The discussion of ‘race’ is one that is complicated by the very premise of the term ‘race.’ ‘Race’ is a flawed and dubious term that attempts to divide humanity along arbitrarily assigned physical features such as skin colour, hair colour and texture, and facial features. ‘Race’ is a socially constructed phenomenon used to justify power differentials.

Although ‘race’ is a biologically false concept, it has had real historical effects. We need to understand this historical entanglement in order to address how the concept of ‘race’ remains socially embedded today.

‘Race relations’ depends on the falsehood of ‘race’ for its existence. ‘Race relations’ carries the assumption that there are special exchanges that take place between naturally occurring categories of humans, rather than addressing these interactions as the result of complex social cultural processes. To the uncritical or less informed person, hearing ‘race relations’ serves to further reinforce the imagining of different ‘races.’ As such, both concepts of ‘race’ and ‘race relations’ continue to give substance to racism.

Unfortunately simply abandoning or rejecting the concepts of ‘race’ and ‘race relations’ does not suffice to unravel the deep social implications of racism. Racism is a lived reality of discrimination. In order to subvert and deconstruct the concept of ‘race,’ we shift our focus to racialization and racism.

Racialization is the process by which particular physical characteristics, such as skin colour, are given meaning that translates into power relations. Here the emphasis is on the process of categorization, rather than naturally occurring categories. Racism feeds on racialization and asserts that one social group is superior to another.

Racism is apparent in beliefs, attitudes, actions, and policies. These dimensions influence and affect one another. Racism may be found in individual thoughts and behaviours, as well as systemically in institutions and structures. Racism may be obvious in the form of slurs, graffiti or jokes; or more covert in the form of employment delineation or lower wages. Racism results in barriers that exclude individuals from full participation in society. Other forms of discrimination often compound the effects of racism.

To bring an end to racism, we must find ways to address environments in which racism is perpetuated and address racism itself. Anti-racism focuses not only on everyday acts of racism, but also on institutional and systemic racism. The emphasis of anti-racism is on critical thinking and activism.