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The Fine Line Between Nationalism and Racism


As time goes by, some words may have been used interchangeably, thus confusing readers as to what in particular the words have come to mean. Flawed comparisons may arise for those who do not explain a concept with clarity. Substituting of words with the risk of losing suitability and function in a sentence is a common mistake people do. Socially-related words like nationalism and racism, which had seeped into our vocabulary, can be an example when people without a sense of historical sensitivity do not understand the complexity of the socio-political world and the language associated with it.

Our collective identity as a nation can be based on shared culture, and this national identity can give rise to strong feelings. Members of the nation have their own attitudes and can take actions to strengthen their bonds or sustain their devotion. An example is any situation in which a nation comes together for a specific cause in reaction to a significant event. According to Weeks,

nationalism is a deeply felt common identification among a group of people, with a firm commitment to the advancement of those who are part of that group. This connection can be based on many different factors, such as race, ethnicity, language, religion and/or cultural practices. (2012, p. 146).

The passion and commitment of people to their identity is due to the goals of one’s nation that is separate from the interests of other nations. Thus, it may affect their sentiments towards others not in the same group as them. The sentiment could take good or bad forms that depends upon what the nation comes together in order to accomplish. Over the course of history, some people may have had views of nationalistic pride that restricts them from viewing other nations as equals. One individual or group may elevate the status of one nation above others and focus on the degradation of others’ cultures.

Among the dangers of nationalism is prejudice, a violent state where individuals become ethno-centric that could be harsh in their judgments. Shelby said that “racism, on Garcia’s account, is fundamentally a type of individual moral vice, the expression of a bad character.” (2002, p. 411). A more concise definition is that it is a doctrine of racial supremacy, that one race is superior (as cited in Bonilla-Silva, 1990, p. 16). It has existed throughout human history and is a powerful and enduring idea by society. The concept is not a scientific construct, but a social one. Generalities are a breeding ground for racism because of the assumptions one constantly makes of one’s ego-centricity and ignorance of other people and cultures. For centuries, it fostered discrimination and it influenced how we relate to other people.

Vice is also an expression of a bad character, and the habit of yielding to every immediate desire can be an example. Yet, one can take responsibility and free use of intellect for the choices one can make. A prejudice or a conduct motivated by a prejudice is usually conceived as a state of mind that represents some vice or offends moral virtues. In racism as a vice, some people may view that it is not a matter of opinion, but of passion. The passion for a strong prejudice, superiority complex and self-interest may result in a desire to dominate other nations, thus causing clashes and constant rivalry between them.

Nationalism and racism are strongly related, but radically different. Nationalism, at an extreme bad sentiment, can lead to racism. Those people who are nationalistic to a level that they tend to degrade other people because of their strong beliefs in their nation can be regarded as a bad outcome of nationalism. The willingness to place the interests of one’s own country over the common interests of the world and use violence in securing one’s country’s ends can also be an example. With these ideologies, it can be said that national identity can lead to a potential conflict within diverse societies and can often mix with each other. Using these words in a person’s vocabulary in this ever-growing world where connections can be easily made and opinions, thoughts and information can be widely seen and jumbled tend to get confusing sometimes. There are many different arguments between these two concepts, but it depends on the person itself whether to be ignorant and careful on choosing his words or not because these expressions will manifest in our daily lives and other influences.


Bonilla-Silva, E. (1997). Rethinking racism: Toward a structural interpretation. American Sociological Review, 62(3), 465-480. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2657316

Garcia’s book (as cited in Shelby, 2002). Is racism in the “heart”?. Journal of Social Philosophy, 33(3), 411-420. doi: 10.1111/0047-2786.00150

Weeks, G. (2012). Nationalism. In Taylor, S. L. (Ed.), 30-second politics: The 50 most thought-provoking theories in politics. (pp. 146-147). London: Icon Books Ltd.

Photo taken from: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/images/news/201301/n_39462_1.jpg


6 thoughts on “The Fine Line Between Nationalism and Racism

    1. Yes, at an extreme bad sentiment, it can also lead to xenophobia.

      I think no. As I have understood sovereignty, it is a nation’s right to determine what goes on inside its borders. In these times, a country must also need to be able to defend such sovereignty because some international court, for example, may be included in the picture. If sovereignty did not need defending, then no country would be in need of armed forces.

      I hope I did not make it more confusing! Thanks for commenting.


      1. Truly, it’s a nation’s right to determine what goes on inside its borders. But when signed on to various treaties and to world bodies, there are times when they have to forgo what they really want to do inside its own country.

        Liked by 1 person

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