Glossary of terms

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ABLEISM is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. Read more: Ableism 101 by Ashley Eisenmenger.

AGEISM is discrimination against individuals because of their age, and often based on stereotypes (e.g. senior citizens are not able to perform tasks such as driving, or that all young people are irresponsible).

An ALLY is 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 commit to reducing their own complicity or collusion in oppression of those groups and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression. 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. 

ANTI-RACISM is defined as the work of actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life. Anti-racism tends to be an individualized approach and set up in opposition to individual racist behaviors and impacts.

BIGOTRY is the intolerance of cultures, religions, races, ethnicities, or political beliefs that differ from one’s own.

A CISGENDER PERSON is someone whose gender identity corresponds with the sex that person had or was identified as having at birth.       

COLLUSION is when people act to perpetuate oppression or prevent others from working to eliminate oppression. Example: Able-bodied people who object to strategies for making buildings accessible because of the expense.

“I don't see color.” Yes, you do! COLORBLIND is a term used to describe personal, group, and institutional policies or practices that do not consider race or ethnicity as a determining factor. The term “colorblind” de‐emphasizes, or ignores, race and ethnicity, a large part of one’s identity.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another, typically more dominant people or society. For instance, non-Black people wearing their hair in dreadlocks is cultural appropriation.

Black people with locs have been barred from walking at high-school graduations, denied jobs, wrongfully associated with drug use, and otherwise discriminated against. As a result of systemic racism, Black people face consequences for wearing dreadlocks that non-Black people do not.

EMPOWERMENT is the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities. This enables them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority.

ETHNOCENTRISM is the practice of judging another culture solely based on the standards and values of one’s own culture, and may include a belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own nation or ethnic group.

The theory and practice that advocates for educational and occupational equity between men and women is called FEMINISM. It undermines traditional cultural practices that support the subjugation of women by men and the devaluation of women’s contributions to society.

IMPLICIT BIAS (aka unconscious or hidden bias) refers to 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.

INTERNALIZED OPPRESSION is a learned fear and self-hatred of one’s own identity or identity group based on the acceptance of oppressive stereotypes, attitudes, and beliefs about their identity group.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE refers to words or phrases that include both women and men, if applicable. Inclusive language does not assume or connote the absence of women. For example: Use of the words “police officers" instead of “policemen” or “humankind” instead of “mankind.”

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.
  • Telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of whites over other groups;
  • Avoiding people of color whom you do not know personally, but not whites whom you do not know personally (e.g., white people crossing the street to avoid a group of Latino/a young people; locking their doors when they see African American families sitting on their doorsteps in a city neighborhood; or not hiring a person of color because “something doesn’t feel right”);
  • Accepting things as they are (a form of collusion);
  • Voting without exploring a candidate's record on policies relating to equality and equity.

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.


  • Government policies that explicitly restricted the ability of people to get loans to buy or improve their homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans (also known as "red-lining"). 
  • City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color. 

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. It involves four essential and interconnected elements: Decision-making, Resources, Standards, and Naming The Problem.

INTERSECTIONALITY exposes one’s multiple identities to help clarify the ways in which a person can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression. For example, a Black woman in America does not experience gender inequalities in exactly the same way as a white woman, nor racial oppression identical to that experienced by a Black man. Each race and gender intersection produce a qualitatively distinct life.

MICROAGGRESSIONS are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. 

For instance: Complimenting a person born and raised in the United States on their English simply because they are not white.

Using outdated and offensive terminology, such as, “That’s so gay.”
Underrepresenting different races, sexualities, and disabilities in the media.

Telling a thin person that they should eat more food.

Asking someone, "Where are you REALLY from? 

MULTICULTURAL COMPETANCY is process of learning about and becoming allies with people from other cultures, thereby broadening our own understanding and ability to participate in a multicultural process. The key element to becoming more culturally competent is respect for the ways that others live in and organize the world and an openness to learn from them.

Rather than domination, control and power over, POWER WITH leads to collective action and the ability to act together. Power with is shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment and collaborative decision making.

PRIVILEGE is unearned social power accorded by the formal and informal institutions of society to ALL members of a dominant group (e.g. white privilege, male privilege, etc.). Privilege is usually invisible to those who have it because we’re taught not to see it, but nevertheless it puts them at an advantage over those who do not have it.

A RACIST is one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or interaction or expressing a racist idea. A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.

RAINBOW-WASHING is when a business publicly shows support for the LGBTQ+ community, (think: changing social media avatars or publishing support statements at the start of Pride Month) but privately engages in practices that are detrimental to those who identify as LGBTQ+.

SCIENTIFIC RACISM, sometimes termed biological racism, is the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism (racial discrimination), racial inferiority, or racial superiority. Published in 1851, “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race” reframed an enslaved person’s efforts toward freedom as the newly-created “drapetomania,” a "disease of the mind" that “induces the negro to run away from service.”

TOKENISM is the practice of making only a perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture toward the accomplishment of a goal, such as racial integration by, for instance, hiring or appointing a token number of people from underrepresented groups in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules.

The term WHITE, referring to people, was created by Virginia slave owners and colonial rules in the 17th century. It replaced terms like Christian and Englishman to distinguish European colonists from Africans and indigenous peoples. European colonial powers established whiteness as a legal concept after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, during which indentured servants of European and African descent had united against the colonial elite. The legal distinction of white separated the servant class on the basis of skin color and continental origin. The creation of ‘whiteness’ meant giving privileges to some, while denying them to others with the justification of assumed biological and social inferiority.

WHITE FRAGILITY is 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 SUPREMACY is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

Ageism is discrimination against individuals because of their age, and often based on stereotypes (e.g. senior citizens are not able to perform tasks such as driving, or that all young people are irresponsible)​




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