Racial Equity Glossary

As we work together, and invest together, to advance racial equity, listening and learning is an important part of the journey.

Some unfamiliar and occasionally misunderstood terms are moving into the mainstream. Words often have different meanings to different people, based on their experiences. A common vocabulary is essential to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

To promote a shared starting place, here’s a brief racial equity glossary endorsed by the advisory committee of the Lexington Black Prosperity Initiative:

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. Being an ally is not a person’s identity, it’s a lifelong journey of commitment and practice.

Allyship:  An informed, consistent, and empathetic practice to uphold a culture of inclusion.

Antiracist:  A conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of making antiracist choices, we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or antiracist is not about who you are; it is about what you do.

BIPOC:  Black, Indigenous, People of Color, the term is used to highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.

Black Lives Matter:  An international movement formed to address systemic racism and violence against Black people. The Black Lives Matter Global Network was founded in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Cultural Appropriation:  Theft of cultural elements for one’s own use, commodification, or profit—including symbols, art, language, customs, etc.—often without understanding, acknowledgement, 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.

EDI:  Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Equity:  Just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. (Alternate – A measure of fair treatment, opportunities and outcomes across race, gender, class and other dynamics.)

Diversity:  The range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin and political beliefs.

Inclusion:  Refers to the intentional, ongoing effort to ensure that diverse individuals fully participate in all aspects of organizational work, including decision-making processes. It also refers to the ways that diverse participants are valued as respected members of an organization and/or community.

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.

Individual Racism:  Occurs between individuals. These are public expressions of racism, often involving slurs, biases or hateful words or actions.

Institutionalized Racism:  Occurs in an organization. These are discriminatory treatments, unfair policies, or biased practices based on race that result in inequitable outcomes for whites over people of color and extend considerably beyond prejudice. These institutional policies often never mention any racial group, but the intent is to create advantages. Example:  A school system where students of color are more frequently distributed into the most crowded classrooms and underfunded schools and out of the higher-resourced schools.

Intersectionality:  A prism to see the interactive effects of various forms of discrimination and disempowerment. It looks at the way that racism, many times, interacts with patriarchy, heterosexism, classism, xenophobia—seeing that the overlapping vulnerabilities created by these systems actually create specific kinds of challenges.

Micro-aggression:  Brief, commonplace, subtle or blatant daily verbal, behavior or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.

POC:  People of Color, often the preferred collective term for referring to non-white racial groups, rather than “minorities.” Racial justice advocates have been using the term “people of color” (not to be confused with the pejorative “colored people”) since the late 1970s as an inclusive and unifying frame across different racial groups that are not white, to address racial inequities. While “people of color” can be a politically useful term, and describes people with their own attributes (as opposed to what they are not, eg: “non-white”), it is also important whenever possible to identify people through their own racial/ethnic group, as each has its own distinct experience and meaning and may be more appropriate.

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.

Racial Equity versus Racial Equality:  Equality means sameness. The goal of racial equality is for everyone to be treated the same, but that is not the focus of racial justice. The focus of racial justice is equity.Equity is fairness and justice. For success to occur, everyone must be able to begin at the same point and be given the same resources.

Structural 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. Example:  Stereotypes of people of color as criminals in mainstream movies and media.

White Fragility:  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 granted specifically to white people over other racial groups, which is reinforced throughout many societal structures. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.

White Supremacy:  A form of racism centered upon the belief that white people are superior to people of other racial backgrounds and that whites should politically, economically and socially dominate non-whites. While often associated with violence perpetrated by the KKK and other white supremacist groups, it also describes a political ideology and systemic oppression that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical and/or industrial White domination.

This glossary was compiled from a number of sources including 16 Words and Definitions to Kickstart Your Anti-Racism Journey (Renee Cherez), Georgetown University Library’s Anti-Racism Toolkit, National Museum of African American History and Culture – Talking About Race, Policy Link, University of Washington’s Racial Equity Glossary and W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Racial Equity Resource Guide, Glossary. The definition for intersectionality is the work of Crenshaw, K. (1991), Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, Stanford Law Review 43(6), p 1241-1299, DOI: 10.2307/1229039.