WORDS MATTER—SOME DEFINITIONS TO CONSIDER
Racial Stereotype: An image, attitude or judgment, applied to an entire group of people.
Race: A social construct (with no biological validity) that divides people into distinct groups by categorizing them based on arbitrary elements of physical appearance, particularly skin color.
Power: Access to individuals, social groups, and institutions that own and/or control the majority of a community’s resources, as well the ability to define norms and standards of behavior.
Prejudice: An attitude or opinion—usually negative—about socially defined group (racial, religious, national, etc.) or any person perceived to be a member of that group, formed with insufficient knowledge, reason, or deliberation.
Racism: Most people use the word “racism” the way they used the term “prejudice.” But anti-racist activists see racism as “race prejudice PLUS power,” in other words, discrimination based on racial stereotyping (conscious or unconscious, active or passive) that is backed by significant institutional power (race prejudice + power = racism).
Institutional Racism: The ways in which institutions—social, political, educational, financial, religious, medical, housing, jobs, criminal justice—create and/or perpetuate systems that advantage white people at the expense of people of color.
White Privilege: Unearned advantages that benefit whites (whether they seek such benefits or not) by virtue of their skin color in a racist society.
White Supremacy: Once used only by racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the word is also used in anti-racism work to describe the historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of domination and exploitation of people of color by white people, and which maintains white peoples’ position of relative wealth, power, and privilege.
“Reverse Racism”: A term commonly used by white people to equate instances of hostile behavior toward them by people of color with the racism people of color face. This is a way of ignoring the issue of who has the power.
Internalized Racism: The conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group, leading to finding fault with oneself or members of one’s own group, while valuing the dominant culture (internalized inferiority). Another form of internalized racism is when a white person mistakenly believes s/he is better than people of color ( internalized superiority).
“Non-racist”: Term used by those who consider themselves “color-blind,” a claim that in effect, denies any role in perpetuation systemic racism, or any responsibility to act to dismantle it. Institutional racism is perpetuated not only by those who actively discriminate, but also by those who fail to challenge it (silence = consent).
Anti-racist: An anti-racist is someone who makes a conscious choice and persistent effort to challenge white supremacy, including her/his own white privilege, and to actively oppose forms of discrimination against people of color.
Source: These definitions are based on definitions originally created by the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop – cwsworkshop.org.