Racism and racial discrimination are in practice used in a range of overlapping ways. The ambiguity of their use often causes political and even scientific discourse to become confused and itself prevents progress towards constructive solutions. Racial discrimination can be considered as the broader concept following its definition in the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in political, economic, social, cultural or any other fields of public life. Such discrimination may be based upon ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, which may be used to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in a wide variety of forms. Such action may encourage acts of violence or incitement to such acts against groups of persons of another colour or ethnic origin.
Racism has been the subject of several declarations by UNESCO. In 1978 it was defined as including racist ideologies, prejudiced attitudes, discriminatory behaviour, and institutionalized practices, resulting in racial inequality, as well as the fallacious notion that discriminatory relations between groups are morally and scientifically justifiable. Racism as a doctrine attributes the determination of human capacities to specific inherited physical traits that are considered to distinguish a race. Prejudice and discrimination on the ground of race, colour or ethnic origin occur in a number of societies, where physical appearance – notably skin colour – and ethnic origin are accorded prime importance. "Racism" has increasingly come to mean the hostility that one person feels for another because of his or her colour alone. These racist beliefs have been so widespread that although authoritatively and consistently proved to be erroneous, they still continue to be an important cause of prejudice.
Racism, which takes a number of forms, is a complex phenomenon involving a whole range of economic, political, historical, cultural, social and psychological factors. It is generally a tool used by certain groups to reinforce their political and economic power, the most serious cases being those involving apartheid and genocide. Racism exists in all parts of the world. Violence, even genocide against indigenous groups, has become endemic in many countries. Racism is often aggravated by international systems backed by powerful economic and military factors. Land rights claims of indigenous peoples are often rejected in the name of development and national security. Immigration policies and practices discriminate on the basis of race in many parts of Europe, Asia and North America. Education policies deny equality of opportunity and employment on the ground of race.
Although maintaining the conception of a socially unified society, racial divisions may be preserved but expressed in other terms, so that in reality there is racial differentiation. Some characteristics of society favour a racial differential, incorporated in polity, and expressed as cultural barriers, de-facto segregation, inequality and demographic recognition of racial and ethnic categories. Conflict may be acknowledged but the significance of racial and ethnic difference for the conflict may be denied.
Under the dictatorship of Hitler in Germany, racism was made the official ideology of fascism and was used to justify the invasion of foreign territory, the physical annihilation of millions of people, and the incarceration, torture, and execution of German antifascists in concentration camps. Similar racist practices were carried out by Japanese militarists in China and other Asian countries and by Italian fascists in Ethiopia, Albania, and Greece. The practice of apartheid in South Africa is the most well known present-day example of a policy based on inequality of race.
The acceptance of racial discrimination may lead to: unequal treatment before tribunals and other organs administering justice; unequal rights to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm (whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual, group or institution); unequal political rights (in particular the rights to participate in elections, to vote and to stand for election on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, to take part in the government as well as in the conduct of public affairs at any level, and to have equal access to public service); unequal enjoyment of other civil rights (right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State; right to leave any country, including the person's own, and to return to his country; right to nationality; right to marriage and choice of spouse; right to own property alone as well as in association with others; right to inherit; right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; right to freedom of opinion and expression; right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association); unequal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights (right to work, free choice of employment, just and favourable conditions of work, protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work; just and favourable remuneration; right to form and join trade unions; right to housing; right to public health, medical care and social security services; right to education and training; right to equal participation in cultural activities); unequal access to any place or service intended for use by the general public such as transport, hotels, restaurants, cafÃ©s, theatres and parks.
Black Hebrew Israelites, a black supremacist group in the US, refer their beliefs to the Book of Revelation. They believe group members will comprise the 144,000 people who are saved by God in the second coming that is outlined in Revelation (7:1-17).