Words matter. This glossary is a tool to empower yourself with the vocabulary and knowledge to have productive conversations.
This is a living glossary and will be updated regularly.
Accountability: Accountability involves taking responsibility. It also involves listening and learning when you’ve made a mistake. It involves an investment in understanding where a mistake happened, and an investment in doing better. Accountability can feel uncomfortable, but it’s a form of love. It means that someone cares enough about you to want you to do better, maybe for them, maybe for the world, often for both.
Advocacy: Advocacy is the public support or recommendation of particular causes or policies. Advocacy can happen on the individual or group level, and aims to influence decisions within institutions.
Ally: An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but takes action to care for, elevate, and support that group.
Allyship: Allyship is the active practice of being an ally. It’s a commitment to constant, consistent and repeated work.
Amplifying Voices: Amplifying voices means finding and creating opportunities to share and lift up the voices of others, specifically when they are speaking about their own lived experience as part of an underrepresented group. You definitely don’t need to amplify the voice of someone who is trying to speak on behalf of an underrepresented group that they are not a part of.
Ancestor: An ancestor is an individual who you have descended from. Generally, when we speak about ancestors we’re talking about the people who are more remote in your family tree than your grandparents.
Ancestry: Ancestry is an individual’s familial lineage, it is your line of descent and the people who came before you.
Anti-Black Racism: Anti-Black racism is racism directed at people of African descent and is rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement and colonization. Anti-Black racism involves but is not limited to attitudes, beliefs, discrimination, micro-aggressions, prejudice and stereotyping that stem from the belief that Black people are somehow inferior.
Anti-Oppression: Anti-Oppression is a framework and practice that aims to recognize the types of oppression that exist in our society while mitigating the effects of it. The larger goal of anti-oppression work is to create more equitable practices in communities that work to equalize power imbalances created by systems of oppression that allow some to hold power over others based on their membership to certain groups of people.
Anti-Racism: Anti-Racism is the practice of acknowledging and opposing racism while promoting racial tolerance, inclusion, and working toward equity. It’s not enough to be “not racist”, in order to move forward as a society and as a people, we need to all be actively anti-racist. Racist histories have led to the ways that racism is entrenched in all of our systems. To be anti-racist means to work collectively work toward dismantling those practices.
Antifa: Antifa is an anti-facist political activist movement that works to achieve their objectives through direct action as opposed to policy reform. They grew out of a necessity to counter right-wing extremism and white supremacy. They’re generally considered to be leftist, which is kind of funny as it very evidently implies that white supremacy is a pillar of the political right, which, if we’re being candid, it is.
Apartheid: Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning "separateness", or "the state of being apart", literally "apart-hood". When we think of apartheid, we often think of South African apartheid where, from 1948 until the early 1990s, institutionalized racial segregation was used to economically and politically oppress the non-white population in order to ensure that the country remain dominated politically, socially, and economically by the nation's minority white population. More generally, apartheid is any system or practice that functions to separate people based on characteristics such as but not limited to race, color, and ethnicity.
Bail: Bail is a set of pre-trial restrictions that some people charged with crimes have imposed on them in hopes of ensuring they comply with the judicial process. In the US, where a money bail system is used, bail is often associated with an exorbitantly high price tag. In 2009, the US median of money bail for felony charges was $10,000*. The money bail system keeps thousands of individuals who have yet to be convicted or sentenced in the criminal justice system, perpetuating mass incarceration, and criminalizing race and poverty.
Bail Reform: Bail reform refers to the reforming the money bail system by reducing its use or by eliminating it entirely. At any given moment, there are nearly half a million people who are unconvicted but confined to jails in the US system, many of whom are there simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. Bail reform would reduce the use of jail, while increasing fairness in the justice system.
Bias: Bias is a prejudice in favor of, or against something that is preconceived or unreasoned. Bias can be for or against a thing, person, or a group, it can be conscious or unconscious.
Bigot: A bigot is someone who is intolerant of particular groups of people. Bigots are devoted to their racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia, or other form of prejudice and intolerance.
Criminal Justice Reform: Criminal Justice Reform acknowledges that the current system of Criminal Justice has errors, or is broken. It works toward more just systems and futures through reforming policies for those with criminal convictions. It is a movement toward alternatives to the current system. It supports, cares for, advocates for and imagines better futures for those who have committed crimes.
