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When communicating about, and against, racism, it is important to be as specific and clear as possible about the terms we use, especially because:

  • racism is often expressed in blanket statements, generalities, and misinformation, coupled with often-intense emotions; and
  • your ability to identify and counter problematic assumptions, statements and dynamics will be enhanced by your familiarity with appropriate and current terms and their definitions.

What follows here is a list of terms, and their definitions, that we feel are important for you to be familiar with and which can be used in your work. This list is by no means exhaustive; as well, as history has shown, and as people of colour and Indigenous peoples are increasingly heard, "terminology" will, and should change! (We also provide information on other glossaries you can consult.)

You will likely notice the terms here are closely related/integral to fundamental concepts and issues--See also "What You Need to Know," and " You in Anti-Racism."


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 negative treatment (CRRF).

Aboriginal Peoples: A collective name for the diverse Indigenous peoples--the original inhabitants--of Canada. The term was enshrined in the Constitution Act of 1982, and refers to First Nations (which includes Status and non-Status Indians), Inuit, and Métis peoples. While the collective term has offered a sense of solidarity among Indigenous communities, the term has also functioned to erase the distinct histories, languages, cultural practices, and sovereignty of the more than fifty nations that lived here prior to European colonization. As such, its usage is often debated, with communities preferring their own terms of self-identification. Recently, the term Indigenous has become more prevalent, as it is the term adopted in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.The Constitution Act affirmed the rights of Aboriginal peoples, but did not define them explicitly, leaving this process to the courts.  (See also First Nations, Indian, The Indian Act, Indigenous, Métis, Native, Status/non-Status Indian, and Inuit.) 

First Nations, First Peoples, Aboriginal People
"In Canada, [refers to] status Indians, non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 325). Indigenous peoples of North America, recognizing that in both pre-and post-contact with European civilizations, indigenous peoples are not a single entity or a single nation. This term also recognizes, in a contemporary Canadian context, not just that people lived in the geographic space before Western contact, but that their nations preceded the formation of Canada's current political nation-state. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with Aboriginal," "Native," and "Indigenous," or by more specific nation/band affiliations (e.g.Sikskia, Stoney, Peigan). Depending on self-and group-identification, some aboriginal people might include themselves in the designation "people of colour" [although this is controversial]. The most important distinction to make here is that non-aboriginal people of colour, along with white people, come from immigrant ancestors: "The evidence of racism in Canada is most graphically manifested in the 400-year relationship between a white racist society and oppressed Aboriginal indigenous peoples . . . . The relationship of aboriginal peoples to the state is significantly different from its relationship to racial minorities." (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 5

Aboriginal Rights: "Although generalizations about Aboriginal definitions of Aboriginal rights are difficult because of the diversity of indigenous cultures, it can be said that most First Nations define Aboriginal rights as inherent, collective rights which flow from their original occupation of the land which is now Canada and pre-contact social orders. For many the concept can be summed up as the right of independence through self-determination in respect of governance, land, resources and culture. It is important to note that these rights are asserted by the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.  

Aboriginal rights, like Treaty Rights, are recognized and affirmed by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that this provision protects a spectrum of different kinds of rights ranging from legal recognition of customary practices such as marriage and adoption, to the site-specific exercise of harvesting or other rights where no claim is made to the land itself, to assertions of an Aboriginal title to traditional lands. 

Aboriginal peoples have traditionally pointed to 3 principal arguments to establish Aboriginal rights: international law, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, and the common law as defined in Canadian Courts (Catherine Bell and William B. Henderson. Rev. William B. Henderson. "Aboriginal Rights". The Canadian Encyclopedia Online  08/11/2010).

Affirmative Action: A set of explicit actions or programs designed to increase participation at all levels of education and employment for and by individuals or groups previously excluded from full participation (CRRF).  While most commonly understood to refer, rather simplistically, to hiring more people of colour and Aboriginal people in a particular workplace, Affirmative action can refer to changes in how a workplace functions (e.g., in terms of communication, decision making, etc.) (See Employment Equity.)

