This compilation of terms is a tool, a guide to decipher some of the difficult language that is being used when discussing oppression. It has been compiled from various sources and is certainly not comprehensive. Nor is it intended to create more boxes or represent everyone's experience. It is simply an attempt to provide the context(s) in which these terms are commonly used. The usage of these terms varies across communities. Please note that these pages will be regularly reviewed for content.


A white person who actively works to eliminate racism. An ally is motivated by self-interest, a sense of moral obligation, or a commitment to foster social justice and does not patronize or assume to "help" people of color in paternalistic ways. A white ally may engage in anti-racism work both in collaboration with other white people and in coalition with people of color.


Refers to someone with two socially and phenotypically distinct racial heritages – typically one from each parent (Racially Mixed People in America, Maria P. P. Root)


Thinking and acting in ways that support the system of racism. White people can actively collude by joining groups that advocate white supremacy. A person from any racial group can collude by telling racist jokes, discriminating against a person of color, or remaining silent when observing a racist incident or remark. (Jackson and Hardiman, 1997)

Dominant Identity

Personal identity that holds the greatest amount of privilege and/or power.

Empowered Person of Color

A person of color who understands racism and its impact on her/his life, and can respond in strategic and self-affirming ways to racist events and circumstances encountered through living in a racist society. Empowerment includes having pride in oneself and one's social group, understanding racism as systemic, and asserting one's rights in strategic and persistent ways.

Internalized Racism

When people from targeted racial groups internalize racist beliefs about themselves or members of their racial group. Examples include using creams to lighten one's skin, believing that white leaders are inherently more competent, asserting that people of color are not as intelligent as white people, believing that racial inequality is the result of people of color not raising themselves up "by their own bootstraps" (Jackson and Hardiman, 1997)


Includes the case of the biracial person and person synthesizing two or more diverse heritages, such as a person with African, Indian, and European heritages. This term is inclusive of all racially mixed persons. Multiracial also describes a society or group that is composed of people from more than one racial or ethnic group (Racially Mixed People in America, Maria P. P. Root).


A system of relationships among social groups in which “one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another social group for its own benefit” (Hardiman &Jackson, 1997), resulting in “vast and deep injustices” (Young, 2000, p. 36).  Oppression operates through individuals’ conscious and unconscious attitudes and behaviors, media and cultural stereotypes, institutional practices, hierarchical power structures and competitions for resources (Young, 2003).


Attitudes and beliefs involving a tendency to prejudge people, usually negatively and usually on the basis of a single personal characteristic (such as race, sex, religion, hair length, etc.) (Farley, 1996, p. 13).


“A social construct that artificially divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color) ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history ethnic classification ... Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.” (P. 88) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook.


A system of advantage based on race and supported by institutional structures, policies and practices that create and sustain advantages for the dominant white group while systemically subordinating members of targeted racial groups. This relative advantage for Whites and subordination for people of color is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms, and values, and the institutional structures and practices.


The legal or social practice of separating people on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Segregation by law, or de jure segregation, occurred when local, state, or national laws required racial separation, or where the laws explicitly allowed segregation. De facto segregation, or segregation in fact, occurs when social practice, political acts, economic circumstances, or public policy result in the separation of people by race or ethnicity even though no laws require or authorize racial separation. Willful separation arises when members of different races choose to associate and meet with one another to discuss and support one another around common interests and experiences.

Target Identity

Personal identity that holds the least amount of privilege and/or power.

White Privilege

“The concrete benefits of access to resources 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 their entire race” (p. 97) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook.

** This definition is from: Sue, D.W., Capodilupo, C.M., Torino, G.C., Bucceri, J.M., Holder, A.M.B., Nadal, K.L., & Esqiun, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), p. 271-286.