Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Racial Lexicon

Words and their many uses are just one example of the diversity of our campus community. Often, the most frequently used words in discussions on race can cause confusion, which can then lead to tension and controversy. It is imperative that we, as a campus of higher education, come to a shared understanding on how these commonly used terms should be used. In this way, the quality of dialogue and discourse on race can be strengthened.

ACCOUNTABILITY — The ways in which individuals and communities hold themselves to their goals and actions and acknowledge the values and groups to which they are responsible. To be accountable, one must be visible, with a transparent agenda and process. Accountability demands commitment.

ALLY — Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways. Allies commit to reducing their own complicity or collusion in oppression of those groups and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.

ANTI-RACISM — The work of actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic and social life.

ANTI-RACIST — Someone who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing antiracist ideas. This includes the expression or ideas that racial groups are equals and none needs developing. Anti-racists support policy that reduces racial inequity.

BIAS — Biases are negative associations that people unknowingly hold. This includes implicit, unconscious or hidden bias. They can be expressed automatically, without conscious awareness. Implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist. Notably, implicit biases have been shown to trump individuals’ stated commitments to equality and fairness, thereby producing behavior that diverges from the explicit attitudes that many people profess.

BIGOTRY — Intolerant prejudice that glorifies one’s own group and denigrates members of other groups.

BIPOC — An acronym standing for ‘Black, Indigenous, People of Color,’ BIPOC 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. Black and Indigenous people face the worst consequences of systemic white supremacy, classism and settler colonialism.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION — Theft of cultural elements for one’s own use, commodification, or profit — including symbols, art, language, customs, etc. — often without understanding, acknowledgement or respect for its value in the original culture. Results from the assumption of a dominant culture’s right to take other cultural elements.

CULTURE — A social system of meaning and custom that is developed by a group of people to assure its adaptation and survival. These groups are distinguished by a set of unspoken rules that shape values, beliefs, habits, patterns of thinking, behaviors and styles of communication.

DISCRIMINATION — The unequal treatment of members of various groups based on race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion and other categories.

DIVERSITY — Diversity is a core value of The University of Toledo. As a scholarly community that encourages diversity of thought as reflected in our broad array of disciplines, we embrace the many things in life that makes us different. The University welcomes people of all racial, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, national and international backgrounds. We embrace diversity of pedagogy, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and political affiliation. Diversity is essential to our ability to survive and thrive.

EQUALITY vs. EQUITY — The difference between equality and equity must be emphasized. Although both promote fairness, equality achieves this through treating everyone the same regardless of need, while equity achieves this through treating people differently dependent on need.

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.

INCLUSION — An inclusive environment provides opportunity for full participation in the life of a university by each of its members. An inclusive university embraces differences and fosters a sense of belonging among all its members, including faculty, staff, students and the community.

INDIVIDUAL RACISM — Individual racism refers to the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can be deliberate, or the individual may act to perpetuate or support racism without knowing that is what he or she is doing.

Examples: Telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of whites over other groups; Avoiding people of color whom you do not know personally, but not whites whom you do not know personally (e.g., white people crossing the street to avoid a group of Latino/a young people; locking their doors when they see African American families sitting on their doorsteps in a city neighborhood; or not hiring a person of color because “something doesn’t feel right”); Accepting things as they are (a form of collusion).

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 people of color.

Examples: Government policies that explicitly restricted the ability of people to get loans to buy or improve their homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans (also known as "red-lining"); City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.

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.

