I pulled this definition of 'racism' off the Oxford English Dictionary website. Most people can't access it unless they have access through a university or other academic organization, so I'll quote the whole thing here. My question is: what's wrong with this definition?
[f. RACE n.2 + -ISM; cf. F. racisme (Robert 1935).]
a. The theory that distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race. b. = RACIALISM.
1936 L. DENNIS Coming Amer. Fascism 109 If..it be assumed that one of our values should be a type of racism which excludes certain races from citizenship, then the plan of execution should provide for the annihilation, deportation, or sterilization of the excluded races. 1938 E. & C. PAUL tr. Hirschfeld's Racism xx. 260 The apostles and energumens of racism can in all good faith give free rein to impulses of which they would be ashamed did they realise their true nature. 1940 R. BENEDICT Race: Science & Politics i. 7 Racism is an ism to which everyone in the world today is exposed. 1952 M. BERGER Equality by Statute 236 Racism, tension in industrial, urban areas. 1952 Theology LV. 283 The idolatry of our timeits setting up of nationalism, racism, vulgar materialism. 1960 New Left Rev. Jan./Feb. 21/2 George Rogers saw fit to kow-tow to the incipient racism of his electorate by including a line about getting rid of �undesirable elements�. 1964 GOULD & KOLB Dict. Social Sci. 571/2 Racism is a newer term for the word racialism... There is virtual agreement that it refers to a doctrine of racial supremacy. 1971 Ceylon Daily News (Colombo) 18 Sept. 8/5 Mr. Seneviratne is welcome to his ideal of inter-racial marriages as panacea for Racism. 1972 J. L. DILLARD Black English iii. 90 In the British sailors' reactions to the slaves.., the very early existence of racism is as well documented as the difference in language. 1974 M. FIDO R. Kipling 50/2 In The Story of Muhammad Din he wrote one of the most economical and bitter attacks on British racism ever penned. 1976 Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) 4 Mar. A2/4 The Vatican radio said,..�Racism might have different faces but it will always be reprehensible.� 1977 M. WALKER National Front vi. 155 A strike of the Asian workers against racism in the factory.
I should say something about what dictionaries do and why it's highly appropriate to question them. Some people wrongly think of dictionaries as authorities that we go to when we want to find the real meaning of a term, as if its being in a dictionary makes it the definition. Dictionaries are descriptive records of what words mean, judged by word usage. The OED is probably the best English dictionary available. Still, dictionaries are attempts by fallible human beings to record how people use the words. Over time, words change their meaning, and when a sufficient usage becomes accepted it will make it into the dictionary. It's usually accepted and thus correct long before it makes it into the dictionary, though some holdouts who don't understand language change still object to seeing these real meanings appear in a dictionary. What's most important for the word 'racism' is that dictionaries are supposed to analyze what people mean when they call something racism. If it turns out to hopelessly wrong, as I think this case is, then the people who wrote the entry simply failed at their task.
This definition just looks hopelessly unaware of how the word is used. First, how many people think of racism as a theory? I'll acknowledge that the word was once used this way. People talked about a certain ideology and called it racism. Some of the examples given below the definition do seem to me to fit that. However, it's really out of step with how the word is used today. Almost every usage of the word that you will find nowadays does not take racism to be an ideology. Many people talk of something as racist if it involves an attitude of dislike that of people for racial reasons. A large enough subset of uses of the term has to do with oppressive practices when there isn't necessarily an ideology against a certain group or even a negative attitude. This is called unintentional racism. I've gone into more depth on this here, so I don't want to repeat my arguments. I just want to note that those who objected on the basis of a dictionary definition have missed the point of a dictionary definition. I was arguing that the dictionaries get the definition wrong.
Second, the real reason I thought it was worth posting the whole OED entry above is because it's even got evidence within it for seeing their definition as not the only one. Look carefully at the first example they give for seeing racism as an ideology. "If..it be assumed that one of our values should be a type of racism which excludes certain races from citizenship, then the plan of execution should provide for the annihilation, deportation, or sterilization of the excluded races." A view would be that certain races should be excluded from citizenship. A practice would be of excluding those races from citizenship. The racism here does in fact exclude those races. That means it's not an ideology but a practice. The same example also takes racism to be a value, which sounds more like an attitude than an ideology. Another example puts it in parallel with vulgar materialism, which is a lifestyle or an attitude and not an ideology. Materialism is a mindset or a constraint on one's value hierarchy, that material possessions are near the top of the list. That's not an ideology.
How can the OED be so wrong about the definition of the word 'racism'? I have no idea, but I think it's just plain a fact that the definition needs to be updated to fix this. It's not just that the word has changed its meaning to include things not originally included within its semantic range. Even these older examples show a more fluid usage, which means those who saw it as only an ideology weren't even very good at assessing the usage in their own time. Since it's changed to make the definition they list sound more archaic, I think it's an outrage that they have the entry as it is.
Update: Compare the Wikipedia definition:
Racism refers to beliefs, practices, and institutions that negatively discriminate against people based on their perceived or ascribed race. Sometimes the term is also used to describe the belief that race is the primary determinant of human capacities, or that individuals should be treated differently based on their ascribed race. There is a growing, but controversial, tendency to state that racism is a system of oppression that combines racist beliefs - whether they be explicit, tacit or unconscious - with the power to have a negative impact on those discriminated against on a societal level.