The first federal government document to mention “racism”

The Kerner Commission Report of 1968 is notable for a number of reasons. But, I had never heard this claim before:

Did the report change anything?

“I think so,” he said. “Using the word racism was important. That was the first time it had ever been in any government document. Black kids internalize this discrimination they’re feeling: ‘Maybe there’s something wrong with me.’ It was really essential to say you’re not crazy.”

I do not know whether this claim is entirely true. On the face of it, this sounds like the federal government was resistant to using a word that could easily describe decades and centuries of experiences.

But, on the hand, perhaps racism was not a commonly used term. A quick search of Google Ngram suggests the use of racism picked up steam in the 1960s:


Still, even if it was relatively ahead of its time, every time I see the Kerner Commission Report I’m reminded of the applicability of its conclusions for the last fifty years.