Racism as a BELIEF (dictionary definition):
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Racism as a SYSTEM (most commonly used in social justice and sociology circles — not to be confused with racism as a belief):
“Racism extends considerably beyond prejudiced beliefs. The essential feature of racism is not hostility or misperception, but rather the defense of a system from which advantage is derived on the basis of race. The manner in which the defense is articulated – either with hostility or subtlety – is not nearly as important as the fact that it insures the continuation of a privileged relationship. Thus it is necessary to broaden the definition of racism beyond prejudice to include sentiments that in their consequence, if not in their intent, support the racial status quo.” – David T. Wellman
**This distinction is very important in giving name to the entire system of oppression that can be perpetuated both consciously and unconsciously, and that serves to support white supremacy at the expense of non-white people. Though racial animus and prejudice can be expressed by anyone and towards any other group, a system of racial superiority is reinforced by far more than simple racial animus — including institutionalized exclusion from opportunities, education, resources and justice in the criminal system — and requires distinct tools to combat.**