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Talking racial equity? Make sure you understand these 17 words

August 21, 2019 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
Glossaries are dangerous things. They are, by nature, static — while words most decidedly are not.

But since a shared vocabulary is the necessary first step for discussing racial equity, Generocity has put together a glossary of terms you might find useful.

The terms as defined here are informed by glossaries published by Race Forward, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Aspen Institute and other sources. Preferred language changes rapidly, so this is very much a work in progress — please feel free to contact us at to suggest additions or to give us your feedback.


A member of a dominant or privileged (race, gender, class, citizenship, etc.) social group who works for justice and equity with members of non-dominant social groups (or those with less privilege within a social grouping). Pop wisdom: the social group of less privilege that you work with might label you “an ally” but it is bad form for you to claim the label for yourself.


Actively opposing institutional or structural racism by advancing changes in political, economic, and social policies.

Cultural competence

Used most frequently in the context of healthcare and education, cultural competence is loosely defined as organizational practices that are responsive to the cultural beliefs, language, interpersonal styles, etc., of those receiving services as well as of those providing them.


A multiplicity of races, genders, sexual orientations, classes, ages, countries of origin, educational status, religions, physical, or cognitive abilities, documentation status, etc. within a community, organization or grouping of some kind. Pop wisdom: Diversity is not a synonym for inclusion or equity.


Fairness and justice in policy, practice and opportunity consciously designed to address the distinct challenges of non-dominant social groups, with an eye to equitable outcomes. See also: Racial equity.


Anyone in a position of power that can grant or deny access to institutional resources.

Implicit bias

Also known as unconscious or hidden biases, implicit biases are unconsciously held negative associations about any given social group. Implicit biases undercut conscious commitments to inclusion and fairness, particularly in organizations where they may be collectivized and institutionalized in hiring practices and as barriers to advancement.

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Being included within a grouping or structure with an authentic sense of belonging. Organizationally, inclusion is  expressed through practices and policies that empower employees across the board.

Institutional racism

Institutional racism refers to organizational policies and practices — based on explicit and/or implicit biases — that produce outcomes consistently advantaging or disadvantaging one racial group.


A term coined by Black lawyer and scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe how race, class, gender, and other aspects of identity intersect and inform social inequities, and are experienced by individuals or groups of people. Although the term is now used widely and variously deployed, the most helpful way to illuminate what intersectionality means comes from the legal context in which it was born. “Intersectionality was a prism to bring to light dynamics within discrimination law that weren’t being appreciated by the courts,” Crenshaw told Vox in 2019. “In particular, courts seem to think that race discrimination was what happened to all Black people across gender and sex discrimination was what happened to all women, and if that is your framework, of course, what happens to Black women and other women of color is going to be difficult to see.”


Commonplace verbal, behavioral or situational actions —  intentional or unintentional — that evince hostility, or are insulting and/or derogatory toward people with less privilege.

Power (institutional)

Social, political and economic access to resources and decision makers, and the ability to influence others via this access.  Pop wisdom: Social media, for all its ills, has somewhat reshaped the ability to influence. Black Twitter, for example, was initially driven by Black women scholars who didn’t necessarily have institutional power in academia, but became widely and hugely influential on social media.


Advantages and benefits systemically accorded, often by default, to a person or group. Privilege is best understood intersectionally because colorism, documentation status, economic class and education, for example, can all accord distinct privilege within racial and ethnic groups. See also: White privilege.

Racial equity

Fairness and justice in policy, practice and opportunity consciously designed to address the impacts of historic racial discrimination and inequity, with an eye to equitable outcomes.

Racial justice

The work of eliminating racial disparities born of individual, institutional and structural racism.

Structural racism

Public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and societal conventions that individually and collectively reinforce racial inequity and codify the advantage of “whiteness.”

White privilege

Historical and contemporary unearned advantages that enable white people to collectively have easier and better access to quality healthcare and education, wealth-building opportunities, political power, etc.  “White privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in every day, but about which I was meant to remain oblivious.” (Peggy Macintosh, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”)






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