When talking about race and racism, language has the power to engage and support, or to alienate and inflame; it is important to achieve some degree of shared understanding in the use of some common terms. Even as we attempt to establish and use a shared vocabulary, the words people use to discuss these topics will mean different things to different people.
This glossary offers a list of terms and phrases on race, power, privilege, and oppression. Use the tabs at the top of the glossary to explore these terms alphabetically. For more terms and definitions, you can visit Understanding Race or the Racial Equity Resource Guide.
Ally: Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways. (Racial Equity Tools; OpenSource Leadership Strategies: “The Dynamic System of Power, Privilege and Oppressions.”)
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Enacted in 1990, the ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life – employment, state and local government, public accommodations, telecommunications and miscellaneous provisions. (ADA National Network. What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? https://adata.org/learn-about-ada)
Bigotry: Intolerant prejudice that glorifies one's own group and denigrates members of other groups. (Racial Equity Tools; National Conference for Community and Justice—St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program)
Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, required equal access to public places and employment and enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote. It did not end discrimination, but it did open the door to further progress. (National Park Service. (n.d.). Civil Rights Act of 1964. Retrieved from the National Park Service. In Virginia Commonwealth University, Diversity and Inclusion Dictionary, 2016.)
Collusion: When people act to perpetuate oppression or prevent others from working to eliminate oppression. (Racial Equity Tools; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook)
Colonialism: Colonization can be defined as some form of invasion, dispossession and subjugation of a people. The invasion need not be military; it can begin—or continue—as geographical intrusion in the form of agricultural, urban or industrial encroachments. The result of such incursion is the dispossession of vast amounts of lands from the original inhabitants. This is often legalized after the fact. The long-term result of such massive dispossession is institutionalized inequality. The colonizer/colonized relationship is by nature an unequal one that benefits the colonizer at the expense of the colonized. (Racial Equity Tools, from Emma LaRocque, Colonialism and Racism (documentary film))
Colorism: Colorism is a form of discrimination in which individuals are accorded different social and economic treatment based on skin color and/or phenotype. Meghan Burke and David Embrick (2008) describe colorism as the allocation of privilege and disadvantage according to the lightness or darkness of one's skin, with favoritism typically granted to those with lighter skin. (Shavonn Pearce-Doughlin, et al, “Colorism,” Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, Gale Virtual Reference Library.)
Critical Race Theory: Critical race theorists seek to challenge racial inequality by questioning the underlying biases present in the practices and norms of American law, specifically liberalism, integrationism, rationalism, and the notion of an objective Constitution. Although the movement began with law professors and students, it is interdisciplinary. It uses theories and methods of economics, history, sociology, pedagogy, literature, narrative theory, and cultural studies. (Imani Perry, "Critical Race Theory," Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Gale Virtual Reference Library.)
Cultural appropriation: A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance. The concept has come into literary and visual art criticism by analogy with the acquisition of artifacts (the Elgin marbles, Benin bronzes, Lakota war shirts, etc.) by Western museums. (“Cultural appropriation.” In The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature, 3rd ed., edited by Margaret Drabble, Jenny Stringer, and Daniel Hahn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Culture: A social system of meaning and custom that is developed by a group of people to assure its adaptation and survival. These groups are distinguished by a set of unspoken rules that shape values, beliefs, habits, patterns of thinking, behaviors and styles of communication. (Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative, A Community Builder's Tool Kit. In Racial Equity Tools.)
Diaspora: The voluntary or forcible movement of peoples from their homelands into new regions; these are people who live outside their natal (or imagined natal) territories and recognize that their traditional homelands are reflected deeply in the languages they speak, religions they adopt and the cultures they produce (Diaspora: Definitional Differences, 2002,; and B. Ashcroft, G. Garet, and H. Tiffin. Key concepts in post-colonial studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998; in Virginia Commonwealth University, Diversity and Inclusion Dictionary, 2016.)