It involves four essential and interconnected elements:

  • Decision-making — Due to racism, people of color do not have the ultimate decision-making power over the decisions that control our lives and resources. As a result, on a personal level, we may think white people know more about what needs to be done for us than we do. On an interpersonal level, we may not support each other's authority and power — especially if it is in opposition to the dominating racial group. Structurally, there is a system in place that rewards people of color who support white supremacy and power and coerces or punishes those who do not.
  • Resources — Resources, broadly defined (e.g. money, time, etc.), are unequally in the hands and under the control of white people. Internalized racism is the system in place that makes it difficult for people of color to get access to resources for our own communities and to control the resources of our community. We learn to believe that serving and using resources for ourselves and our particular community is not serving "everybody."
  • Standards — With internalized racism, the standards for what is appropriate or "normal" that people of color accept are white people's or Eurocentric standards. We have difficulty naming, communicating and living up to our deepest standards and values, and holding ourselves and each other accountable to them.
  • Naming the problem — There is a system in place that misnames the problem of racism as a problem of or caused by people of color and blames the disease — emotional, economic, political, etc. — on people of color. With internalized racism, people of color might, for example, believe we are more violent than white people, not considering the state-sanctioned political violence or the hidden or privatized violence of white people and the systems they put in place and support.

INTERPERSONAL RACISM — Interpersonal racism occurs between individuals. Once we bring our private beliefs into our interaction with others, racism is now in the interpersonal realm.

Examples: public expressions of racial prejudice, hate, bias and bigotry between individuals.

INTERSECTIONALITY — Exposing [one’s] multiple identities can help clarify the ways in which a person can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression. For example, a Black woman in America does not experience gender inequalities in exactly the same way as a white woman, nor racial oppression identical to that experienced by a Black man. Each race and gender intersection produce a qualitatively distinct life. Intersectionality is a prism to see the interactive effects of various forms of discrimination and disempowerment. It looks at the way that racism, many times, interacts with patriarchy, heterosexism, classism, xenophobia — seeing that the overlapping vulnerabilities created by these systems actually create specific kinds of challenges. “Intersectionality 102,” then, is to say that these distinct problems create challenges for movements that are only organized around these problems as separate and individual. So, when racial justice doesn’t have a critique of patriarchy and homophobia, the particular way that racism is experienced and exacerbated by heterosexism, classism, etc., falls outside of our political organizing. It means that significant numbers of people in our communities aren’t being served by social justice frames because they don’t address the particular ways that they’re experiencing discrimination.

MICROAGGRESSION — The everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target people based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

MULTICULTURAL COMPETENCY — A process of learning about and becoming allies with people from other cultures, thereby broadening our own understanding and ability to participate in a multicultural process. The key element to becoming more culturally competent is respect for the ways that others live in and organize the world and an openness to learn from them.

OPPRESSION — The systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful social group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group.

Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson state that oppression exists when the following four conditions are found:

  • The oppressor group has the power to define reality for themselves and others.
  • The target groups take in and internalize the negative messages about them and end up cooperating with the oppressors (thinking and acting like them).
  • Genocide, harassment and discrimination are systematic and institutionalized, so that individuals are not necessary to keep it going.
  • Members of both the oppressor and target groups are socialized to play their roles as normal and correct. Oppression = Power + Prejudice

PEOPLE OF COLOR — Often the preferred collective term for referring to non-white racial groups. Racial justice advocates have been using the term “people of color” (not to be confused with the pejorative “colored people”) since the late 1970s as an inclusive and unifying frame across different racial groups that are not white, to address racial inequities. While “people of color” can be a politically useful term, and describes people with their own attributes (as opposed to what they are not, e.g., “non-white”), it is also important whenever possible to identify people through their own racial/ethnic group, as each has its own distinct experience and meaning and may be more appropriate.

POWER — Power is unequally distributed globally and in U.S. society; some individuals or groups wield greater power than others, thereby allowing them greater access and control over resources. Wealth, whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates. Although power is often conceptualized as power over other individuals or groups, other variations are power with (used in the context of building collective strength) and power within (which references an individual’s internal strength). Learning to “see” and understand relations of power is vital to organizing for progressive social change. Power may also be understood as the ability to influence others and impose one’s beliefs. All power is relational, and the different relationships either reinforce or disrupt one another. The importance of the concept of power to anti-racism is clear: racism cannot be understood without understanding that power is not only an individual relationship but a cultural one, and that power relationships are shifting constantly. Power can be used malignantly and intentionally, but need not be, and individuals within a culture may benefit from power of which they are unaware.

