Race and Social Equity Definitions

A list of terms, and their definitions, often used in racial equity work.

Page updated on Apr 14, 2021 at 8:13 AM

A (Ableism – Anti-Racism)


A set of beliefs or practices at the individual, community, or systemic level that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other.


The extent to which a space is readily approachable and usable by people with disabilities. A space can be described as a physical or literal space, such as a facility, website, conference room, office, or bathroom, or a figurative space, such as a conversation or activity.


To acknowledge, respect, value, and support someone’s full identity and self—including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, experiences, ideas, beliefs, etc.— and to encourage the development and exploration of who they are.


Describes someone who supports a group other than one's own (in terms of racial identity, ethnic background, gender, faith identity, sexual orientation, class, citizenship, age, skin color, ability etc.) Allies acknowledge disadvantage and oppression of other groups than their own; take risks and supportive action on their behalf; commit to reducing their own complicity or collusion in oppression of those groups and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.


Allied behavior means taking personal responsibility for the changes we know are needed in our society. Allied behavior is overt, consistent activity that challenges prevailing patterns of oppression, makes privileges that are so often invisible visible, and facilitates the empowerment of persons targeted by oppression. 

Pop wisdom: the social group of less privilege that you work with might label you “an ally” but it is bad form for you to claim the label for yourself.

Anti-blackness/Anti-Black Racism

Any attitude, behavior, practice, or policy that explicitly or implicitly reflects the belief that Black people are inferior to another racial group. Anti-Black racism is reflected in interpersonal, institutional, and systemic levels of racism and is a function of White supremacy.

Anti-Racism/ Anti-Racist

Active process of identifying and challenging racism, by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices, and attitudes, to redistribute power in an equitable manner.

B (Bias – BIPOC)

Bias (Racial Bias)

Attitudes or stereotypes that affect an individual’s understanding, actions, and decisions in an conscious or unconscious manner.

See also, implicit and explicit bias.


Intolerant prejudice which glorifies one's own group and denigrates members of other groups.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) is the evolution of the term “minority,” “minorities,” or “minority communities” which are inaccurate given that people of color are majority identities on a global level. Those terms have also been rejected for their potential to infer any inferior characteristics. The community may or may not also be a geographic community. Given that race is a socially defined construct, the definitions of these communities are dynamic and evolve across time. BIPOC refers to groups who identify as non-white.

C (Classism – Cultural Racism)


The institutional, cultural, and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign differential value to people according to their socioeconomic status. Classism also refers to the systematic oppression of poor and working-class people by those who control resources.

Code Switching

Code switching involves adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for acceptance, fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.


When people, through action or inaction, 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.

Color-Blind Racial Ideology

The belief that people should be regarded and treated equally, without regard to race or ethnicity. While a color-blind racial ideology may seem to be a pathway to achieve equity, in reality it invalidates the importance of peoples’ culture; ignores the manifestations of racist policies which preserve the ongoing processes that maintain racial and ethnic stratification in social, political, and cultural institutions.


Using White skin color as the standard, colorism is the allocation of privilege and favor to lighter skin colors and disadvantage to darker skin colors. Colorism operates both within and across racial and ethnic groups.

Cultural Competency

The ability and will to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures. Grounded in the respect and appreciation of cultural differences, cultural competence is demonstrated in the attitudes, behaviors, practices, and policies of people, organizations, and systems.

Cultural Humility

When one maintains an interpersonal stance that is open to individuals and communities of varying cultures, in relation to aspects of the cultural identity most important to the person. Cultural humility can include a life-long commitment to self-critique about differences in culture and a commitment to be aware of and actively mitigate power imbalances between cultures.


The language, customs, ideas, beliefs, rules, arts, knowledge, traditions, attitudes and collective identities shared by a group of persons, transmitted from generation to generation.  Adherence to the customs is required by a system of rewards and punishments.  Language and other symbolic media are the chief agents of cultural transmission, but many behavioral patterns are acquired through experience alone.

Cultural Racism

Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and whiteness, and devalue, stereotype and label Black, Indigenous, People of Color as "other," different, less than or invisible.