Discrimination: The unequal treatment of members of various groups based on race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, and other categories. (The Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative, A Community Builder’s Toolkit: A Primer for Revitalizing Democracy from the Ground Up)
Diversity: Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. A broad definition includes not only race, ethnicity, and gender — the groups that most often come to mind when the term "diversity" is used — but also age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values. (Racial Equity Tools)
Equality: Access or provision of equal opportunities, where individuals are protected from being discriminated against. (Center for the Study of Social Policy; J. Manza and M. & Sauder, M., Inequality and society: social science perspectives on social stratification, 2009)
Equal Opportunity: Principle of non-discrimination which emphasizes that opportunities in education, employment, advancement, benefits and resource distribution, and other areas should be freely available to all citizens irrespective of their age, race, sex, religion, political association, ethnic origin, or any other individual or group characteristic unrelated to ability, performance, and qualification. (Center for the Study of Social Policy; H. Malik, A Practical Guide to Equal Opportunities, 2003)
Equity: A state in which all people in a given society share equal rights and opportunities. (Center for the Study of Social Policy; J. Manza and M. & Sauder, M., Inequality and society: social science perspectives on social stratification, 2009)
Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history and ancestral geographical base. (Racial Equity Resource Guide, American Healing, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 2012)
Hegemony: In common use, hegemony means domination or authority over others. As the term was conceived by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, hegemony implies domination by consent, particularly the domination of subordinate classes by the ruling class. Hegemony stands in contrast to direct forms of domination such as force, persuasion, coercion, and intimidation. Instead, hegemony is achieved through cultural institutions whereby the interests of the dominant class are expressed as the interests of all classes. (Kathleen O'Reilly. "Hegemony." In Encyclopedia of Human Geography, edited by Barney Warf, 206-208. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2006. Gale Virtual Reference Library)
Implicit Bias: Also known as unconscious or hidden bias, implicit biases are negative associations that people unknowingly hold. They are expressed automatically, without conscious awareness. Many studies have indicated that implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist within themselves. Notably, implicit biases have been shown to trump individuals’ stated commitments to equality and fairness, thereby producing behavior that diverges from the explicit attitudes that many people profess. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is often used to measure implicit biases with regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and other topics. (Racial Equity Tools; Cheryl Staats, State of the Science Implicit Bias Review 2017, Kirwan Institute, The Ohio State University)
Individual Racism: Individual racism refers to the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can be deliberate, or the individual may act to perpetuate or support racism without knowing that is what he or she is doing. (Racial Equity Tools; Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens and Barbara Major, Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building, 2005)
Inequality: The fundamental story of inequality is more good to some, less to others. These unequally distributed “goods” can be material, as necessities for survival (such as water, calories, and land), or abstract, as economic inputs or derivatives (such as labor, income, and wealth)… Ultimately, inequality in goods and resources may be the critical predictor of stubbornly durable differences both within and across various ways of grouping people in human suffering: differences in the incidence of malady, morbidity, and mortality. Racial and ethnic inequalities—the segregated assignment of resources across groups defined by notional genealogical differences—are perhaps the most pervasive, frequently rationalized, and hermetic versions of the construct. (Kobi Abayomi. "Inequality: Overview." In Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, 2nd ed., edited by Patrick L. Mason, 413-431. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2013. Gale Virtual Reference Library.)
Institutional Racism: Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color. (Racial Equity Tools; Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens and Barbara Major, Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building, 2005)
Internalized Racism: Internalized racism is the situation that occurs in a racist system when a racial group oppressed by racism supports the supremacy and dominance of the dominating group by maintaining or participating in the set of attitudes, behaviors, social structures and ideologies that undergird the dominating group's power. [Visit source cited for a more comprehensive definition.] (Racial Equity Tools; Donna Bivens, Internalized Racism: A Definition, Women’s Theological Center, 1995)
Intersectionality: Intersectionality refers to the interaction between gender, race, and other categories of difference in individual lives, social practices, institutional arrangements, and cultural ideologies and the outcomes of these interactions in terms of power. (Colin Clark, “Intersectionality,” Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, 2013, Gale Virtual Reference Library).
Marginalization: The process in which groups of people are excluded by the wider society. Marginalization is often used in an economic or political sense to refer to the rendering of an individual, an ethnic or national group, or a nation-state powerless by a more powerful individual. (Center for the Study of Social Policy; National Conference for Community and Justice—St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program)
Microaggression: Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious slights and insults to the target person or group (D. W. Sue, Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010; in Virginia Commonwealth University, Diversity and Inclusion Dictionary, 2016.)
Oppression: The systemic and pervasive nature of social inequality woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures that saturate most aspects of life in our society. Oppression denotes structural and material constraints that significantly shape a person's life chances and sense of possibility. Oppression also signifies a hierarchical relationship in which dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups. Oppression resides not only in external social institutions and norms but also within the human psyche as well. Eradicating oppression ultimately requires struggle against all its forms, and that building coalitions among diverse people offers the most promising strategies for challenging oppression systematically. (Racial Equity Resource Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Ann Bell, Pat Griffin, editors, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, New York, Routledge).
