TERMS AND DEFINITIONS DEALING WITH RACE AND RACISM
Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based in characteristics such as physical characteristics, especially 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.
Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical location. Members of an ethnic group are often presumed to be culturally or biologically similar, although this is not in fact necessarily the case. Examples of ethnic groups identified in the U.S. are: Cape Verdean, Haitian, African American; Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese; Cherokee, Mohawk, Navajo; Jamaican, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican; Polish, Trinidadian, Irish, and French.
Racism: The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the U.S. (Blacks, Latino/as, Asians and Native Americans) by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). This subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.
Racial Formation: The meaning of race is defined and contested throughout society and in different historical periods through both personal behavior and collective action such that racial categories themselves are continuously formed, transformed, and re-formed. Racial formation is the process by which social, economic, and political forces interact to determine the content and importance
of racial categories, and are in turn shaped by racial meanings. In this formulation race is seen as a central axis of social relations that cannot be subsumed under or reduced to some broader category.
Racial and Ethnic Identity: An individual’s awareness and experience of being a member of a racial and ethnic group; the racial and ethnic categories that an individual chooses to describe himself or herself based on such factors as genealogical or ancestral heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation, early socialization, and personal experience. Puerto Ricans, for example, may be racially European, African, indigenous, or various, blends yet they refer to themselves collectively as Boricuas. Despite color differences, Puerto Ricans share a culture which shapes food, language, music and customs.
Culture: Aspects of a social environment that are used to communicate values such as what is considered good and desirable, right and wrong, normal, different, appropriate, or attractive. The means through which society creates a context from which individuals derive meaning and prescriptions for successful living within that culture (language and speech patterns, orientation toward time, standards of beauty, holidays that are celebrated, images of a “normal” family).
Cultural Racism: Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to White people and Whiteness and, and devalue, stereotype, and label People of Color as “other,” different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tone as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only whites as the great writers or composers.
Institutions: Established societal networks that covertly or overtly control the allocation of resources to individuals and social groups and that set and influence cultural norms and values. Examples of cultural institutions include the legal and criminal justice system, various forms of media, banks, schools, and organizations that control access to, or the quality of employment and education. In addition, since religious groups, family units, governmental bodies, and civic organizations influence social norms, policies and practices, these agencies can also be defined as social institutions.
Institutional Racism: The network of institutional structures, policies, and practices that create advantages and benefits for Whites, and discrimination, oppression and disadvantage for people from targeted racial groups. The advantages created for Whites are often invisible to them, or are considered “rights” available to everyone as opposed to “privileges” awarded to only some individuals and groups.
White Privilege: The concrete benefits of access to resource and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society which Whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society. Examples include the ability to be unaware of race, the ability to live and work among people of the same racial group as their own, the security of not being pulled over by the police for being a “suspicious” person, the expectation that they speak for themselves and not for their entire race, the ability to have a job hire or a promotion attributed to their skills and background and not affirmative action.
Collusion: Thinking and acting in ways which support the system of racism and white supremacy. White people can actively collude with racism by joining groups which advocate white supremacy. All people can collude by telling racist jokes, discriminating against a Person of Color, or remaining silent when observing a racist incident or remark. Both Whites and People of Color can collude with racism through their attitudes, beliefs and actions.
Horizontal Racism: The result of people of targeted racial groups believing, acting on, or enforcing the dominant (White) system of racial discrimination and oppression. Horizontal racism can occur between members of the same racial group (An Asian person telling another Asian person to stop wearing a sari and dress like an American; a Latino person telling another Latino person to stop speaking Spanish, etc.) or between members of different, targeted racial groups (Latinos believing stereotypes about Native Americans; Blacks not wanting Asians to move into a predominantly African American neighborhood).
Internalized Racism: The result of people of targeted racial groups believing, acting on or enforcing the dominant system of beliefs about themselves and members of their own racial group. Examples include Blacks using creams to lighten their skin, Latinos believing that the most competent administrators or leaders are White, Native Americans believing they are not as intelligent as Whites, Asians believing that racism is the result of People of Color not being able to raise themselves about by their own bootstraps.
Ally: A White person who actively works to eliminate racism. This person may be motivated by self-interest in ending racism, a sense of moral obligation, or a commitment to foster social justice, as opposed to a patronizing agenda of wanting to “help those poor People of Color.”
Empowered Person of Color: An empowered Person of Color has an understanding of racism and its impact on one’s life without responding to the events and circumstances as a victim. Rather, being empowered means the capacity to engage individuals and institutions with the expectation of being treated well.
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.
Active Racism: Actions which have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in the targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of the targeted racial groups and protection of the rights of members of the agent group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of People of Color and the superiority of White people, culture and values.
Passive Racism: Beliefs, attitudes and actions that contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating violence or oppression. The conscious and unconscious maintenance of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that support the system of racism, racial prejudice and racial dominance.
From: Teaching for Diversity and Social Change: A Sourcebook, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin.