society, for the benefit of one group over another.
There is also the so-called inter-minority racism which occurs between minority groups within a society. An example of inter-minority would be racial tensions between African Americans and Mexican Americans.