D (Denial – Dominant Group)


Refusal to acknowledge the societal privileges (see the term "privilege") that are granted or denied based on an individual's ethnicity or other grouping. Those who are in a stage of denial tend to believe, "People are people. We are all alike regardless of the color of our skin." In this way, the existence of a hierarchical system or privileges based on ethnicity or race can be ignored.


The unequal treatment of members of various groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, religion, citizenship status, a combination of those identified, and/or other categories.  In contrast to prejudice, discrimination is behavior.  To discriminate is to treat a person, not on the basis of his or her intrinsic qualities, but on the basis of a prejudgment about that person or group.  Discrimination can either be de jure (legal, as in segregation laws) or de facto (discrimination in fact, without legal sanction).


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. A multiplicity of races, genders, sexual orientations, classes, ages, countries of origin, educational status, religions, physical, or cognitive abilities, documentation status, etc. within a community, organization or grouping of some kind.

Note: A diversity focus emphasizes “how many of these” we have in the room, organization, etc. Diversity programs and cultural celebrations/education programs are not equivalent to racial justice or inclusion. It is possible to name, acknowledge, and celebrate diversity without doing anything to transform the institutional or structural systems that produce, and maintain, racialized injustices in our communities.

Dog Whistle

Language that is seemingly race-neutral but is actually a disguise for racial stereotypes without the stigma of explicit racism.

Dominant Group

Not necessarily the majority, but the group within a society with the power, privilege, and social status to control and define societal resources and social, political, and economic systems and norms.

E (Educational Equity – Explicit Bias)

Educational Equity

Educational disparities based on race, economics and other dimensions of difference are reduced and eliminated. Positive school outcomes are distributed equitably proportionally across all demographic and identity groups.  Negative outcomes and disproportionality are reduced for all groups.


Agency initiated from the knowledge, confidence, means, ability and/or desire to do things or make decisions for oneself.


Fairness and justice in policy, practice and opportunity consciously designed to address the distinct historical and structural challenges of non-dominant social groups, with an eye to equitable outcomes. The goal of equity is to acknowledge unequal starting places and correct the imbalance.


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. Ethnicity is not the same as race.

Explicit Bias

Biases that people are aware of and that operate consciously. They are expressed directly.



Defensiveness associated with recognizing and acknowledging systemic privilege, and the possible ways that the person has perpetuated or benefited from it.  
Implicit Bias- Judgments/ behaviors that result from subtle cognitive processes (attitudes and stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness.

G (Gatekeeper – Gender Pronoun)


Anyone in a position of power who can grant or deny access to institutional resources.

Gender Pronoun

The term one uses to identify themselves in place of their name (i.e. ze/ hir/hirs, ey/em/eirs, they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his, etc.). The use of the specific gender pronoun identified by each individual should be respected and should not be regarded as optional.



The fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who are attracted to members of the same gender. Homophobia occurs in a broader heterosexist social context that systematically disadvantages LGBTQ+ people and promotes and rewards anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.

I (Implicit Bias – "ISMS")

Implicit Bias

A belief or attitude that affects our understanding, decision, and actions, and that exists without our conscious awareness.


A state of belonging when persons of different backgrounds and identities are valued, integrated, and welcomed equitably as decision-makers and collaborators. Inclusion involves people being given the opportunity to grow and feel/know they belong. Diversity efforts alone do not create inclusive environments. Inclusion involves a sense of coming as you are and being accepted, rather than feeling the need to assimilate. Organizationally, inclusion is expressed through practices and policies that empower employees across the board.

Indigenous Decolonization

The repatriation of Indigenous land and life, as well as the ongoing theoretical and political processes used to contest and reframe narratives about indigenous community histories and the effects of colonial expansion, genocide, and cultural assimilation. Indigenous people engaged in decolonization work adopt a critical stance towards White, western-centric practices and discourse and seek to reposition knowledge within Indigenous cultural practices. This is commonly referred to as decolonization.

Individual Racism

The beliefs, attitudes and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can occur at both a conscious and unconscious level and can be both active and passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet or believing in the inherent superiority of whites.

