the term casteism has been employed in psychological research and other social sciences, as well as by a variety of news media. However, although this term is often applied to explain a variety of intergroup conflict, it is subject to inconsistent, ambiguous, and sometimes conflicting interpretations.
There are at least three conceptual problems associated with the definitions of racism:
1. The most-cited definition of racism seems to describe and explain the problem with the same phrase.
The most popular definition of racism (ie, prejudice or discrimination against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a racial group) seems to imply no differences between a description or evaluation of the problem and the explanation regarding why the problem occurs. There is a logical fallacy in the definition in that it views the same concept to both simultaneously describe and explain the problem. As shown in research on hate crimes (Sun, 2022), most news reports and some research organizations seem to use the format of racism definition to explain hate crimes as caused by the victims’ identities or categories—that is, hate crimes are seen as motivated in reaction to the victim, rather than as the offender-initiated aggression. This view confuses not only two different entities—the subjective criminal intent and the reality of the victims (see Sun, 2006, 2022)—but also a cause and effect relation in scientific reasoning, which cannot be the same factor.
2. Moral prejudice and cognitive prejudice involve two different criteria for comparison.
Another definition of racism emphasizes its component of intentional moral violation by viewing one race as inferior or superior to another race, with preconceived erroneous beliefs about race and members of racial groups (eg, Hoyt Jr, 2012). However, this definition seems to regard a violation of moral standards (what ought to be) as the same as distorted cognitions of evolving human reality (what is). As Sun (1993) analyzed, moral prejudice and cognitive distortions of the human reality regarding the self and others, though related, involve two different criteria for comparison. The use of morality cannot identify and correct distorted cognitions of reality. Moral judgments based on falsely perceived reality have no validity in modifying the distorted cognitions.
3. Individuals in different cultures and societies suffer similar ignorance and limitations about themselves and one another.
The third problem of the definition views racism as a privilege of people of European origin (eg, Hoyt Jr, 2012). This position apparently perceives racial classifications within the current society, which have been shaped by political biases and colonial legacies, as some global and objective entities that have intentions and responsibilities for human interactions and conflict. However, this assumption is unsupported by human history (eg, Maclonis, 2000) and research on biases derived from categorization of ingroup and outgroup (eg, Gaertner & Dovidio, 2005).
Most importantly, to a varying degree, individuals in different cultures and societies suffer similar ignorance and limitations about themselves and one another, not because of lack of moral desires, but because impacts of a variety of social, cultural, historical, and other external factors on individuals’ perceptions, interpretations, judgments and intentional actions in human interaction are mediated by the mind (cognition). The cognition about evolving human reality, including the self, others, situations, the natural worlds, and the norms and rules governing their interactions and transformations, is characterized by both incomplete and inaccurate knowledge and individuals’ false belief that what they know is true and complete (eg, Sun, 2009). Both the internal limitations such as personality factor and external factors (eg, the presence of misinformation, the absence of competing or alternative information, maladaptive interactions, isolated learning, societal and cultural milieus), may restrict the persons’ cognitive abilities and their advancement regarding human reality.
Some recent research on anti-Asian prejudice (eg, Gover et al., 2020; Hohl et al., 2022) apparently did not recognize the fact that all individuals are essentially information agents when the researchers use “racism” as the explanation for misinformation and disinformation-generated Asian blaming and violence during the pandemic. Labeling the individuals’ distorted cognitions about the target population as racism has missed the cognitive cause of the problem. This is because moral and motivational elements in the definition of racism are unable to falsify and revise persons’ misattribution and misperception of the reality (also see “How offenders’ distorted cognitions cause hate crimes”). Only new and competing information regarding the reality can falsify the false beliefs by discerning, discovering, and bridging the discrepancy between the mind and reality.