What is racism?

Racism is a comprehensive concept and has existed in world history for a long time. Different ethnicities in the world’s population have laid the foundation for the idea that humanity can be divided into different races. The basic idea behind racism is the belief that there are different human races and that some of these races are more intelligent than and superior to others.

From ethnicity to culture

Before and during World War II, several researchers claimed that there were differences in genes, and that biological differences gave people a distinct value. After World War II, racism evolved into something that was connected to culture. This evolution was associated with the idea that some cultures are better than others, for example that some people are more violent because of their culture or that they cannot be of a certain nationality because they do not have the right skin color or name.

Racism = discrimination

Racism is about perceptions, attitudes and actions that divide people into races, and where some are superior to others. It is a form of discrimination that takes place in different places in society such as schools, workplaces, and social media.

Racism and discrimination of minorities

Throughout history, minorities have experienced many forms of racism. In the United States and South Africa, dark-skinned people have experienced systematic discrimination. They were used as slaves on plantations and segregated from the rest of society. Segregation means separating some people from others living in the same society. In the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) persecuted and murdered African Americans in the United States.

Illustration of the Ku Klux Klan and their disguises.

Racism and indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples have also been subjected to systematic racism. The Sami in Norway were forcibly assimilated for a period of time. Assimilation means that a minority must renounce its culture and adapt the customs of the majority population. 

The assimilation policy was about assimilating the Sami into Norwegian culture. The Sami were not allowed to speak or learn the Sami language. Many children were taken away from their families and put into boarding schools where they were forced to abide by Norwegian customs. Today, the Norwegian state has apologized to the Sami people, and is working to stregthen their culture and language in Norway.

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Assimilation of indigenous peoples has also happened in other countries like Australia, USA, New Zealand and Canada. These indigenous peoples have unfortunately become ethnic minorities in their own countries. After years of conflict and discrimination, indigenous peoples have lost much of their language and identity. Today, however, there is a renewed interest and pride in the values and cultures of indigenous peoples around the world. More people claim to have Australian Aboriginal, Maori or Native American roots than before, and indigenous peoples are becoming more aware of their rights. 

Internationally, the UN is working to promote human rights throughout the world, and the fight against racism is an essential aspect of this.

1) Mock attack on the audience; 2) Relaxed encounters; 3) Tagarah – the chief’s daughter; 4) Fire dance. Wood engravings after drawings by Adalbert von Roessler, published in 1885.

De australske aboriginerne i Berlin i tresnitt

Give Nothing To Racism

Black Lives Matter

On May 25, 2020, the police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA. George Floyd was a 46-year-old  African-American man that allegedly tried to use a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill in a store when he was arrested. His death started the largest protest against racism and police brutality in the US in over 50 years. Around the world, thousands of people have rushed to the streets in anti-racism demonstrations. The demonstrations are a signal that many believe Black people and other minorities are being treated unfairly by the police.

Labeling Black people as criminals without them having committed any serious criminal offenses can be considered a violation of human rights. According to the BBC, 1,000 people in the United States were shot and killed by the police in 2019. 23 percent of those shot were African Americans, even though African Americans make up only 14 percent of the population.

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The Holmlia murder

In 2001, 15-year-old Benjamin Hermansen from Oslo was stabbed and killed because of his skin color. The man behind the attack was a neo-Nazi. After the murder, there were large demonstrations throughout Norway and there was a major debate about racism. The murder of Benjamin Hermansen has become a symbol of the fight against racism not being over.

⬅  Hvert år deles Benjamin-prisen ut til skoler som jobber aktivt mot rasisme.

Photo: Kuben yrkesarena (CC-BY-SA)

The 22nd of July and the far-right movement

The terror attacks in Norway on July 22nd, 2011 were some of Norway’s and Europe’s most horrific events in modern history. 77 people were killed by the far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Breivik believed in the idea of human races and that some of these races are worth more than others. He also believed in the conspiracy theory that Muslims will take over Norway and the rest of Europe.

On July 22nd, Breivik arrived at Utøya wearing a police uniform. His goal was to kill members of the AUF. The AUF is the youth organization of Arbeiderpartiet (The Norwegian Labor Party), a social democratic party. Breivik and other far-right people think that Arbeiderpartiet is responsible for Norway becoming a multicultural society and that they have a hidden agenda to destroy Norwegian culture. Even though Anders Behring Breivik acted alone, unfortunately many still share his ideology and thoughts.

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How can we prevent racism?

There are many ways to prevent racism.

  1. Politically, laws that promote human rights can be passed. In this way, all people can be guaranteed the same rights, and be protected from discrimination in the workplace, school, public services and so on.
  2. Adults can ensure that they are good role models for children, and promote the values that everyone has an equal value regardless of culture, skin color and religion.
  3. Another measure is to get to know other cultures. In this way, one can eliminate prejudices one has against other foreign cultures.

Doll test

Say something!

At the same time, one must also recognize that there is racism in society. If you experience or witness discrimination on the basis of skin color, culture or religion, you should speak up and give that person a clear message. It can also be important to tell the person why this behavior or comment  is perceived as racist or discriminatory. If he or she does not give up, you should tell the teacher or the principal. Remember that there are laws against discrimination and racist attitudes.

Think you’re not racist?


  • Skorgen, Torgeir; Ikdahl, Ingunn; Berg-Nordlie, Mikkelrasisme i Store norske leksikon på snl.no.
    Hentet 2. september 2020 fra https://snl.no/rasisme
  • Langseth, Janniche; Lokøy, Gro; Ulriksen Lundgren, Hege C; Hellesøy, Sidsel (2013). Skills. Gyldendal.

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