Anti-Racism Resource Centre

Racism 101


This list includes many of the terms commonly used in anti-racism and equity discourse today.  They are gleaned from a variety of sources, most of which are listed at the end. Many of the terms have been in the public domain so long that the source of the original definition is no longer known as they have come into common parlance. The terminology in this field is constantly evolving, so the list remains a work in progress. Should any discrepancies arise during a training session or discussion, it is best to take a moment to determine the current understanding and why people may be more comfortable adding further definitions to the list in the present context.

Ableism The cultural, institutional and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign different (lower) value to people who have developmental, emotional, physical, sensory or health-related disabilities, thereby resulting in differential treatment.  

Aboriginal Peoples The descendants of the original inhabitants of North America. Term used to collectively describe three cultural groups of aboriginal people — “Inuit”, “Métis People” and “First Nations”. 

Adverse Impact The numerical impact of employment practices that disproportionately exclude designated groups. This is a signpost to investigate possible discrimination. It is not a measure of discrimination. 

Affirmative Action A set of explicit actions or programs designed to increase participation at all levels of employment for and by individuals or groups preciously excluded from full participation.

Ageism The normalization and privilege of people within the preferred age range in a society.  This age range defines who is taken seriously, catered to by most goods and services, allowed to have an impact on decisions in the society, and valued as a human being.  Results in invisibility of, and discrimination and inaccessibility faced by, people outside that age range.

Anti-Oppression Strategies, theories and actions that challenge socially and historically built inequalities and injustices that are ingrained in our systems and institutions by policies and practices that allow certain groups to dominate over other groups

Anti-Racism An active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual, institutional and systemic racism as well as the oppression and injustice racism causes.

Antisemitism Latent or overt hostility or hatred directed towards individual Jews or the Jewish people (not to all Semitic peoples), leading to social, economic, institutional, religious, cultural or political discrimination.

Barrier An overt or covert obstacle; used in employment equity to mean a systemic obstacle to equal employment opportunities or outcomes; an obstacle which must be overcome for equality to be possible.

Bias A subjective opinion, preference, prejudice or inclination, formed without reasonable justification, that influences an individual’s or group’s ability to evaluate a particular situation objectively or accurately; a preference for or against.

Bona Fide Occupational Requirement A workplace requirement that is directly related to a person’s ability to perform a specific job.

Classism The cultural, institutional and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign value to people according to their socioeconomic status, thereby resulting in differential treatment.

Colonialism Usually refers to the period of European colonization from Columbus (1492) onwards, in the Americas, Asia and Africa, and taking on different forms from settler colonies like Canada to non-settler colonies such as India during British rule.

Convention Refugees Men, women and children with good reason to fear persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, gender, nationality, political viewpoint, or membership in a particular social group. 

Designated Groups Social groups whose individual members have been denied equal access to employment, education, social services, housing, etc. because of membership in the group. The designated groups in Ontario are visible minorities, women, aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities.

Disability Inborn or assigned characteristics of an individual that may prevent full participation in educational, social, economic, political, religious, institutional or formal activities of a group, or that may require accommodation to enable full participation.

Discrimination The denial of equal treatment, civil liberties and opportunity to individuals or groups with respect to education, accommodation, health care, employment and access to services, goods and facilities. Behaviour that results from prejudiced attitudes by individuals or institiutions, resulting in unequal outcomes for persons who are perceived as different. Differential treatment that may occur on the basis of race, nationality, gender, age, religion, political or ethnic affiliation, sexual orientation, marital or family status, physical, developmental or mental disability. Includes the denial of cultural, economic, educational, political and/or social rights of members of non-dominant groups. 

Diversity A term used to encompass all the various differences among people – including race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status, etc. – and commonly used in the United States and increasingly in Canada to describe workplace programs aimed at reducing discrimination promoting equality of opportunity and outcome for all groups. Concern has been expressed by anti-racism and race relations practitioners that diversity programs may water down efforts to combat racism in all its forms. 

