An entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (2008) simply defines racialism as “[a]n earlier term than racism, but now largely superseded by it”, and cites it in a 1902 quote. The revised Oxford English Dictionary cites the shortened term “racism” in a quote from the following year, 1903. It was first defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, 1989) as “[t]he theory that distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race”; the same dictionary termed racism a synonym of racialism: “belief in the superiority of a particular race”. By the end of World War II, racism had acquired the same supremacist connotations formerly associated with racialism: racism now implied racial discrimination, racial supremacism, and a harmful intent. (The term “race hatred” had also been used by sociologist Frederick Hertz in the late 1920s.)
As its history indicates, the popular use of the word racism is relatively recent. The word came into widespread usage in the Western world in the 1930s, when it was used to describe the social and political ideology of Nazism, which saw “race” as a naturally given political unit. It is commonly agreed that racism existed before the coinage of the word, but there is not a wide agreement on a single definition of what racism is and what it is not. Today, some scholars of racism prefer to use the concept in the plural racisms, in order to emphasize its many different forms that do not easily fall under a single definition. They also argue that different forms of racism have characterized different historical periods and geographical areas. Garner (2009: p. 11) summarizes different existing definitions of racism and identifies three common elements contained in those definitions of racism. First, a historical, hierarchical power relationship between groups; second, a set of ideas (an ideology) about racial differences; and, third, discriminatory actions (practices).