Cultural Appropriation: Also referred to as cultural misappropriation, this is an act of co-opting elements of a culture that you are not a member of. For instance, when a person with societal privilege co-opts elements of a culture that experiences oppression, they likely won’t be penalized or criticized for it, they might even profit off of it through monetary or social capital (Kylie Jenner being celebrated for wearing an afro in a Vogue shoot, while black women might be called discriminated against or criticized for wearing their hair natural is a good illustration of this). Cultural appropriation can seem like an innocent act on the surface, but it plays into a larger system of oppression and violence.
Cultural Assimilation: This is the expectation that minority groups or cultures should come to resemble a dominant group, or assume that groups’ languages, practices, rituals, values, and behaviors and so on. A societal push toward cultural assimilation is based out of fears around cultural diversity, something that should be honored and celebrated rather than feared.
Decolonization: This is the process undoing the effects of colonization. This could be a country that has been colonized becoming free from its colonial power, it could also be the longer process of untangling the colonial frameworks that many societies were founded and developed on. Decolonization challenges systems of oppression and how they are built into structures and institutions, with the greater goal of dismantling them.
Defunding the Police: Defunding the police involves budget cuts to policing and an investment in alternatives. This looks like restructuring public spending priorities and reallocating funds previously spent on policing into places like health services, education, housing, social supports and community development.
Democracy: Democracy is a government by the people. This system means that the whole population of a place has the authority to choose their governing legislation. Whether it’s through the people directly, or an elected official, democracy implies that everyone has a voice. Everyone. Not just some people. Every single person.
Diaspora: People who are living away from their ancestral homeland. The African diaspora refers to people who are not living in Africa but whose origins are from there, often due to the effects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade which stole people from Africa and forcibly transported them to different countries for stolen labour, knowledge and skills. In America, there are approximately 46,350,467 people of the African Diaspora.
Digital Activism: Digital activism uses digital media like email or social media platforms to enable movement building and community organizing, to advocate for and effect change.
Diversity: Diversity quite literally means the state of being diverse or having variety, it also signifies the inclusion of many. If we’re talking about diversity in people, this means people from many different identities and experiences such as cultures, races, sexualities, genders and beyond. BUT without equity, diversity is just a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds, it doesn’t mean that they’re treated equally or with equity, it kind of just means they’re present.
Equity: Equity is the quality of fairness, but giving everyone the same thing isn’t always fair. Equity takes into consideration that people need varying levels of support to achieve a fair outcome. What is needed for someone to reach their best potential is different than for others. If you live in a society where, based on your identity, you are granted less access and privilege than others, you probably need a different level of support to achieve a fair outcome than someone who is granted more access and privilege in their day to day.
Ethnicity: Belonging to a social group who is united based on a common history, or national or cultural tradition. Race and ethnicity aren’t the same thing, for instance if you’re Swiss, that’s your ethnicity, not your race. But also race is actually a social construct (scroll down to race to dive into that one).
Gaslighting: a term used to explain a particular form of psychological manipulation that calls into question a person's own experience. Gaslighting makes someone question their memory, perception, or judgment. It is often repeated, and can have deep effects on a person’s experience of reality. It is a tactic used to gain power.
Gate Keeping: This is an act of control used to limit access to something like (but not limited to!) a social group, or an experience. This can happen on the societal level, or on an individual level.
Incarceration: Being confined to a jail or prison. Because of the pre-trial system, there are many people in jail, and therefore incarcerated who are not yet convicted of a crime.
Inclusion: Inclusion quite literally means the act of including. If we’re talking about inclusion in people, this means people from many different identities and experiences such as cultures, races, sexualities, genders and beyond being included. BUT without equity, inclusion is just a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds, it doesn’t mean that they’re treated any differently, it kind of just means that they’re at the table.
Individual Racism: Individual racism refers to an individual’s racist practices such as assumptions, beliefs, behaviors and statements. Individual racism stems from conscious or unconscious bias and prejudices, illustrating the broader systems that support, uphold and enact racism.
Intergenerational Trauma: This is a psychological term that describes how trauma can be transmitted across generations of people. It’s often used in discussion of how historical oppression and violence toward a group of people can lead to negative impacts on future generations of that same group of people.