Employment Equity A program designed to remove barriers to equality in employment by identifying and eliminating discriminatory policies and practices, remedying the effects of past discrimination, and ensuring appropriate representation of the designated groups. 

Ethnicity The multiplicity of beliefs, behaviours and traditions held in common by a group of people bound by particular linguistic, historical, geographical, religious and/or racial homogeneity. Ethnic diversity is the variation of such groups and the presence of a number of ethnic groups within one society or nation. 

Ethnocentrism The tendency to view others using one’s own group and customs as the standard for judgement, and the tendency to see one’s group and customs as the best. Harassment Persistent, on-going communication (in any form) of negative attitudes, beliefs or actions towards an individual or group, with the intention of placing that person(s) in a disparaging role. Harassment is manifested in name calling, jokes or slurs, graffiti, insults, threats, discourteous treatment, and written or physical abuse. Harassment may be subtle or overt. 

Hate Group Activity Representing some of the most destructive forms of human rights-based discrimination in that they promote hatred against identifiable groups of people. 

Hate Propaganda Ideologies and beliefs transmitted in written, verbal or electronic form in order to create, promote, perpetuate or exacerbate antagonistic, hateful and belligerent attitudes and action or contempt against a specific group or groups of people.

Heterosexism 'The belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and thereby its rights to dominance' (Canadian Council for Refugees). Describes an ideological system and patterns of institutionalized oppression, which deny, degrade, and stigmatize any non-heterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community.

Homophobia Disparaging or hostile attitude or negative bias towards gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person(s). The fear and persecution of queer people, rooted in a desire to maintain the heterosexual social order. 

Human Rights Human rights affirm and protect the right of every individual to live and work without discrimination and harassment. Human Rights policies and legislation attempt to create a climate in which the dignity, worth and rights of all people are respected, regardless of age, ancestry, citizenship, colour, creed (faith), disability, ethnic origin, family status, gender, marital status, place of origin, race, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. 

Individual Racism The prejudiced individual, direct, or one-to-one action(s) against other individuals because of their group membership and skin colour to deprive them of some right (employment, housing). 

Institutional Racism see also Systemic Discrimination Institutions Fairly stable social arrangements through which collective actions are taken (e.g. government, business, unions, schools, churches, courts, police). 

Integration The process of amalgamating diverse groups within a single context, usually applied to inter-racial interaction in housing, education, political and socio-economic spheres or activity, or the incorporation of children, defined as disabled, into neighborhood schools and classrooms. Internalized

Oppression Patterns of mistreatment of racialized groups and acceptance of the negative stereotypes created by the dominant group become established in their cultures and lock members of racialized groups into roles as victims of oppression. 

Intersectionality The interconnected nature of all forms of oppression (cultural, institutional and social) against particular groups, and the way they are imbedded within existing systems such that they operate in insidious, covert and compounded ways (e.g. gender and colour; religion and race; sexual orientation and race) 

Intolerance Bigotry or narrow mindedness which results in refusal to respect or acknowledge persons of different racial backgrounds. 

Islamophobia A term recently coined to refer to expressions of negative stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. 

Marginalization With reference to race and culture, the experience of persons who do not speak the majority group’s language, cannot find work or gain access to social services and therefore, cannot become full and equal participating members of society. Refers also to the process of being “left out” of or silenced in a social group. 

Minority Group Refers to a group of people within a society that is either small in numbers or that has little or no access to social, economic, political or religious power. In Canada, refers to the diverse ethno-racial identities that are not of the dominant white group. 

Multiculturalism Federal policy announced in 1971 and enshrined in law in the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 which acknowledges the unequal access to resources and opportunities of Canadians who are not of the dominant white group, and urges the recognition of their contributions, the preservation of their cultural heritage and the equal treatment of all Canadians. 

Oppression The unilateral subjugation of one individual or group by a more powerful individual or group, using physical, psychological, social or economic threats or force, and frequently using an explicit ideology to sanction the oppression. 