PREJUDICE — A pre-judgment or unjustifiable 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.

PRIVILEGE — Unearned social power accorded by the formal and informal institutions of society to all members of a dominant group (e.g. white privilege, male privilege, etc.). Privilege is usually invisible to those who have it, but it nevertheless puts them at an advantage over those who do not have it.

PREDOMINANTLY WHITE INSTITUTION (PWI) — The term used to describe institutions of higher learning in which whites account for 50% or more of the student enrollment. However, the majority of these institutions may also be understood as historically white institutions in recognition of the binarism and exclusion supported by the United States prior to 1964.

RACE — A made-up social construct and not an actual biological fact. Racial categorization schemes were invented by scientists to support worldviews that saw some groups of people as superior and some as inferior.

RACIAL EQUITY — 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.

The systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. It is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures.

RACISM — Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.

= race prejudice + social and institutional power
= a system of advantage based on race
= a system of oppression based on race
= a white supremacy system

RACIST — One who supports a racist policy through their action or interaction or by expressing a racist idea; any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.

RACIST POLICIES — A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between or among racial groups. Policies are written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. Racist policies are also express through other terms such as “structural racism” or “systemic racism”. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

SYSTEMIC RACISM (a.k.a. STRUCTURAL RACISM or INSTITUTIONAL RACISM) — The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics — historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal — that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of white domination, diffused and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics and entire social fabric. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism — all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.

WHITE FRAGILITY — A state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable [for white people], 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. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.


  • Structural White Privilege — A system of white domination that creates and maintains belief systems that make current racial advantages and disadvantages seem normal. The system includes powerful incentives for maintaining white privilege and its consequences, and powerful negative consequences for trying to interrupt white privilege or reduce its consequences in meaningful ways. The system includes internal and external manifestations at the individual, interpersonal, cultural and institutional levels. The accumulated and interrelated advantages and disadvantages of white privilege that are reflected in racial/ethnic inequities in life-expectancy and other health outcomes, income and wealth and other outcomes, in part through different access to opportunities and resources. These differences are maintained in part by denying that these advantages and disadvantages exist at the structural, institutional, cultural, interpersonal and individual levels and by refusing to redress them or eliminate the systems, policies, practices, cultural norms and other behaviors and assumptions that maintain them.
  • Interpersonal White Privilege — Behavior between people that consciously or unconsciously reflects white superiority or entitlement.
  • Cultural White Privilege — A set of dominant cultural assumptions about what is good, normal or appropriate that reflects Western European white world views and dismisses or demonizes other world views.
  • Institutional White Privilege — Policies, practices and behaviors of institutions — such as schools, banks, non-profits or the Supreme Court — that have the effect of maintaining or increasing accumulated advantages for those groups currently defined as white and maintaining or increasing disadvantages for those racial or ethnic groups not defined as white. The ability of institutions to survive and thrive even when their policies, practices and behaviors maintain, expand or fail to redress accumulated disadvantages and/or inequitable outcomes for people of color.

WHITE SUPREMACY — A historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

WHITENESS — The term white, referring to people, was created by Virginia slave owners and colonial rulers in the 17th century. It replaced terms like Christian and Englishman to distinguish European colonists from Africans and indigenous peoples. European colonial powers established whiteness as a legal concept after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, during which indentured servants of European and African descent had united against the colonial elite. The legal distinction of white separated the servant class on the basis of skin color and continental origin. The creation of “whiteness” meant giving privileges to some, while denying them to others with the justification of biological and social inferiority.

Terms and definitions on this page have been collected from, the Encyclopedia of African American Education, and the Cambridge English Dictionary.

Last Updated: 8/7/20