Interpersonal racism: The type of racism that occurs between individuals. This seems to be what most people think of when they consider someone to be racist. It often manifests as an overt expression of racist language, actions, and behaviors. Racism is a lot deeper and more complex than the interpersonal level.
Intersectionality: Intersectionality refers to the interconnected experiences of identity and social categories such as race, gender, sexuality, and economic status. It reminds us that identities and experiences are complex, that they have varying degrees of privilege and discrimination, advantage and disadvantage, that we all hold a multitude of identities and experiences simultaneously.
Institutional Racism: This type of racism is one enacted by social and political institutions. It shows up as racist policies, procedures and practices within institutions such as employment, housing, education, healthcare, criminal justice and political powers.
Jail: A jail is an institutional facility that is designed for short-term confinement. Jail populations might include the newly arrested, those awaiting trial or sentencing, or those sentenced to serve small amounts of time for crimes they have been convicted of. Jails detain a lot of people who have not actually been convicted of a crime (including those who are unable to pay money bail).
Legal: You might be surprised to see this here! We just wanted to clarify that something being legal isn’t about doing the right thing, or even the moral thing. It just means based on, concerned with, or permitted by the law. Legal systems aren’t inherently preoccupied with morality, justice, or fairness, they’re about following and observing the rules, even though those rules aren’t always fair or equitable.
Micro Aggression: Micro aggressions are a particular form of discrimination that show up as remarks, questions, or actions that stem from negative stereotypes or unconscious bias held against a group of people. They’re often presented very casually, and frequently, making them everyday experiences of harm that are unfortunately normalized.
Movement Building: Movement building is all about working toward shared goals that lay the groundwork for the futures that we want to see.
No Justice, No Peace: A protest chant that illustrates without justice, there can not be peace, as these two concepts are contradictory. It was popularized in 1992 during the uprisings that happened in Los Angeles after a jury acquitted the four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) who were videotaped using excessive force as they beat Rodney King during his arrest.
People of Color (POC): Sometimes delineated by the acronym POC, this term is used to describe people who are not white.
Police Brutality: Legally defined as a civil rights violation, police brutality describes the use of excessive and/or unnecessary force by law enforcement personnel. But considering qualified immunity, who really gets to decide what constitutes excessive? It certainly doesn't seem to be the people that brutality is inflicted on, or the community who witness it.
Police Reform: Police reform involves implementing changes and policies into systems and structures of policing such as implicit bias trainings, the introduction of body cameras, and the banning of chokeholds. A lot of the pillars that police reform advocates for have been enacted in cities across the US including Minneapolis, Louisville, and New York without yielding the necessary change. so, while reform might sound like a viable solution, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t actually fix or solve the larger problems or systemic issues.
Prison: A prison is an institutional facility where convicted offenders are confined and serve their sentences. In theory, the four principles of prisons are to punish people for their crimes, deprive them as a way of making them pay a debt to society, deter them from committing future crimes, and rehabilitate them by changing them into law abiding people. More often than not, these four principles are not stressed equally in prisons, and do more damage than they do good. Many countries have prisons, but not all do. There are plenty of alternatives that are more fair and just, with better results for rehabilitation.
Prison Abolition: Prison abolition is a movement to reduce or eliminate prisons and the prison system more generally. The movement calls for structural changes and reform of how to handle crime. It aims to replace prisons with systems that are not governmentally institutionalized, that rehabilitate those who enter them without a focus on punishment. If you want to learn more about prison abolition, Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore are two particularly famous movement leaders.
Privilege: To benefit from, or be favored by the unequal social structures and institutions our society is founded on. You can hold certain privileged identities, while still experiencing marginalization from other identities, to understand a bit more about what the means, look up intersectionality.
Qualified Immunity: The qualified immunity doctrine was first introduced to the U.S. Supreme court in 1967. It gives protection to government officials from being held personally liable for their constitutional violations, meaning they remain protected from facing the legal consequences anyone else might. Continuously, qualified immunity keeps police brutality from being punished by the courts, in fact, the sheer existence of qualified immunity might contribute to how much law enforcement seems to love violating people’s constitutional rights. In short, no wonder cops act as if they’re above the law, they kind of are.
