This is a complex phenomenon and there is no consensus on the best definition of this term. What we can safely say, at a minimum, is that racism has to do with a set of prejudices and discriminatory practices that are based on an ideology of inequality. Here are some of the most typical definitions.

Definition used by the European Commission for racism and intolerance:

Racism = the belief that a factor such as “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality or national origin or ethnicity justifies: 

  • disdain for a person or a group of people
  • the idea of superiority of a person or a group of people

Definition used by UNESCO (Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, 1978):

Racism includes: 

  • racist ideologies
  • attitudes based on racial prejudices
  • discriminatory behaviour
  • structural arrangements and institutionalised practices resulting in racial inequality
  • the fallacious notion that discriminatory relations between groups are morally and scientifically justifiable

Definition used by sociologist Michel Wieviorka:

Racism = an ideology: 

  • which results in prejudices, discriminatory practices, segregation and violence and involves power relations between social groups
  • which works to stigmatise, legitimate and dominate
  • the logic of which regarding inferiority and differentiation can vary over space and time

A prejudice is a negative attitude towards a certain group or individual members of this group on the basis of a few characteristics.  When we talk about racism we are referring to characteristics such as skin colour, cultural or ethnic characteristics, religious beliefs, etc

Racial discrimination

Anti-racism and anti-discrimination legislation defines the concept of anti-discrimination.


What is the difference between racial discrimination and racism?

We only talk about racial discrimination when, based on racial prejudices, certain people are more poorly treated because they belong to a group that is considered “different”.

Racial discrimination:

Anti-racism and anti-discrimination legislation includes five “racial” criteria: so-called “race”, skin colour, nationality, ancestry and national or ethnic origin.

Based on those criteria, the following are punishable:

  • direct or indirect discrimination: dismissal or refusal to hire; refusal to rent to someone, etc.
  • hate speech: incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination
  • hate crimes: various acts of violence, physical and verbal aggression, harassment at school, in the workplace, while practising sports, on the internet and through social media

How to prove that there was discrimination?

The victim does not have to prove that he or she was the subject of discrimination; rather, the alleged perpetrator must prove that he or she did not discriminate. The victim thus enjoys greater protection of his or her rights. The anti-discrimination law is a criminal law and it also condemns the incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence. Thanks to this law, it is possible to more severely punish hate crimes.


A person is beat up and the investigation reveals that the perpetrator hit the victim because of his different skin colour. The victim was therefore struck based on a racial criterion, which is a despicable motive or aggravating circumstance. Based on this fact, the judge can double the minimum sentence.

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