I called out someone's comments as racist when someone decided to correct me and say that the term was incorrect. According to this person, the word racism only seems to apply when referring to another race (e.g. Sub-Saharan African, White European, East-Asian, South-Asian, Native American, etc.)

What is the similar term then for hatred towards a particular ethnic group? (E.g. Italian, Serbian, Sri Lankan, etc.)

  • 11
    I think that you can use racist in this context, but when faced with a pedant one could resort to "predjudiced" or "bigotted".
    – Joel Brown
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 13:55
  • 4
    @JoelBrown Can I use bigotted against a pedant too? ;-) Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 13:58
  • 2
    Isn't 'pedant' hurtful enough? (likewise ;)) Anyway, 'ethnocentrism' doesn't have the punch that 'racist' does.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 14:14
  • 2
    I think a related term would be Xenophobia, except it's not directed at a particular ethnic group but at all but your own.
    – SF.
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 16:18
  • Why not Ethnophobia? Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 20:18

7 Answers 7


Racism can have many definitions and depends on the definition of race you're using. Here's several definitions from dictionary.com:

race2    [reys]

  1. a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.

  2. a population so related.

  3. Anthropology.
    a. any of the traditional divisions of humankind, the commonest being the Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negro, characterized by supposedly distinctive and universal physical characteristics: no longer in technical use.
    b. an arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, especially formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.
    c. a human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans.

  4. a group of tribes or peoples forming an ethnic stock: the Slavic race.

  5. any people united by common history, language, cultural traits, etc.: the Dutch race.

As you can see, one of these can be segregation by skin colour, another can be by ethnic group, so you can use racism.

More generally, racism is a form of prejudice, hate or intolerance, so you could use any of those words. If it's hatred against foreigners in general, you can use xenophobia.

  • 2
    Thanks for the insight, it appears that racism is an appropriate term to use when describing offensive comments targeting a particular ethnic group. I suppose the person calling me out was merely being a pedant. Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 13:46
  • 5
    "Race" is a very loose concept. A question like "How many races are there?" is pretty much impossible to answer in any strict sense. You could go from saying that all people are members of one, the "human race"; to the fairly conventional caucasion/negroid/oriental; to talking about the "Slavic race", the "French race", etc. I think "racism" works for any prejudice based on ethnic background. Even if the distinction seems very fine to outsiders, if the people involved see an ethnic difference and that's the basic of conflict, I think it could fairly be called "racism".
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 15:57

ethnocentrism: belief in the superiority of one's own ethnic group

See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethnocentrism

  • 7
    Is there a related word for the opposite? Not necessarily thinking your group is better than all others, but that a particular group is inferior?
    – JNK
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 13:41

Perhaps tribalism will fit the bill.

From Free Dictionary:

  1. The organization, culture, or beliefs of a tribe.
  2. A strong feeling of identity with and loyalty to one's tribe or group.

I have heard the word while I lived in Africa. Tribalism has both a neutral denotation (definition 1) and either a positive connotation (definition 2) or a negative connotation (the flip side of definition 2). While one won't readily find the negative connotation in the dictionary, it closely parallels racism in this aspect.

Tribalism accurately describes the nature of the African conflict of the Hutus and Tutsis. It is less likely to be used to describe a Serbian's prejudice against a Croatian. Perhaps it should be dusted off and tried on for size. While the European prejudice may be described as ethnic, it carries a strong sense of tribal conflict.


The term 'racism' seems most appropriate when one group is mistreating another group and the two groups don't look much alike. This is somewhat relative: to Europeans, the Koreans and Japanese seem to be the same, but mistreatment there would be translated as 'racism'.

But between groups that are only culturally different, say between Germans and Swedes, the difference is 'ethnic' and favoring one over the other is 'ethnocentrism'. There's no word that captures exactly the same venom as racism; "You're so ethnocentric" doesn't have much bite to it.

Again this is very relative; to an American, the English, Scots, Irish, and Welsh all seem laughably indistinguishable, but in England, abusing the difference is considered serious ethnocentrism. Maybe even serious enough to label it racism, even though appearances may not be involved.


Chauvinism might be used according to this definition: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/chauvinism?s=ts

  1. zealous and aggressive patriotism or blind enthusiasm for military glory.
  2. biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause: religious chauvinism.

However there might be some compound words as francophobe, germanophobe, etc. A generic term for those who hate foreigners is xenophobe.


I would say that prejudice by a Swede against a German on the basis of ethnicity is covered by the word racism in everyday language. This may be unacceptable in more formal English but having worked in anti-discrimination I can't remember a term that wasn't either racism or something ungainly like "prejudice on the basis of ethnicity" for what is being described here.


Polarization. It is a term introduced to me by the military. Several of us had a tendency to sit with people of like races or region. The First Sargent stated he had too many "Southerners" sitting together and needed us to spread out and meet someone from "up-north".

  • 2
    This answer would be improved if the example had something to do with the word you suggest...
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 18:10

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.