Ageism: The cultural, institutional, and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign different values to people according to their age, thereby resulting in differential treatment (CRRF). While most commonly understood to refer to assumptions about the elderly, ageism can be directed towards any age group: children, youth, young adults (i.e. any group outside of one's own). 

Ally: A member of a privileged/oppressor group who works to end a form of oppression that gives him/her privileges-for example, a white person who works to end racism, or a man who works to end sexism (CRRF).

Anglocentrism: Centred on or considered in terms of either England/Britain, or the English language. As English is the dominant language in Canada, English-speakers may tend to assume the English language is both the ‘norm' and ‘ideal.' People who are Anglocentric may not see that language creates and carries culturally specific perspectives/world views, and may assume that the world views produced through English are universal

Anti-oppressive: 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 (CRRF).

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 (CRRF).

Anti-Racist Education: A perspective that permeates all subject areas and school practices, aimed at the eradication of racism in all its various forms. Anti-racist education can also be taught in informal and non-formal education settings (CRRF). A focus on racism/anti-racism does not automatically mean that other forms of oppression, or the ways in which oppressions intersect or are compounded (e.g., racism plus homophobia) are not considered or addressed. (See also Multiculturalism, Diversity, Intersectionality.)

Anti-Semitism: "The body of unconscious or openly hostile attitudes and behaviour directed at Jewish people (individually or collectively), leading to social, economic, institutional, religious, cultural, or political discrimination. Anti-Semitism has also been expressed through acts of physical violence and through the organized destruction of entire communities" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 347) 

Appropriation: "The claiming of rights to language, subject matter, and authority that are outside one's personal experience. The term also refers to the process by which members of relatively privileged groups ‘raid' the culture of marginalized groups, abstracting cultural practices or artefacts from their historically specific contexts" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 347). The term also applies to economic exploitation of marginalized groups through the theft, production, and commodification/sale for profit of cultural/intellectual property, such that the communities from which the practices/items originate are neither consulted nor given any share of the profits of sales of such items (e.g., dream catchers, Inukshuks, soapstone carvings, inappropriate/unauthorized use of images on clothing, furniture, etc.) 

Bias: A subjective opinion, preference or prejudice, without basis in fact, which influences an individual's or group's ability to evaluate a particular situation accurately (CRRF). The term is often confused with an understanding of knowledge as always located or situated in place, history, and time. "Bias" is often set in opposition to the word/ideology of "objectivity," at times, in quite racist or problematic ways, and can be called upon as a feature of defensiveness.

Binary thinking/binarism: Conceiving only in terms of oppositions, either-or; a form of denial or resistance. In the case of Indigenous/non-Indigenous (white) relationships and discussions of land rights, for example, the white/mainstream assumption is that if a group gains rights (i.e. sovereignty) that this automatically implies that someone (white, middle class property owning people) must automatically lose something equal in kind. ("They are going to take my house, claim my vacation property..."). It is both a Western form of thinking/perceiving the world, and a capitalist approach (win/loss; winner/loser).

Classism: The cultural, institutional and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign value to people according to their socio-economic status. In classism, those in the upper- or middle-classes are considered more valuable than those of "lower" classes/the working poor, such that those in the upper classes are taken more seriously, seen as contributing ‘more' to society, and so on, at the expense of recognizing that the class structure is based on exploitation of the labour of the so-called ‘lower' classes. Based in capitalist economics and imperialism, classes have been racialized, and can be seen in both local, national, and international contexts: "First World" and "Third World," for example.

Colonialism/Colonization: (See also Imperialism): "The various economic, political, and social policies by which an imperial power maintains or extends its control over other areas or people" (Laliberte et al 566).

Colour Blindness/Colour Evasion:  "Colour-blindness or colour evasiveness is a powerful and appealing liberal discourse in which White people insist that they do not notice the skin colour of a racial-minority person. But, as Gotanda (1991) suggests, this technique of observing but not considering ‘race' is a "technical fiction. It is impossible not to think about a subject without having first thought about it a little" (101). The refusal to recognize that race is part of the ‘baggage' that people of colour carry with them, and the refusal to recognize racism as part of everyday values, policies, programs, and practices, is part of the psychological and cultural power of racial constructions (James, 1994). Colour blindness or colour evasion leads to power evasion (Frankenberg, 1993).    

