As we strive to improve conversations about race, racism, and racial equity, one of the fundamental tools we can use to help describe our identities, experiences, disparities, and inequities is language. The below glossary of racial equity terms is not exhaustive, but we hope it will serve as a starting point to help facilitate conversations and build empathy and understanding.
We have included some terms you might already be familiar with, as well as some less familiar terms that you may begin hearing or reading about more frequently. While language will continue to change and evolve, one thing is certain: words matter.
Glossary of Racial Equity Terms
Ally: A person who actively supports and advocates for people who belong to marginalized, silenced, or less privileged groups without actually being a member of those groups.
Anti-Black: A two-part formation that both voids Blackness of value, while systematically marginalizing Black people and their issues. The first form of anti-Blackness is overt racism. The second form of anti-Blackness is the unethical disregard for Black institutions and policies.
Anti-Racism: The work of actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life. Anti-racism tends to be an individualized approach set up in opposition to an individual’s racist behaviors and impacts.
Anti-Racist: Becoming actively conscious about race and racism and taking actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives. Being anti-racist is believing that racism is everyone’s problem, and we all have a role to play in stopping it.
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color): A term meant to unite all people of color in the work for liberation while intentionally acknowledging that not all people of color face the same levels of injustice. By specifically naming Black and Indigenous people we are recognizing that Black and Indigenous people face the worst consequences of systemic white supremacy, classism, and settler colonialism.
Cultural Appropriation: Theft of cultural elements for one’s own use, commodification, or profit — including symbols, art, language, customs, etc. — often without understanding, acknowledgment, or respect for its value in the original culture. Results from the assumption of a dominant (i.e. white) culture’s right to take other cultural elements.
Diversity: The wide range of national, ethnic, racial and other backgrounds of U.S. residents and immigrants as social groupings, co-existing in American culture. The term is often used to include aspects of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, and much more.
Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as a shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical base.
Equality: Everyone gets the same distribution of the resource(s) and is treated in the same way under the law or by institutions, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other social identities
Equity: Individuals and communities get the resources they need to succeed, as well as support and protection from the law and institutions, based on the historical and current oppression they face because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other social identities.
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.
Inclusion: Inclusion authentically brings traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making.
Individual Racism: 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.
Institutional Racism: Discriminatory treatments, unfair policies, or biased practices based on race that results in inequitable outcomes for whites over people of color and extend considerably beyond prejudice. Institutional racism occurs when organizations, businesses, or institutions like schools and police departments, discriminate, either deliberately or indirectly, against certain groups of people to limit their rights because of their race.
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.
Privilege: A right that only some people have access 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.
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.
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.
Structural/Systemic Racism: The overarching system of racial bias across institutions and society. These systems give privileges to white people resulting in disadvantages to people of color.
Transracial Adoptee: A child who is of one race or ethnic group placed with adoptive parents of another race or ethnic group.
White Fragility: Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, describes white fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable [for white people], triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”
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.
Sources: Racial Equity Tools, Racial Equity Resource Guide, We Repair The World, National Museum of African American History & Culture
+Keep learning! Read our blog: A Guide to LGBTQ+ Terms