Words have deep meaning. Having a shared understanding of common terms and concepts will help to contextualize lived experiences and create a pathway for an aligned equity lens.

These definitions are a permanent work in progress that will be adjusted as our vocabulary and collective consciousness shifts overtime. This is not an exhaustive list of terms, but instead a place to start as we all embark on our own anti-oppression learning journeys. 

Ableism: The system of oppression based on ability; assumes disabled people as flawed, insufficient, and inferior. Includes assumptions about what is “normal” and results in the marginalization of the disabled. In brief, it is the unearned privilege afforded to non-disabled people. (Engineer Inclusion)

Ally: Describes someone who supports a group other than one’s own (in terms of racial identity, gender, faith identity, sexual orientation, 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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Center for Assessment and Policy Development)

Asset Perspective: Asset perspective is when students’ cultural differences are seen as beneficial to the learning environment, as opposed to a deficit perspective, where cultural differences are perceived as detrimental to the learning environment. (NAPE’s Culturally Responsive Teaching Workbook)

BIPOC: The term BIPOC stands for ‘Black, Indigenous, People of Color,’ it is 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. (Sunrise Movement)

Discrimination: The unequal treatment of members of various groups based on race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion and other categories. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative. A Community Builder’s Tool Kit)

Empowerment: When target group members refuse to accept the dominant ideology and their subordinate status and take actions to redistribute social power more equitably. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge)

Ethnicity: 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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.)

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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.)

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 whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as non-white. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens and Barbara Major. Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building)

Implicit Bias: Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect one’s understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These are often unrecognized and may not align to one’s declared beliefs and values. (NAPE Culturally Responsive Teaching Workbook)

Internalized Racism: 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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Donna Bivens, “Internalized Racism: A Definition,” Women’s Theological Center.)

Intersectionality: An approach largely advanced by women of color, 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. The interconnected nature of social categorizations can create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or advantage. (Engineer Inclusion)

LGBT, LGBTQ+ and LGBTQIA+: These are umbrella terms used to refer to the community as a whole. The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and Allied (see separate definitions for these words).  For a comprehensive list of terminologies see here. (Engineer Inclusion)

Micromessages: Micromessages are small, subtle, unconscious messages that are sent and received when communicating with others. Micromessages can be either positive “micro–affirmations” or negative “micro–inequities” that communicate value to an individual. Micromessages are relayed through not only words but also nonverbal communication, contextual cues in the classroom and school, and written feedback. (NAPE Culturally Responsive Teaching Workbook)

National Values: National values are behaviors and characteristics that we as members of a society are taught to value and enact. Fairness, equal treatment, individual responsibility, and meritocracy are examples of some key national values in the United States. When looking at national values through a structural racism lens, however, we can see that there are certain values that have allowed structural racism to exist in ways that are hard to detect. This is because these national values are referred to in ways that ignore historical realities. Two examples of such national values are ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘individualism,’ which convey the idea that people control their fates regardless of social position, and that individual behaviors and choices alone determine material outcomes. (Aspen Institute)

Oppression: 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. Oppression denotes structural and material constraints that significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility. Oppression also signifies a hierarchical relationship in which dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups. 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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge)

Prejudice: 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 generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide, Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative. A Community Builder’s Tool Kit. Claremont, Calif.: Claremont Graduate University)

Privilege: A right that only some people have access or availability to because of their social group memberships (dominants). (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; National Conference for Community and Justice – St. Louis Region.– Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program) 

Progress and Retrenchment: This term refers to the pattern in which progress is made through the passage of legislation, court rulings and other formal mechanisms that aim to promote racial equality. Brown v. Board of Education and the Fair Housing Act are two prime examples of such progress. But retrenchment refers to the ways in which this progress is very often challenged, neutralized or undermined. In many cases after a measure is enacted that can be counted as progress, significant backlashes—retrenchment—develop in key public policy areas. Some examples include the gradual erosion of affirmative action programs, practices among real estate professionals that maintain segregated neighborhoods, and failure on the part of local governments to enforce equity oriented policies such as inclusionary zoning laws. (Aspen Institute)

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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.)

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. 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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Center for Assessment and Policy Development)

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. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; National Conference for Community and Justice – St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program.)

Sexism: Sexist attitudes or ideology, including beliefs, theories, and ideas that hold one group (usually male) as deservedly superior to the other (usually female), and that justify oppressing members of the other group on the basis of their sex or gender. Sexist practices and institutions, the ways in which oppression is carried out. These need not be done with a conscious sexist attitude but may be unconscious cooperation in a system which has been in place already in which one sex (usually female) has less power and goods in the society. (https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-sexism-3529186)

Social Power: Access to resources that enhance one’s chances of getting what one needs or influencing others in order to lead a safe, productive, fulfilling life. (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide via Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge)

Structural Racism: “The structural racism lens allows us to see that, as a society, we more or less take for granted a context of white leadership, dominance and privilege. This dominant consensus on race is the frame that shapes our attitudes and judgments about social issues. It has come about as a result of the way that historically accumulated white privilege, national values and contemporary culture have interacted so as to preserve the gaps between white Americans and Americans of color.” (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Karen FulbrightAnderson, Keith Lawrence, Stacey Sutton, Gretchen Susi and Anne Kubisch, Structural Racism and Community Building. New York: The Aspen Institute.)

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. Examples of privilege might be: “I can walk around a department store without being followed.” “I can come to a meeting late and not have my lateness attributed to your race.” “Being able to drive a car in any neighborhood without being perceived as being in the wrong place or looking for trouble.” “I can turn on the television or look to the front page and see people of my ethnic and racial background represented.” “I can take a job without having co-workers suspect that I got it because of my racial background.” “I can send my 16-year old out with his new driver’s license and not have to give him a lesson on how to respond if police stop him.” (Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide; Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women Studies.”)

Thank you!

This resource is a compilation of definitions found in a number of pre-existing glossarys. We want to thank Truth Racial Healing and Transformation, The Aspen Institute, Sunrise Movement, and Engineer Inclusion for sharing their expertise and resources with our community.

NAPE is committed to the internal organizational work that is required to grow, challenge our own lens, and deepen our understanding of how we unintentionally perpetuate oppressive language in our own work. In order to hold ourselves accountable to our community, we welcome any feedback on how to improve our definitions and framing. If you have any questions, suggestions, or feedback, please contact Ashley Conrad, Associate Director of Programs, at aconrad@napequity.org.