Racial Equity Tools Glossary
Words and their multiple uses reflect the tremendous diversity that characterizes our society. Indeed, universally agreed upon language on issues relating to racism is nonexistent. We discovered that even the most frequently used words in any discussion on race can easily cause confusion, which leads to controversy and hostility. It is essential to achieve some degree of shared understanding, particularly when using the most common terms. In this way, the quality of dialogue and discourse on race can be enhanced.
Language can be used deliberately to engage and support community anti-racism coalitions and initiatives, or to inflame and divide them. Discussing definitions can engage and support coalitions. However, it is important for groups to decide the extent to which they must have consensus and where it is okay for people to disagree. It is also helpful to keep in mind that the words people use to discuss power, privilege, racism and oppression hold different meanings for different people. For instance, people at different stages of developing an analysis tend to attach different meanings to words like discrimination, privilege and institutional racism. Furthermore, when people are talking about privilege or racism, the words they use often come with emotions and assumptions that are not spoken.
Many of the terms in this glossary have evolved over time. For example, given the changing demographic trends in the United States, the word “minority” no longer accurately reflects the four primary racial/ethnic groups. The terms “emerging majority” and “people of color” have become popular substitutes. Also, the terms used to refer to members of each community of color have changed over time. Whether to use the terms African American or Black, Hispanic American, Latinx or Latino, Native American or American Indian, and Pacific Islander or Asian American depends on a variety of conditions, including your intended audiences’ geographic location, age, generation, and, sometimes, political orientation.
The primary source for a definition is noted. Some definitions are paraphrased or updated.
SOURCE: Project Change’s “The Power of Words.” Originally produced for Project Change Lessons Learned II, also included in A Community Builder’s Toolkit – both produced by Project Change and The Center for Assessment and Policy Development with some modification by RacialEquityTools.org.
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