People of Colour A term which applies to all people who are not seen as White by the dominant group, generally used by racialized groups as an alternative to the term visible minority. It emphasizes that skin colour is a key consideration in the “everyday” experiences of their lives. 

Persons with Disabilities Refers to persons who identify themselves as experiencing difficulties in carrying out the activities of daily living or experience disadvantage in employment, and who may require some accommodation, because of a long term or recurring physical or developmental condition. 

Prejudice A state of mind; a set of attitudes held by one person or group about another, tending to cast the other in an inferior light, despite the absence of legitimate or sufficient evidence; means literally to “pre-judge”; considered irrational and very resistant to change, because concrete evidence that contradicts the prejudice is usually dismissed as exceptional. 

Privilege The experience of freedoms, rights, benefits, advantages, access and/or opportunities afforded members of the dominant group in a society or in a given context, usually unrecognized and taken for granted by members of the majority group, while the same freedoms, rights, benefits, advantages access and/or opportunities are denied to members of the minority or disadvantaged groups. 

Race Refers to a group of people of common ancestry, distinguished from others by physical characteristics such as colour of skin, shape of eyes, hair texture or facial features. (This definition refers to the common usage of the term race when dealing with human rights matters. It does not reflect the current scientific debate about the validity of phenotypic descriptions of individuals and groups of individuals). The term is also used to designate social categories into which societies divide people according to such characteristics. Race is often confused with ethnicity. Various types of broad-based groups (e.g. racial, ethnic, religious and regional) are rarely mutually exclusive, and the degree of discrimination against any one or more varies from place to place, and over time. 

Racial Minority A term which applies to all people who are not seen as White by the dominant group including Aboriginal, Black, Chinese, South Asian, South East Asian and other peoples. Sometimes used instead of Visible Minority. 

Racial Discrimination According to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (to which Canada is a signatory), racial discrimination is any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin, which nullifies or impairs the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. 

Racialization The process through with groups come to be designated as different, and on that basis subjected to differential and unequal treatment. In the present context, racialized groups include those who may experience differential treatment the basis of race, ethnicity, language, economics, religion, culture, politics, etc. That is, treated outside the norm and receiving unequal treatment based upon phenotypical features. 

Racial Profiling Any action undertaken for reasons of safety, security or public protection that relies on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, or place of origin rather than on reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or differential treatment. Profiling can occur because of a combination of the above factors, and age and/or gender can influence the experience of profiling. 

Racism A mix of prejudice and power leading to domination and exploitation of one group (the dominant or majority group) over another (the non-dominant, minority or racialized group). It asserts that the one group is supreme and superior while the other is inferior. Racism is any individual action, or institutional practice backed by institutional power, which subordinates people because of their colour or ethnicity. 

Racist Refers to an individual, institution, or organization whose beliefs and/or actions imply (intentionally or unintentionally) that certain races have distinctive negative or inferior characteristics. Also refers to racial discrimination inherent in the policies, practices and procedures of institutions, corporations, and organizations which, though applied to everyone equally and may seem fair, result in exclusion or act as barriers to the advancement of marginalized groups, thereby perpetuating racism. 

Racist slurs Insulting or disparaging statements directed towards a particular racial or ethnic group. Racist incidents express racist assumptions and beliefs through banter, racist jokes, name calling, teasing, discourteous treatment, graffiti, stereotyping, threats, insults, physical violence or genocide. 

Sexism Sexism stems from a set of implicit or explicit beliefs, erroneous assumptions and actions based upon an ideology of inherent superiority of one gender over another and may be evident within organizational or institutional structures or programs, as well as within individual thought or behaviour patterns. 

Sexual Orientation is defined as feelings of attraction for the same sex, for the opposite sex or for both sexes, and does not require sexual activity or intimacy. 

