Is racism a crime?

      4 Comments on Is racism a crime?

Usually, in the western world, racism is a bad thing. but what exactly is racism?

Is it about treating people differently because of their skin color, origin country, etc? In that case, racism wouldn’t always be bad. Choosing mostly black actors while shooting a movie that takes place in Africa in the 17th century is definitely not bad, so is it racism?

Then, is it treating people badly because of their skin color? Obviously having slaves was racist. I’m pretty sure beating up an asian person because you hate china is racist. It’s also definitely bad.

Meet Tom, a decent human being:



Meet John, a racist:


And Meet Fred, a black person who has to deal with Tom and John all the time:


Say John is in a group of people where there are 4 Toms  and 1 Fred, and then he decides to steal 5$ from Fred, just because John hates black people. That’s racist, that’s bad, and that’s a crime. Then think about the same situation, where John also hates black people, but he doesn’t want to be arrested. He then decides to give 5$ to every Tom around him, but gives nothing to Fred. Is that still racist? Obviously, he discriminated on the basis of skin color, and he treated the Fred worse than the Tom, but it’s definitely not a crime. So is it bad? Also, for the sake of argument, try to reverse the skin colors in this situation, and see if your answer changes.

From my experiences, it seems like the only situations where being racist is a crime, are the situations where the person’s actions would also be a crime regardless of race. Is it worse to steal 5$ from Fred because you hate his color, than stealing 5$ from a Tom because you hate him in particular? John will definitely get charged for the same crime, since motivation is very hard to prove (providing he isn’t dumb enough to say out loud that he hates black people).

But there are exceptions. In America and Canada, there are laws that are specifically created to prevent racism. It’s not a crime to refuse service in your restaurant to a person because they didn’t bother putting a shirt on, but it is illegal to refuse service because they are black.

Kick for no shirt

Kick for being black

The problem is that you can’t prove this. It is perfectly fine to deny service to someone in particular that you hate, even if it’s very unprofessional. How do you prove John (the owner in that case) denied service because of race, if he then pretends it’s for another reason?

This kind of law is really asking to be abused. Fred can use it to sue anyone who denies him service for whatever reason, while the actual racists (John) can always find another excuse to act racist. How can we expect those laws to work?

I feel like being racist, while being bad, should be treated pretty much the same way being an asshole is currently treated in society (There’s a lot of overlap between those two categories actually). You’re allowed to be like that, but everyone else is allowed to dislike or hate you because of it. If you commit a crime because of your racism, then you are charged for it. If you’re just racist in your own mind and don’t act on it, go ahead. Just don’t expect respect from the majority of people.

Bad is not equal to illegal.

Don’t you disagree?

  • For me the distinction is between racism – obnoxious but not criminal – and racial discrimination – obnoxious and often criminal. You can’t stop people being racist, but you can lay out classes of discrimination that should be illegal by individuals, but more especially by organisations and businesses. Some of these classes of discrimination are typically based on race/skin colour, others based on religion, sex, age, disability etc.

  • Kingfisher12

    I don’t think racism, generally, can be a crime – as you say there are certain types of racial discrimination that are appropriate and positive.

    But you can make certain forms of racism a certain class of crime. This is done when certain forms of racism become so socially noxious to society that they can’t be tolerated. When the particular form of racism is dividing society to the point that it isn’t workable, you need a law to counteract it.

    This necessarily overshoots the mark, because it scoops up things that aren’t racism, or that aren’t problematic in themselves, into one blanket solution, and also opens up new avenues for abuse. Which is why whenever you make a law restricting certain behaviors, you have to be sure that the problem is so bad that it warrants an imperfect solution.

    Racism has become less of a problem in my lifetime in Canada, so we could probably do with fewer laws restricting it (carefully). In the US it seems that racism is still a tremendous problem, but I’m not sure the current laws are helping at all, since the racism seems to be thoroughly ingrained in the institutions of the country.

    Laws against racism are a bit like your parents telling you that you have to be friends with that one kid, because he really needs a friend (whether you like him or not). The fact is that the kid really does need a friend, and the decent thing to do is to try your best even if you don’t like it. It’s certainly not fair to be punished if you resist the parental social order, but for the sake of social harmony, it is important enough to require some unfairness.

    • Kaito Kid

      I like your analogy, but I’m not sure if it really helps the case you’re making.
      I always felt like those “friendships” with that one kid really just created resent, and usually some mocking behind his back
      “Yeah my parents make me pretend to like him, that really sucks”
      And in the end this really doesn’t help his case, because the group thinking will make the other kids reject him even more.
      In this case, this would make people resent minorities because they would feel like they have to give them undeserved benefits or suck up to them, and it might fuel some latent racism.

      • Kingfisher12

        I tend to agree, which is part of the reason I think racism does not seem to be getting any better in the states.

        Which is why I think anti-racism laws aimed at ordinary citizens are not very well placed. A private business owner will resent having to do things he’d rather not.

        I think what is needed instead of anti-racism laws is general civic rights and freedoms that apply to everyone, coupled with anti-racism policies for public institutions and public figures.

        That is, it isn’t right to tell your average John racist that he is not allowed to be racist, but it is justified to tell Mayor John, or Vice-Principal John that he cannot say or do certain things.