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Glossary for Racial Literacy

Glossary for Racial Literacy


An anti-racist is someone who is supporting policies against racism through their actions or expressing ideas that are against racism. This includes the expression of ideas that racial groups are equals and do not need developing and supporting policies that reduce racial inequity. Source: Ibram X Kendi, How to be an Antiracist, Random House, 2019


The personal, cultural, social, legal, and structural attacks on people called black. A term that some feel should replace racism as it is more focused on black people alone rather than all people of colour. E.g. – The denial of anti-blackness is a result of the politically white privileged society in which we live.


Differential treatment based on skin colour, especially favouritism toward those with a lighter skin tone, and mistreatment or exclusion of those with a darker skin tone, typically among those of the same racial group or ethnicity. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/colourism

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. Source: Colours of Resistance Archive.


The unequal treatment of people in the following groups. In the UK, the law makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone who identifies in the groups below.

Credit: https://www.wwl.nhs.uk/equality-delivery-system


Gaslighting is the process of undermining an individual leaving them questioning their own thoughts, beliefs and judgements. Examples of racial gaslighting: Are you sure that you were treated that way because of your colour? I don’t think what you experienced had anything to do with race.


Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policymaking in a way that shares power. Source: Open Source Leadership Strategies


An approach largely advanced by women of colour, arguing that classifications such as gender, race, class, and others cannot be examined in isolation from one another; they interact and intersect in individuals’ lives, in society, in social systems, and are mutually constitutive. Source: WPC Glossary from 14th Annual White Privilege Conference Handbook, White Privilege Conference, 2013.

Exposing [one’s] multiple identities can help clarify the ways in which a person can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression. For example, a black woman 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.

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 white people and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of colour. 


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 marginalised group membership.


The specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women.

Optical Allyship

This is allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally’. It makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress. Optical allyship is self-gratifying, it makes the individual appear compassionate and committed to social justice, but in practice, there is no real commitment.


Power is unequally distributed globally and in UK society; some individuals or groups wield greater power than others, thereby allowing them greater access and control over resources. Wealth, whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism, and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates. The importance of the concept of power to anti-racism is clear: racism cannot be understood without understanding that power is not only an individual relationship but a cultural one, and that power relationships are shifting constantly. Power can be used malignantly and intentionally, but need not be, and individuals within a culture may benefit from power of which they are unaware. Source: Intergroup Resources, 2012 – Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center 


A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalisations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognised and treated as individuals with individual characteristics. Source: Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative

Privilege Unearned social power is given 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 they are taught not to see it, but it puts them at an advantage over those who do not have it. Source: Colours of Resistance Archive

Racial Equity

Racial equity is the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity was not subjugated by whiteness and white people. When the term is used, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and so we also include work to address root causes of inequities not just their manifestation. This includes the elimination of policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them. Source: Center for Assessment and Policy Development


Racism = race prejudice + social and institutional power
Racism = a system of advantage based on race
Racism = a system of oppression based on race
Racism = a white supremacy system
Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices. Source: Dismantling Racism Works Workbook

Structural Racism

The normalisation and legitimisation of a range of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage white people while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of colour. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of white domination. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism. Source: Structural Racism for the Race and Public Policy Conference, Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center.

Tone Policing

A conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful, or otherwise emotionally charged manner. It’s condescending to shut down an argument through tone policing. Tone policing can silence the narratives of oppressed populations.

White Exceptionalism

White exceptionalism denies that white people have inherited considerable, tangible advantages from centuries of institutionalised white supremacy. White exceptionalism believes that racism is historical and no longer a present-day reality.

White Fragility

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 behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviours, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.” Source: White Fragility, Robin Di Angelo 

White Privilege

  1. 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.
  2. Structural White Privilege: A system of white domination that creates and maintains belief systems that make current racial advantages and disadvantages seem normal. The system includes powerful incentives for maintaining white privilege and its consequences and powerful negative consequences for trying to interrupt white privilege or reduce its consequences in meaningful ways. The system includes internal and external manifestations at the individual, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional levels. 

Source: White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women Studies. Peggy McIntosh. 1988. Transforming White Privilege: A 21st Century Leadership Capacity, CAPD, MP Associates, World Trust Educational Services, 2012.

“I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.”

“I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.”

“I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

“I will feel welcomed and ‘normal’ in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.”

“If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.”

“I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.”

“If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.”


  1. The term white, referring to people, was created by Virginia slave owners and colonial rulers 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 colour and continental origin. The creation of ‘whiteness’ meant giving privileges to some, while denying them to others with the justification of biological and social inferiority. 
  2. Whiteness itself refers to the specific dimensions of racism that serve to elevate white people over people of colour. This definition counters the dominant representation of racism in mainstream education as isolated in discrete behaviours that some individuals may or may not demonstrate, and goes beyond naming specific privileges (McIntosh, 1988). White people are theorised as actively shaped, affected, defined, and elevated through their racialisation and the individual and collective consciousness formed within it.

Source: Race: The Power of an Illusion, WhiteFragility, Robin DiAngelo 

White Supremacy

White supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of colour by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.
Challenging White Supremacy Workshop, Sharon Martinas. Fourth Revision. 1995.

Source of the glossary: Racial Equity Tools

Partially adapted and used with permission of MP Associates, Center for Assessment and Policy Development, and World Trust Educational Services, 201