Culture:  The aspects of individual and group identities which include language, religion, race, gender, experience of migration/immigration, social class, political affiliations, family influences, age, sexual orientation, geographic origin, ethnicity, experience or absence of experience with discrimination or other injustices. "The totality of the ideas, beliefs, values, knowledge, and way of life of a group of people who share a certain historical, religious, racial, linguistic, ethnic, or social background. Manifestations of culture include art, laws, institutions, and customs. Culture is transmitted and reinforced, and it changes over time" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 349). In Canada, and as a result of the intersections of whiteness and class/capitalism, some/partial aspects of complex cultural processes of communities of colour and Indigenous communities (culturally specific foods, clothing, music, art practices) have been assumed by white people to equal ‘culture.' This happens in conjunction with the exoticizing of difference and an assumption by some white people that ‘white people don't have a culture.' Ideally, ‘culture' should be considered a verb, an action, a process.

Cultural Sensitivity: The awareness of and responsiveness to the cultural values, beliefs, behaviours and biases brought to interaction or work with people whose cultural backgrounds are different from our own.

Cultural Values: Ideas which do not require external or outside evidence to be accepted as true. Groups of individuals share more or less similar values or beliefs that help them communicate with one another and explain their similarities and differences. These values become a yardstick for groups to measure to what degree individuals belong to the group.  Groups with different value systems are likely to experience conflict or disagreement because they will experience the same event from the viewpoint of contrasting assumptions.

Democratic/Liberal Racism: "An ideology that permits and sustains the ability to justify the maintaining of two apparently conflicting values [e.g., democracy/equality and racism]. One set of values consists of a commitment to a democratic society motivated by egalitarian values of fairness, justice, and equality. Conflicting with these liberal values are attitudes and behaviours including negative feelings about people of colour  [and Indigenous peoples], which have the potential for differential treatment or discrimination against them" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 349). 

"The most appropriate model for understanding [racism] in Canada is the justification of the inherent conflict between the egalitarian values of justice and fairness and the racist ideologies reflected in the collective mass belief system as well as the racist attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions of individuals". (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 17)

Denial: "Refusal to acknowledge the societal privileges (see the term "Privilege") that are granted or denied based on an individual's ethnicity or other grouping" (Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative, Evaluation Tools for Racial Equity). 

Discrimination: The conscious or unconscious act of dealing with a person or persons on the basis of prejudiced attitudes and beliefs rather than on the basis of individual merit (Alberta Community Development, Terminologies, p. 97). Discrimination may occur on the basis of race, nationality, gender, religion, political affiliation, ethnicity, age, marital or family status, physical development or mental handicap or sexual orientation.There are three kinds of discrimination: overt discrimination, unequal treatment, and systemic discrimination:  

  • Overt discrimination: the granting or denying of certain rights to certain groups of individuals.
  • Unequal treatment: the differential treatment of one group in comparison with another because of certain characteristics (i.e. paying lower wages to women in comparison to men for work of equal value) 
  • Systemic discrimination: the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups.

Diversity: This term describes the differences that exist within Canadian society, both individually and organizationally. Diversity can refer to a wide variety of human qualities and often also has a relationship with inclusion and exclusion (in group/out group) power dynamics. Diversity can include ethnicity, language, religion and spiritual beliefs, race, gender, socio-economic class, age, sexual orientation, geographic origin, group history, education and upbringing, and life experiences (Alberta Community Development, 1994).   

Unfortunately, in discourses of privilege/racism, the recognition of diversity has been used, falsely, as evidence of genuine equality, social justice, and the end of racism. In other words, ‘diversity training' has, at times, devolved into a simplistic recognition of "differences" with little attention to racism, systemic/institutional racism, unequal distribution of power/authority, and little change in attitudes or actions of the most privileged. (See The Problem with Multiculturalism.)

