racist

1 of 2

adjective

rac·​ist ˈrā-sist How to pronounce racist (audio)
 also  -shist
: of, relating to, or characterized by racism: such as
a
: having, reflecting, or fostering the belief that race (see race entry 1 sense 1a) is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
racist speech
racist views
a racist person
Over the last three years, there have been episodes of racist graffiti, jokes, anonymous hate notes or brawls at 175 campuses … Joseph Berger
The viciousness her liaison with Lennon inspired was virulently sexist, openly racist, and as ugly as ugly gets. Esquire
Racist violence against Romani in eastern Europe is reminiscent of pogroms against the Jews in the Tsarist Empire. Donald Kenrick
b
: of, relating to, or characterized by the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another
racist laws/policies
a racist society
In contrast, people of color in a racist system always face headwinds. Claire Gillespie
The History and Dictionary Meanings of Racism and Racist: Usage Guide

Racism and racist appear to be words of recent origin, with no citations currently known that would suggest these words were in use prior to the early 20th century. But the fact that the words are fairly new does not prove that the concept of racism did not exist in the distant past. Things may have words to describe them before they exist (spaceship, for instance, has been in use since the 19th century, well before the rocket-fired vessels were invented), and things may exist for a considerable time before they are given names (T-shirt does not appear in print until the 20th century, although the article of clothing existed prior to 1900). Dictionaries are often treated as the final arbiter in arguments over a word's meaning, but they are not always well suited for settling disputes. The lexicographer's role is to explain how words are (or have been) actually used, not how some may feel that they should be used, and they say nothing about the intrinsic nature of the thing named or described by a word, much less the significance it may have for individuals. When discussing concepts like racism, therefore, it is prudent to recognize that quoting from a dictionary is unlikely to either mollify or persuade the person with whom one is arguing.

racist

2 of 2

noun

plural racists
: a person who is racist : someone who holds the belief that race (see race entry 1 sense 1a) is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
… anonymous racists, misogynists and bullies sowing … hatred and violence. Andrew Keen

Word History

Etymology

Adjective

race entry 1 + -ist entry 2, perhaps after French raciste, adjective

Noun

race entry 1 + -ist entry 1, perhaps after French raciste, noun

First Known Use

Adjective

1923, in the meaning defined above

Noun

1919, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of racist was in 1919

Dictionary Entries Near racist

Cite this Entry

“Racist.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racist. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

More from Merriam-Webster on racist

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


Words Named After People

  • name tags
  • Namesake of the leotard, Jules Léotard had what profession?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