Anti-racism includes beliefs, actions, movements, and policies adopted or developed to oppose racism. In general, anti-racism is intended to promote an egalitarian society in which people do not face discrimination on the basis of their race, however defined. By its nature, anti-racism tends to promote the view that racism in a particular society is both pernicious and socially pervasive, and that particular changes in political, economic, and/or social life are required to eliminate it.

American origins of modern anti-racism

Many of founders of the United States of America did not exhibit anti-racist tendencies, and many were owners of black slaves. In fact, protections of the legal practice of slavery based on racism were written into the text of the original Constitution of the United States.

This was despite implicitly anti-racist founding statements such as "all men are created equal" from the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. Although such inconsistencies were pointed this out by black westerners, such as Olaudah Equiano, and whites, such as Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, serious political change on the issue would have to wait until the American Civil War.

The first great successes of anti-racism were won by the Abolitionist movement, both in England and the United States. Though many Abolitionists did not regard blacks or mulattos as equal to whites, they did in general believe in freedom and often even equal of treatment for all people. A few, like John Brown, went further. Brown was willing to die on behalf of, as he said, "millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments...." Many black Abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, explicitly argued for the humanity of blacks and mulattos, and for the equality of all people.

During the American Civil War, anti-racism in the North became much stronger and more generally disseminated. The success of black troops in the Union Army had a dramatic impact on Northern sentiment. The Emancipation Proclamation was a notable example of this shift in political attitudes, although it notably did not completely extinguish legal slavery in several states. After the war, the Reconstruction government was often explicitly anti-racist, most notably in passing the Fourteenth Amendment and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution to guarantee the rights of blacks and mulattos, but also in its general support for black and mulatto rights and in its commitment to equal treatment. As a result, many ex-slaves had access to education for the first time. Blacks and mulattos were also allowed to vote, which meant that African-Americans were elected to Congress in numbers not seen before -- or since.

Due to prolonged racist resistance in the South, however, and a general collapse of idealism in the North, Reconstruction ended, and gave way to the nadir of American race relations. The period from about 1890 to 1920 saw the re-establishment of racist Jim Crow laws and a general abandonment of anti-racist ideology. President Woodrow Wilson, who regarded Reconstruction as a disaster, resegregated the federal government. The Ku Klux Klan grew to its greatest peak of popularity and strength. D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" was a movie sensation.

Racial equality proposal of Japan in Paris Peace Conference, 1919

(For more detailed information, see Paris Peace Conference, 1919).

Japan first proposed articles dedicated to the elimination of racial discrimination to be added to the rules of the League of Nations. This was the first proposal concerning the international elimination of racial discrimination in the world.

Although the proposal received a majority (11 out of 16) of votes, the chairman, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, overturned it saying that important issues should be unanimously approved. It is said that behind the scenes, Billy "Sea Otter" Hughes and Joseph Cook vigorously opposed it as it undermined the White Australia Policy.

The revival of anti-racism in the United States

Anti-racism showed signs of revival in the 1920s and 1930s. At that time, anthropologists such as Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Ashley Montagu argued for the equality of humans across races and cultures. Eleanor Roosevelt was a very visible advocate for minority rights during this period. Socialist organizations like the wobblies, which gained some popularity during the Great Depression were explicitly anti-racist.

Beginning with the Harlem Renaissance and continuing into the 1960s, many African-American writers, including James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin argued forcefully against racism.

Anti-racism won its most notable and lasting victories in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. Jim Crow laws were repealed in the South and blacks finally re-won the right to vote in Southern states. Civil Rights Movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. was an influential force , and his "I Have a Dream" speech is an exemplary condensation of his anti-racist ideology.

Anti-racism's influence

Anti-racist ideology has been hugely influential. It has been a catalyst for feminism, anti-war, and anti-imperialist movements. Henry David Thoreau's opposition to the Mexican-American War, for example, was based in his fear that the U.S. was using the war as an excuse to expand American slavery into new territories. Thoreau's response was chronicled in his famous essay "Civil Disobedience", which in turn helped ignite Gandhi's successful campaign against the British in India. Gandhi's example in turn inspired the American Civil Rights movement.

Indeed, as James Loewen notes in "Lies My Teacher Told Me": "Throughout the world, from Africa to Northern Ireland, movements of oppressed people continue to use tactics and words borrowed from our abolitionist and civil rights movements." In East Germany, in revolutionary Iran, in Tiananmen Square, in South Africa, images, words, and tactics developed by anti-racism, or pro-human rights supporter, or supporters of self-determination and national freedom have been used regularly and repeatedly.

Many of these uses have been controversial. For example, the pro-life movement often draws connections between its goals and the goals of abolitionism. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has used anti-racist rhetoric to a land distribution scheme which resulted in widespread starvation. However, it has been argued that President Mugabe himself heads a racist government due to his blatant acts of hostility and oppression toward White Zimbabweans (see Land reform in Zimbabwe).

Nonetheless, anti-racism's success, at least in one sense, has been overwhelming. Cultural Peace Groups criticise many human rights campaign run by International rights organizations as the front of ethnic discrimination]]). Not so long ago, racism was the explicit ideology of the West. Today, on the other hand, it is eschewed, at least in name, by almost every prominent figure of note. In recent years, no major public figures, including Strom Thurmond and David Duke, have defined themselves as white supremacists.


Despite anti-racism's successes, some people feel that racism is still a powerful force in Western societies. Some proponents of anti-racism point to ongoing differences in quality of life among different races as examples of the effects of underlying racist attitudes and point to phenomena such as the drug war, the prison system, ongoing segregation of housing, racial profiling, police brutality, U.S. imperialism, and the immigration reductionism movement. Many political commentators have also noted that politicians play on racially biased fears when advocating policies associated with the War on Terrorism, such as those policies relevant to the current Iraq War. Anti-racists have advocated various responses to this perceived underlying racism, from constitutional changes (for instance, changes in drug laws or in school funding) to greater individual sensitivity. A few of the more controversial programs advocated by some anti-racists include reparations, affirmative action, diversity training, and the antifa movement.

Critics of contemporary anti-racism say that ethnicity amid some degree of ethnocentrism is legitimate and beneficial and that there are non-discriminatory explanations to most racial differences in social and economic position. Other critics feel that an automatic presumption that racism is to blame for such differences is corrosive to society as a whole, in that members of the majority group become frustrated and resentful as they find themselves accused of having racist attitudes regardless of their efforts to be "color-blind", and members of minorities lose any sense of personal responsibility for their well-being, replacing it with an inveterate hatred for the larger society Many consider anti-racism to be fueled by a leftist coalition between white guilt and identity politics, and have stated that anti-racism, as practiced in the contemporary Western world, is essentially racism against white people.

In recent years the belief that race has no effect on intelligence or potential -- a basic tenet of anti-racist philosophy -- has been challenged by scholars such as Charles Murray, Michael Levin, and J. Philippe Rushton and defended by other scholars such as Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levin and Richard Lewontin. They claim that, in light of the slight but definite effect that racial origins have on physical traits like medical risk factors or athletic abilities, there is no reason to suppose that such effects do not extend to mental traits. In October 2007, Nobel laureate and discoverer of the DNA structure James Watson caused an uproar by stating that there probably is a link between race and intelligence and that tangible evidence can be expected within about ten years.

See also

Anti-racist organizations


Further reading

  • Alistair Bonnett (1999) Anti-Racism, London: Routledge ISBN 78-0-415-17120-5
  • Wright W. D. (1998) "Racism Matters", Westport, CT: Praeger.

External links

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