Social Justice A concept premised upon the belief that each individual and group within society is to be given equal opportunity, fairness, civil liberties and participation in the social, educational, economic, institutional and moral freedoms and responsibilities valued by the society. 

Stereotype A fixed mental picture or image of a group of people, ascribing the same characteristic(s) to all members of the group, regardless of their individual differences. An overgeneralization, in which the information or experience on which the image is based may be true for some of the individual group members, but not for all members. 

Stereotyping may be based upon misconceptions, incomplete information and/or false generalizations about race, age, ethnic, linguistic, geographical or natural groups, religions, social, marital or family status, physical, developmental or mental attributes, gender or sexual orientation. 

Systemic Discrimination The institutionalization of discrimination through policies and practices which may appear neutral on the surface but which have an exclusionary impact on particular groups, such that various minority groups are discriminated against, intentionally or unintentionally. This occurs in institutions and organizations where the policies, practices and procedures (e.g. employment systems – job requirements, hiring practices, promotion procedures, etc.) exclude and/or act as barriers to racialized groups. Systemic discrimination also is the result of some government laws and regulations.

Tokenism Presence without meaningful participation.  For example, a superficial invitation for participation without ongoing dialogue and support, handpicked representatives who are expected to speak for the whole (socially oppressed) group (e.g. 'tell us how women experience this issue'). Tokenism is often used as a band-aid solution to help the group improve its image (e.g. 'we're not racist, look there's a person of colour on the panel.').

Transphobia The fear and persecution of transgender/transsexual persons. Rooted in a desire to maintain the gender binary (i.e. the categories 'male' and 'female'), which obscures the reality of the fluidity of gender and makes the experience of persons who do not identify with either category invisible.

Visible Minority Term used to describe non-dominant groups who are not White. Although it is a legal term widely used in human rights legislation and various policies, currently the terms racialized minority or people of colour are preferred by people labelled by others to be ‘visible minorities’. 

Xenophobia An unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers, their cultures and their customs.

Glossary Adapted From the Following Sources:

  • African Canadian Legal Clinic. (2004) Fact Sheet: What is Anti-Black Racism?

  • Chartand, P. (1992) “Terms of Division: Problems of ‘Outside-Naming’ for Aboriginal People in Canada. Journal of Indigenous Studies, 1.

  • Canadian Council for Refugees.

  • Council on Interracial Books for Children, New York

  • Endicott, Fran and Mukherjee, Alok, (1987) A Glossary of Terms developed for a workshop on anti-discriminatory organizational change.

  • Lee, E., (1985) Letters to Marcia: A Teacher’s Guide to Anti-racist Education, Cross Cultural Communication .Toronto.

  • Lewis, Stephen (1992) Letter to Ontario Premier Bob Rae, June 9, 1992.

  • Lockhart, A. R., (1986) Human Rights Training, Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services. Toronto.

  • Mock, Karen R., (1988) Race Relations Training: A Manual for Practitioners and Consultants, Ontario Race Relations Directorate, Ministry of Citizenship, Toronto.

  • Mock, Karen R., (1992) A Glossary of Terms. Race and Ethnocultural Equity in the Justice System. Western Judicial Education Centre, Saskatoon.

  • Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2003) Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling. Toronto.

  • Ontario Ministry of Citizenship,(1988) Intercultural Communications Workshop.

  • Peel District School Board (2000) The Future We Want: Building an Inclusive Curriculum. Mississauga, Ontario.

  • Sierra Youth Coalition Sustainable Campuses Project
  • Thomas, B., (1987) Multiculturalism at Work, YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto.

  • Toronto District School Board (2003) Teaching About Human Rights: 9/11 and Beyond. Field Test Edition.

  • University of Guelph (2002) Human Rights at the University of Guelph.

  • Wood, D., (1988) Cultural Heritage…Your Neighbourhood, Alberta Educational Communications Corp.

  • Youth Action Network,

  • Youth Environmental Network, Green Justice Resource Kit Last updated: January 2005

  • For more information, please visit