Race: A term generally used to refer to systems of classification used to group people because of their physical characteristics such as how melanated their skin is, i.e. how dark their skin is. This system was developed in the 17th century and continued to be used as an explanation to societal oppression of certain groups of people. This means that race is something made up by society to serve the interests of particular groups. Race is not a biological truth.
Reparations: To make amends for a wrongdoing or injustice, often through money, material, labour, land, etc. Governments have made reparations payments to people they have systematically harmed such as payments by Germany to victims of the Holocaust and their descendants, or U.S. payments to Japanese Americans who were wrongly incarcerated during World War II. In the case of Black reparations in the U.S., the goal would be to eliminate the racial wealth gap which has not only developed through the history of slavery in which people were stolen to build the country and it’s economy through their labour, knowledge and skills, but then continued as its legacy was integrated into every aspect of society (such as public policy, urban planning and access to education), furthering the structural and systemic racism the country is founded on.
Restorative Justice: This is an approach to justice in which a person who has committed a crime works with the victim of the crime (and sometimes the community as large) to take accountability for their actions, address the harm cause and identify steps toward justice and forgiveness. This is a key element to many criminal justice systems, but not part of America’s.
School to Prison Pipeline: This is the process that pushes youth out of schools and into prisons. It’s carried out by racial disparities (Black students are three times more likely to be suspended for behavioral offenses than their white peers), underfunding that creates poor conditions for learning and educational outcomes, the family-school disconnect that estranges parents from children who are at-risk in the classroom, and failure to build social and emotional capacity of students, such as managing emotions and self-regulation (if Black students are more likely to be suspended than white students, you can imagine how the in classroom behaviors of black students would be disproportionately punished). Among other things, “zero-tolerance” policies which criminalize infractions of school rules, the presence of police in classrooms to handle behavior that can be handled by the schools themselves also contribute to the School to Prison Pipeline.
Social Justice: The concept that there should be fair and just relations between the individual and society. Generally social justice is measured by how wealth, opportunities, and social privileges are distributed, and is conscious that there are some groups who are continuously unjustly and unequally treated due to prejudice in societal structures. Social Justice asserts that justice goes beyond principles of law, and must be applied to all aspects of our social society.
Solidarity: The awareness of, and act of standing in unity and agreement with certain ideals, interests, objectives, standards, or movements. Used in a sentence “In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the LAPD moved to defund the police.”
Structural Racism: Referring to the deep rooted, complex and overlapping systems by which racism was developed, how it is maintained, and the ways it continues to be protected. Structural racism includes how racial inequity, discrimination, and violence are entrenched into policies, practices, and cultural representations.
Systemic Racism: Systemic Racism speaks to the ways that racism is entrenched into systems of power and institutions, such as policies and practices, that lead to the exclusion of radicalized groups. When systems of power and institutions are founded on histories of racism, and pillars that continue to uphold them, the existence of systemic racism cannot be denied.
Terrorism: Terrorism is the intentional use of violence to incite fear in a population, whether that’s a general public or a more specific population or group of people.
Tokenism: The type of action that pretends to give advantages to societal groups that are generally treated unfairly. Tokenism doesn’t offer much, it’s performative, it’s not doing the work, it’s just pandering to optics. Tokenism is doing the thing to prevent being criticized for not doing the thing.
Unconscious Bias: This is a learned social stereotype about certain groups of individuals. They’re formed outside of your conscious awareness and are socially/societally/systemically/institutionally reinforced. We all have unconscious biases, you might think that one gender can be better at something than another, but we all need to be aware, question, educate ourselves, and practice doing better to overcome our unconscious biases.
White Privilege: Referring to the inherent advantages a white person has based on the colour of their skin. It is unearned and mostly unacknowledged, it provides access to power and resources, and benefits people in social, political, and economic circumstances. White Privilege is founded in ideals of white supremacy.
White Supremacy: The ideology that white people should have dominance over people of other backgrounds, that their culture, practices, and just general existence is superior to that of anyone else. Literally anything that has come out of colonialism was built on a system of white supremacy. White supremacy is the deeply entrenched form of racism that runs through any colonized society, and coats the actions of those who operate in it.
Xenophobia: Xenophobia is the fear and/or hatred of strangers or foreigners, of anything that is strange or foreign, sometimes xenophobia is also characterized as fear of “other” or “otherness.”