What is at stake in identifying some actions or speech acts as racist as opposed to regarding them as “merely” xenophobic? If we understand racism as a system, how does this impact the way we address the distinction between the terms racism and xenophobia? My attempt to address these questions is guided by two observations drawn from the genealogy of the term racism. First, in the English language, the word was initially a synonym for Nazi anti-Semitism. The strategies to combat racism developed by UNESCO under the influence of Ashley Montagu and other followers of Franz Boas were set by the idea that what had to be opposed was primarily a biologically based racial ideology. However, the attempt to apply this model to the United States was problematized by Oliver Cromwell Cox already in the early 1940s, just as the application of this model to colonialism was opposed by Sartre and Fanon. Secondly, whereas race prejudice had at one time been thought of as natural, as xenophobia still tends to be today, what is called racism in English was from the outset thought of as acquired and blameworthy. As a result of this and other differences, the strategies needed to address racism and xenophobia are fundamentally different.

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