Glossary: Racism Terminology

  • Affirmative Action – An action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education.
  • Bigotry

    Intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from yourself.

  • Cognitive Dissonance – What occurs when a person is holding onto contradictory ideas simultaneously (eg. espousing freedom for all while demonstrably supporting practices that oppose that).
  • Environmental Justice – Any policy, practice or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intentionally or unintentionally) individuals, groups or communities based on race or ethnicity. It combines with public policies and industry practices to provide benefits for whites while shifting costs to people of color. Numerous studies have shown that heavily polluting industries in North America such as mining and manufacturing, garbage dumps, toxic waste sites, medical waste incinerators and congested freeways are located disproportionately in communities of color in rural, urban and suburban areas and on Native American land. Higher levels of air, water and land pollution lead directly to higher levels of asthma, cancer and other illnesses, i.e. increased mortality for children and adults. In addition, people of color are, in general, more likely to have jobs with higher exposure to contaminants such as pesticides, asbestos, lead, and other toxic chemicals. Finally, people of color are most likely to experience lack of access to clean air and water and uncontaminated, affordable and healthy food. (Paul Kivel)
  • Gerrymandering – The process of manipulating the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.
  • Gentrification – TBF
  • Implicit Bias/Unconscious Bias – Attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions at an unconscious level (eg. commenting that a black person “is so articulate” – while being unaware of how that seems to imply that blacks are normally NOT articulate).
  • Jim Crow – TBF
  • Racism

    Racism in the U.S. is a system in which white people are able to enforce their power and privilege over non-whites through political, economic and institutional means. Therefore racism can be described as “prejudice multiplied by power,” as the two work together to create the system of inequality. 100 units of Black prejudice multiplied by 0 units of power gives 0 units of racism (correct equation), whereas 100 units of Black prejudice added to 0 units of power gives 100 units of racism (incorrect equation).

  • Redlining – TBF
  • Reparations – Usually applies to slavery. The idea is that some form of compensation should be made to descendants of Africans who had been enslaved as part of the Atlantic Slave Trade. For many, compensation should also take into account 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal and 35 years of racist housing practices (redlining) as well as the effects of mass incarceration.
  • Reverse Racism – Usually brought up when a member of a dominant group feels slighted by a racial minority. Since racism by definition first requires that the perpetrator hold power over the victim (see Racism above), reverse racism does not technically exist in the United States. America’s long history of racial discrimination makes it nearly impossible for people of color to hold power over white people in any way that reasonably compares to how whites hold power over people of color. (View this entertaining commentary on reverse racism).
  • Systemic (or Structural) Racism

    Systemic racism serves to emphasize that we have a system with interconnected racist institutions, policies, practices, ideas, and behaviors that give an unjust amount of resources, rights, and power to white people while denying them to people of color.

  • Uncle Tom – TBF
  • White Ally – TBF
  • White Fragility – A phrase coined by author Dr. Robin DiAngelo as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, 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.
  • White privilege – A set of advantages and/or immunities from which white people benefit on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country