Baltimore Racial Justice Action’s definitions of terms commonly used in contemporary conversations about race.

PREJUDICE: A positive or negative attitude toward a person or group, formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge and not likely to be changed in spite of new evidence or contrary argument. Prejudice is an attitude. All ethnic and social groups possess some prejudices.

DISCRIMINATION: Unequal treatment of people based on their membership in a group. In contrast to prejudice, discrimination is behavior. To discriminate is to treat a person, not on the basis of their intrinsic individual qualities, but on the basis of a prejudgment about a group. Discrimination can be either de jure (legal, as in segregation laws, or de facto (discrimination in fact, without legal sanction).

OPPRESSION: The systematic exploitation of one social group by another for its own benefit; it involves institutional control, ideological domination and the imposition of the dominant group’s culture on the oppressed group. Oppression is different from discrimination, bias, prejudice or bigotry because:

  • It is pervasive – woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness
  • It is restricting – structural limits significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility in ways beyond the individual’s control
  • It is hierarchical – the dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups
  • The dominant group has the power to define and name reality and determine what is “normal,” “real” or “correct.”
  • Harassment, discrimination and marginalization are systematic and institutionalized – they do not require the conscious thought or effort of individual members of the dominant group, but are rather part of “business as usual”

INSTITUTIONAL RACISM:  Those established laws, policies and practices within an institution, supported intentionally or unintentionally by institutional power and authority, which systematically reflect, produce and maintain racial inequalities in U.S. society to the advantage of whites and the disadvantage of other races. Institutional racism is often discrimination without prejudice. Individuals can unintentionally discriminate by applying policies and practices that perpetuate past inequalities. While their attitude may be unbiased, their behavior enforces the philosophy as well as the practice of racism.

STRUCTURAL RACISM: The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, educational, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, characterized by white supremacy. Structural racism is racism underneath and across society, permeating its entire history, culture and institutions. Structural racism within U.S. culture perpetuates, normalizes and legitimates the effects of racism, while often making those effects invisible to the narrow legal definition of unlawful discrimination.

WHITE PRIVILEGE: The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and power to shape the norms and values of society which white people receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society. For example, a privilege of whiteness is the expectation to be judged as an individual, not as a representative or reflection of an entire group.

DIVERSITY: The wide range of national, ethnic, racial and other backgrounds of U.S. residents and immigrants as social groupings, co-existing in American culture. The term is often used to include aspects of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class and much more. The term simply describes the presence of individuals from various backgrounds and/or with various identities.

INCLUSION: Authentically brings the perspectives and contributions of all people to the table, equitably distributes power, and incorporates their needs, assets and perspectives into the design and implementation of processes, policies, activities, and decision-making.

EQUITY: The condition that would be achieved if the identities assigned to historically oppressed groups no longer acted as the most powerful predictor of how one fares, with the root causes of inequities, not just their manifestations, eliminated. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce or fail to eliminate differential outcomes by group identity/background (economic, educational, health, criminal justice, etc.).

SOCIAL JUSTICE: A vision of society in which the distribution of resources, opportunity, societal benefits and protection is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and the society as a whole.

ANTI-RACIST:  In the U.S., a person of any race who recognizes the role and legacy of historical white institutional power and authority that continues intentionally or unintentionally to support prejudices and enforce discriminatory behaviors against people of color in systemic ways; a person who works to oppose individual racism in their own and others’ beliefs, but more importantly works to dismantle institutionalized racism that negatively impacts people of color; a person who above all works towards equity, and values the equality of all humanity, but honors, appreciates and understands differences in culture.  By its nature, anti-racism tends to promote the view that racism in the U.S. is both pernicious and socially pervasive, and that particular changes in political, economic, and social life are required to eliminate it.