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What is racism?

Racism is primarily a political phenomenon. It is about power and the elevation of some populations to positions of primacy and domination; and the devaluation and subordination of others.

Racism is about who is deemed worthy or unworthy of a place in a society or territory; who will receive the protection of the law; and who will be subject to unusual punishment and control. The work of racism is enacted and reproduced in the main by institutional forces in society with results that can be seen, for example, in the courtroom, the boardroom and the classroom.

Racism is brought to life by categorising certain populations as deeply and irreversibly flawed or dangerous because of their perceived biological or cultural failings. This means that people of colour as well as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and Jewish people can all face racism. At the same time, racialised populations that may pass for white (or appear ‘ethnically ambiguous’) may, in certain contexts, also experience some ‘benefits’ (or lack of impediment) associated with whiteness. For example, a benefit could be less frequent stop and search contact with the police, which is largely unavailable to certain visible people of colour, in this case black men.

Racism affects the lived experiences of populations deemed unworthy, flawed and dangerous. These lived experiences matter and we believe that people with experience of racism must be central to the work of anti-racism.

We also recognise that looking at racism through the lens of lived experience is not enough. It directs the conversation to how we (or people ‘like us’) experience racism and towards racists or acts of racism that we may have encountered. Using only the perspective of lived experience will lead us to talk about what racism has done to us, rather than what we’re going to do about racism.

At Reframing Race our interest is ultimately in reimagining the political, social and institutional structures that produce and reproduce racism. This is a switch of such scale that we will need to see beyond the immediacy of lived experience to build a vision and programme for racial justice. Seismic change of this sort will require a level of collective public and political will that can only be achieved in solidarity: solidarity between people and populations (differently) subject to racism; and solidarity from large numbers of those living unimpeded by, and even benefitting from, racism.

Reframing Race is working on language and messaging as one - albeit not the only - way to build the collective public and political will required to end racism and to deliver racial justice.

These principles are the basis of all our ongoing work.