Prejudice: A prejudgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. (Racial Equity Resource Guide, American Healing, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 2012)
Privilege: A right that only some people have access or availability to because of their social group memberships (dominants). Because hierarchies of privilege exist, even within the same group, people who are part of the group in power (white/Caucasian people with respect to people of color, men with respect to women, heterosexuals with respect to homosexuals, adults with respect to children, and rich people with respect to poor people) often deny they have privilege even when evidence of differential benefit is obvious. (Racial Equity Resource Guide; National Conference for Community and Justice — St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program); Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti Racism Initiative. A Community Builder's Tool Kit. Claremont, Calif.: Claremont Graduate University).
Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Racial categories subsume ethnic groups. (Racial Equity Resource Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Ann Bell, Pat Griffin, editors, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, New York, Routledge).
Racial and ethnic identity: An individual's awareness and experience of being a member of a racial and ethnic group; the racial and ethnic categories that an individual chooses to describe him or herself based on such factors as biological heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation, early socialization and personal experience. (Racial Equity Resource Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Ann Bell, Pat Griffin, editors, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, New York, Routledge).
Racial equality: Access or provision of equal opportunities for people from all racial or ethnic backgrounds. Racial equality refers to social equality for people of different races. (Center for the Study of Social Policy; J. Manza and M. & Sauder, M., Inequality and society: social science perspectives on social stratification, 2009)
Racial equity: Racial equity is the condition that would be achieved if one's racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities, not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them. (Racial Equity Resource Guide; Center for Assessment and Policy Development).
Racial justice: A proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes for all. (Center for the Study of Social Policy; Robert S. Chang, "Reverse Racism!: Affirmative Action, the Family, and the Dream That Is America," 23 Hastings Const. L.Q. 1115, 1996.)
Racial profiling: Racial profiling is a form of differential treatment based on an individual's racial or ethnic social identity. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution's core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. (Brian Williams, "Racial Profiling and Biased Policing," Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, edited by Patrick L. Mason, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2013, Gale Virtual Reference Library; American Civil Liberties Union, "Racial Profiling," Racial Justice.)
Racism: Racism is a complex system of beliefs and behaviors, grounded in a presumed superiority of the white race. These beliefs and behaviors are conscious and unconscious; personal and institutional; and result in the oppression of people of color and benefit the dominant group, whites. A simpler definition is racial prejudice + power = racism. (Racial Equity Resource Guide; National Conference for Community and Justice — St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program.)
Right: A resource or position that everyone has equal access or availability to regardless of their social group memberships. (Racial Equity Resource Guide; National Conference for Community and Justice — St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program.)
Segregation: A system that keeps different groups separate from each other through physical dividers, social pressures, or laws. (Center for the Study of Social Policy; National Conference for Community and Justice — St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program.)
Social justice: Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and the society as a whole. (Racial Equity Tools; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook)
Social power: Access to resources that enhance one's chances of getting what one needs or influencing others in order to lead a safe, productive, fulfilling life. (Racial Equity Tools; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook)
Stereotype: Stereotypes are associations and beliefs about the distinguishing characteristics and attributes of a group and its members that shape how people think about and respond to the group. (John F. Dovidio and Melissa-Sue John, "Stereotype," Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, edited by Patrick L. Mason, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2013, Gale Virtual Reference Library)
Structural racism: The structural racism lens allows us to see that, as a society, we more or less take for granted a context of white leadership, dominance and privilege. This dominant consensus on race is the frame that shapes our attitudes and judgments about social issues. It has come about as a result of the way that historically accumulated white privilege, national values and contemporary culture have interacted so as to preserve the gaps between white Americans and Americans of color.
For example, we can see structural racism in the many institutional, cultural and structural factors that contribute to lower life expectancy for African American and Native American men, compared to white men. These include higher exposure to environmental toxins, dangerous jobs and unhealthy housing stock, higher exposure to and more lethal consequences for reacting to violence, stress and racism, lower rates of healthcare coverage, access and quality of care and systematic refusal by the nation to fix these things (Racial Equity Tools; Karen Fulbright-Anderson, Keith Lawrence, Stacey Sutton, Gretchen Susi and Anne Kubisch, Structural Racism and Community Building, New York: The Aspen Institute, 2004; Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens and Barbara Major, Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building, MP Associates, Inc. and the Center for Assessment and Policy Development, 2005.)
White privilege: Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. (Racial Equity Tools; Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women Studies, Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, 1988)