16 Words and Definitions to Kickstart Your Anti-Racism Journey

“In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist — you have to be anti-racist.” — Angela Davis

With a simple Google search, knowledge is at our fingertips.

We live in a time where the words “I didn’t know” are no longer acceptable when we have conversations about racial injustice because of the very existence of technology and the access it gives us to a treasure trove of information.

On Instagram alone, there are a myriad of anti-racism BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) educators who’ve created a variety of resources and share them not only to bring awareness but to evoke change.

Almost every day, I learn something new about the history I thought I knew. When I learn parts of history that were erased, I’m struck by how well the machine that is white supremacy works to keep marginalized people oppressed.

Because white supremacy is deeply woven into the fabric of society regardless of what part of the globe you live, due diligence must be taken.

Anti-racism work must be approached with eyes wide open, with deep commitment, and a knowing that this is life-long work.

There are no time-outs and days off.

Marginalized people do not have the luxury of taking days off from oppression.

This past summer, while engaging in small talk with a white woman from Australia, she asked me about my work.

I told her a lot of my content was about my travel experiences through the lens of race, to which she replied, “I am so white, so I need you to teach me.”

She said this with the idea that I should excuse any racist ideas she may share during our interaction.

When I told her, I’m not a teacher, but Google is free, her white entitlement began rearing its ugly head.

BIPOC are not required to educate white people about our oppression. That is your work as a white person to do.

Here are 16 words to get you started on your life-long journey of anti-racism work.

1. White Privilege

White privilege refers to the unmerited set of advantages, entitlement, benefits, and choices given to people simply because they are white.

Quick thought: I can hear someone wondering about the job they wanted but didn’t get: Everyone goes through trials in their life, but you, a white person, have not had a tough life because you are white.

Your whiteness does not get you denied bank loans, followed in stores, forced to live in low-income areas, refused service in restaurants, searched in airports without cause, or shot by police officers.

2. White Supremacy

White supremacy is an institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and people of color by white people and European countries for the sole purpose of maintaining and defending systems of wealth, power, and privilege.

It is the idea that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to people of color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

Usually thought to be associated with the KKK and the ever-present Neo-Nazis nowadays, white supremacy is ever-present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group.

As a result, this casts people and communities of color as worthless, immoral, and inhuman and “undeserving.”

3. Institutional Racism

The term institutional or institutionalized racism was first used in 1967 in the book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Ture) and Charles V. Hamilton.

They argued that individual racism was easily identifiable, while institutional racism was not something tangible because of its subtlety.

Institutional racism refers to institutional policies, and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups.

The institutional policies are smart enough never to mention any racial group. Still, their effect is to create advantages for white people and oppression and disadvantages for people from groups classified as people of color.

4. White Fragility

Coined by Robin DiAngelo, a (white) sociologist, defines white fragility as a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.

These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, crying, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.

These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.

Read: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race By Robin DiAngelo

Read: So, You Want to Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo

5. Structural Racism

Structural racism in America is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics — historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal — that routinely advantage whites while producing snowballing and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.

It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by white supremacy.

Example: An example of how structural racism shows up are in the cases of Serena Williams and Beyoncé. Both affluent Black women who experienced almost fatal complications giving birth to their children.

Black women are 3–4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Because Black women are undervalued in our society, their treatment, no matter who they are, is dismissed, which leads to preventable deaths.

6. White Exceptionalism

White exceptionalism refers to those white people who believe they are “one of the good ones.” You think that you are excluded from the pack because you don’t say or do what those white people do.

You believe you are excluded, that you are exceptional in some way, but you are not.

7. Anti-Racist

In regards to white people, an anti-racist is a person who makes a conscious choice to act, to challenge aspects of the white supremacy system: including her/his white privilege, as well as some form of oppression against BIPOC.

8. Reparations

Reparations serve to acknowledge the legal obligation of a state, or individual(s) or group, to repair the consequences of violations — either because it directly committed them or it failed to prevent them.

They also express to victims and society more generally that the state is committed to addressing the root causes of past violations and ensuring they do not happen again.

Read: The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates

9. Emotional Labour

The emotional labor that BIPOC experience when we are unwillingly dragged into conversations about race is emotionally taxing.

Do not ask Black people or people of color to teach you anything about race or to share their experiences with you. You would never ask a sexual assault victim to share their experience with you.

If you find yourself in a situation where a BIPOC is sharing their experiences, simply listen.

Do not have a rebuttal because our experiences are not up for debate. Listen actively and ask thoughtful questions that show you were paying attention.

10. Allyship

An ally is an individual who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice.

Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways.

11. Optical Allyship

Optical allyship, also known as performative allyship I first discovered from anti-racist educator Layla Sadd, who learned it from author Latham Thomas.

There are real allys, and then there are those who perform optically, to show that they are one of the good ones doing the “work.”

Optical allyship puts you, a white person, at the center, which is the core of white supremacy.

Instead of listening to the voices and working alongside BIPOC who are experts in oppression, you come in with your whiteness, believing that you know it all.

Follow + Respect Her Space: Layla Sadd

Follow + Respect Her Space: Latham Thomas

Racial Prejudice + Power = Oppression/Racism

  • 12. Prejudice: A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics.
  • 13. Power: Power is the access to resources, to decision-makers to get what you want done, the ability to influence others, and the ability to define reality for yourself and others. Power can be visible, hidden, or invisible and can show up as power over others, power with others, and/or power within.
  • 14. Oppression: The systematic subjugation of one social group by a more robust social group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group.

15. Racial Equity versus 16. Racial Equality

Equality means sameness. The goal of racial equality is for everyone to be treated the same, but that is not the focus of racial justice. The focus of racial justice is equity.

Equity is fairness and justice. For success to occur, everyone must be able to begin at the same point and be given the same resources.

White people have had a 400-plus year head start in creating wealth in America. The racial wealth gap is not only the result of the chattel slavery in America, but also Jim Crow, redlining, and mass incarceration.

This is just a small taste of all the information that exists. The amount of information can be tricky to navigate, especially when finding the truth.

Google Scholar is a fantastic resource for discovering scholarly journals written by academics who study the field.

As the year (and decade) come to a close, we have to decide what kind of society we want to be part of and leave behind for future generations.

This work is not easy, but necessary.

Renée Cherez is a moon-loving, mermaid believing empath seeking truth, justice, and freedom. Feel free to read more of her writing on Medium here. Follow her on Instagram to indulge in her *sometimes* overly long captions on travel, self-discovery, and social justice.

Renée Cherez is a Black woman writer creating magic at the intersections of travel and Black liberation. Follow me on Instagram + Twitter (@reneecherez).

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