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism refers to organizational policies and practices — based on explicit and/or implicit biases — that produce outcomes consistently advantaging or disadvantaging one racial group. These laws, policies, and practices are not necessarily explicit in mentioning any racial group but work to create advantages for White persons and disadvantages for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).

Internalized Racism

The conscious and unconscious development of ideas, beliefs, actions, and behaviors that demonstrate one’s acceptance of the dominant society’s racist tropes and stereotypes about their own race. Internalized racism is the simultaneous hating of oneself and/or one’s own race and valuing of the dominant race. Internalized racism is an individual’s system of oppression in response to any and all forms of racism.

Interpersonal Racism

The racism that occurs between individuals. It is when someone consciously or unconsciously employs or acts upon on racist thoughts, in ways that perpetuate stereotypes and harms people of color. See also, microaggressions.


Coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, this term describes the ways in which race, class, gender, and other aspects of our identity “intersect” overlap and interact with one another, informing the way in which individuals simultaneously experience oppression and privilege in their daily lives interpersonally and systemically. Intersectionality promotes the idea that aspects of our identity do not work in a silo. Intersectionality, then, provides a basis for understanding how these individual identity markers work with one another.


A way of describing any attitude, action or institutional structure that subordinates (oppresses) a person or group because of their target group, color (racism), gender (sexism), economic status (classism), older age (ageism), religion (e.g., anti-Semitism), sexual orientation (heterosexism), language/immigrant status (xenophobism), etc.



The proactive process of reinforcing and establishing a set of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes for all individuals and groups. See also, racial justice.

L (LGBTQ+ – Liberation)


An acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.” The plus (+) is inclusive of all other expressions of gender identity and sexual orientation.


The progression toward or the conscious or unconscious state of being in which one can freely exist, think, dream, and thrive in a way which operates outside of traditional systems of oppression. Liberation acknowledges history but does not bind any person to disparate systems or outcomes. Liberation is a culture of solidarity, respect, and dignity.

M (Marginalization – Microaggression)


The process that occurs when members of a dominant group relegate a particular group to the edge of society by not allowing them an active voice, identity, or place for the purpose of maintaining power.


A statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination. Forms of microaggressions can include verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults: 

  • Micro-assaults – Purposeful use of discriminatory comments or actions, such as racial epithets.
  • Micro-insults – Rude or insensitive comments that racial minorities hear frequently.
  • Micro-invalidations – Comments that negate or nullify people of color’s experiences of racism



A person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that is neither entirely male nor entirely female. Many people with nonbinary genders prefer the pronouns they and their.

O (Oppression – Othering)


A system of supremacy and discrimination for the benefit of a limited dominant class that perpetuates itself through differential treatment, ideological domination, and institutional control. Oppression reflects the inequitable distribution of current and historical structural and institutional power, where a socially constructed binary of a “dominant group” horde power, wealth, and resources at the detriment of the many. This creates a lack of access, opportunity, safety, security, and resources for non-dominant populations. 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.


The perception or placing of a person or a group outside and/or in opposition to what is considered to be the norm. Othering is based on a conscious or unconscious assumption that a certain identified group poses a threat to the favored or dominant group.

 P (Patriarchy – Privilege)


The manifestation and institutionalization of men and/or masculinity as dominant over women and/or femininity in both the private and public spheres, such as the home, political, religious, and social institutions, sports, etc. Patriarchy is deeply connected with cissexism and heterosexism through the perpetuation and enforcement of the gender binary.

People of Color

Political or social (not biological) identity among and across groups of people that are racialized as non-White. The term “People of color” is used to acknowledge that many races experience racism in the U.S, and the term includes, but is not synonymous with, Black people. See also, BIPOC.


The ability to define, set, or change situations. Power can manifest as personal or collective self-determination. Power is the ability to influence others to believe, behave, or adopt values as those in power desire.


Prejudice is an unfounded hatred, fear, mistrust, or opinion of a person or group formed from irrational feelings without thought or reason that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics. 


A set of conditions or immunities that allow a group of people to benefit on a daily basis beyond those common to others. Advantage can exist without a person’s conscious knowledge.

