The educated, the one left behind and the killed Towards a new understanding of racism and discrimination

This article is an introduction to and discussion of the concepts of racism and discrimination. Despite frequent use of the terms, what they actually mean and how they should be used, is seldom to be found. On the basis of three empirical illustrations, we discuss when racism and discrimination are used as concepts to describe different phenomena and when the two merge into meaning similar meanings. This transformation is identified to take place when the concepts of racism and discrimination move from descriptions of actions and attitudes at an individual level to explanations of racialized relations at a structural or systemic level. It is also when lack of social belonging among ethnic minorities is linked to the existence of some sort of structural racism that the public debate in Norway has a tendency to turn into conflict. In our opinion, the structural perspective is important if we are to understand the mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion. Due to the conflicting character of the public debate when the concept of racism is involved, however, we conclude that systemic discrimination clearly has advantages in explaining such mechanisms. Reserving the concept of racism for more explicit imaginations of a hierarchy of human value, we suggest in conclusion a divide of the concept of discrimination into three different spheres of social life – the civil, the legal and the political.

Keywords: discrimination, public debate, racialization, racism