R (Race – Racism)


A social and political construction—with no inherent genetic or biological basis—used by social institutions to arbitrarily categorize and divide groups of individuals based on physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestry, cultural history, and ethnic classification. The concept has been, and still is, used to justify the domination, exploitation, and violence against people who are racialized as non-White. Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.

Racial Anxiety

The fear of being judged, based on an individual’s race, when interacting with people of other races. White people fear assumptions of being racist, while people of color fear being the victim of discriminatory behavior, systemic racism and/or violence.

Racial Disparity

An unequal outcome one or more racial groups experiences as compared to the outcome for another racial group and their population relative overall population. 

Racial Disproportionality

The underrepresentation or overrepresentation of a racial or ethnic group at a particular decision point, event, or circumstance, in comparison to the group’s percentage in the total population.

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

Racial equity is the condition that would be achieved if one's racial identity no longer predicts ones life outcomes. 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 Inequity

Race as the number one predictor of life outcomes, e.g., disproportionality in education (high school graduation rates), jobs (unemployment rate), criminal justice (arrest and incarceration rates), life expectancy, etc.

Racial Justice

The proactive process of reinforcing and establishing a set of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes for all individuals and groups impacted by racism. The goal, however, is not only the eradication of racism, but also the presence of deliberate social systems and structures that sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures.


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. Prejudice becomes racism when it is practiced by the economically, socially or politically powerful. A simpler definition is racial prejudice + power = racism.

S (Social Justice – Systems Change)

Social Justice

A process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.


Fixed, widely held image, beliefs or assumptions about a group of people made without regard to individual differences.  Unlike prejudice, which may be formed by a single individual, stereotypes are held by a large number of people in a society.  Stereotypes are impervious to evidence and contrary argument.

Stereotype Threat

The threat of being stereotyped or the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype. The resulting apprehension often causes the individual to behave in ways that reinforce that stereotype.

Structural Racism Framework

Structural Racism in the U.S. is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by white supremacy – the preferential treatment, privilege and power for white people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other racially oppressed people. 

Systemic Racism

Systemic- Interplay between individual, interpersonal, and institutional, which creates natural energy and cycle of continued advantage/power and inequity. It continues without action .Pop Wisdom: The structural racism framework is what allows systemic racism to exist.

Systems of Oppression

The ways in which history, culture, ideology, public policies, institutional practices, and personal behaviors and beliefs interact to maintain a hierarchy—based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and/or other group identities—that allows the privileges associated with the dominant group and the disadvantages associated with the targeted group to endure and adapt over time.

Systems Change

A process designed to address the root causes of social problems and fundamentally alter the components and structures that perpetuate them in public systems (i.e. education system, child welfare system, etc.).

T (Target Universalism – Transphobia)

Target Universalism

An analysis that alters the usual approach of universal strategies to achieve universal goals (improved health), and instead suggests we use targeted strategies to reach universal goals. Targeted universalism is used as a design principle within equity work in order to produce broad benefits for everyone.


The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people. Transphobia occurs in a broader cisgenderist social context that systematically disadvantages trans people and promotes and rewards anti-trans sentiment.

W (White Dominant Culture – Workforce Equity)

White Dominant Culture

White dominant culture is an artificial, historically constructed culture which expresses, justifies and binds together the United States white supremacy system. It is the glue that binds together white-controlled institutions into systems and white-controlled systems into the global white supremacy system.

White Fragility

A range of defensive (and centering) emotions and behaviors that White people exhibit when confronted with uncomfortable truths about race or even a minimum amount of racial stress. This may include outward displays 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 comfort and status quo. 

White Privilege

The unearned power and advantages that benefit people just by virtue of being White or being perceived as White. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.

White Supremacy

The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. White supremacy is ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and "undeserving." White supremacy also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.

Workforce Equity

The workforce of a jurisdiction reflects the diversity of its residents, including across the breadth (functions and departments) and depth (hierarchy) of government.



Any attitude, behavior, practice, or policy that explicitly or implicitly reflects the belief that immigrants are inferior to the dominant group of people. Xenophobia is reflected in interpersonal, institutional, and systemic levels oppression and is a function of White supremacy.