Dominant Culture: Dominant culture in Canada results from patterns of learned behaviors and values that are shared among members of a group, and are transmitted to group members over time; these behaviors and values distinguish the members of one group from another.  Even with the extent of racial and ethnic diversity in Canada, the prevailing cultural values are of European (Western) origin and are perceived as the norm.  Euro-Canadian is a term used to refer to predominantly white Canadians of European descent and encompasses their cultural values, attitudes and assumptions. It refers to the group of people that is largest in number and "successfully controls other groups through social, economic, cultural, political, or religious power. In Canada, the term has generally referred to White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males." (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 327) The term "mainstream" is often used to describe or refer to dominant culture. (See Culture.) 

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 designated (marginalized) groups (CRRF). 

Environmental Racism: A systemic form of racism in which toxic wastes are introduced in or near marginalized communities. People of colour, Indigenous peoples, working-class and poor people suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards and risks such as industrial toxins, polluted air, unclean water, deleterious work conditions ad the location of dangerous, toxic facilities such as incinerators and toxic waste dumps (CRRF). Indigenous communities are at particular risk, as is their ability to perform their traditional roles as custodians of the land.

Equality: Equal treatment is valued as one of the central concepts (along with tolerance and freedom of expression), in liberal, democracies. Often the discourse of equality is used to perpetuate discriminatory practices because there is a focus on same or equal treatment, which is perceived as fair by dominant culture. Therefore, the focus remains on the treatment and not on the result. If the treatment does not result in equality or the balancing of power, then equality has not been achieved. Keeping the focus on equal treatment is a form of denial and promotes a lack of knowledge by being unwilling to consider how dominant institutions may not meet the needs of racialized people and, in fact, are structured to exclude certain groups (Bolgatz, 2005, Henry & Tator 2006,2009, Howard, 2006, Sefa Dei et al., 2000).  (See systemic/institutional racism).

Substantive equality or equity stipulates that differences among individuals and groups be taken into account and accommodated for institutional policies, practices and laws. In the context of human rights law, equality does not necessarily mean equal treatment, but rather equal consideration.  As such, the result may be the same treatment in some cases and special consideration or treatment in other cases (Kallen, 2003).  

Equity: A condition or state of fair, inclusive, and respectful treatment of all people. Equity does NOT mean treating people the same without regard for individual differences (CRRF, emphasis added). The claim (often by white, middle-class people) that they treat everyone "the same" is not only false, but is not the goal of anti-racism.

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. The word "ethnic" is often used to denote non-dominant or less-powerful cultural identities in Canada (CRRF).

In Western Canada (e.g., Alberta), "ethnicity" is typically, and problematically racialized as non-white (as in ‘ethnic food" aisles in grocery stores). In fact, however, communities of white people comprise ethnic communities (e.g., Irish-Canadian).

Ethno-Cultural Group: A group of people who share a common distinctive heritage, culture, social patterns and a sense of belonging.

Ethnocentrism: The tendency to view others through the filters and assumptions of one's own group, practices, and to see one's own group as ‘the norm,' the best, or the ideal to which others should conform. In anti-racism work in Canada, the term, particularly in terms of what is seen as "the norm" most often and appropriately applies to those of white, middle-class, Christian, straight people. Belief in the superiority of one's own ethnic group may be a 'natural human tendency that advances the notion of dissimilarity between two ethnic groups. Each group evaluates the other as to how similar or different the group is from its own. The more similar they are, the greater the acceptance. The more dissimilar the other group is the more negative stereotyping will occur. This stereotyping can then lead to misunderstandings and possibly hostility" (Leong & Bhagwat, 2001).  

Eurocentrism: The tendency to view others through the filters and assumptions of European (primarily Northern European) perspectives, and to assume European practices and perspectives as the best, the ideal, the norm. (One need not be of European ancestry to be Eurocentric.) A Eurocentric view considers history according to European experiences and paradigms (i.e., the assumption that history in Canada ‘began' with the arrival of Europeans).


Feminism: Actions, perspectives, and historical movements aimed at challenging and eliminating sexism. Some forms of feminism, particularly ‘mainstream' feminism in North American and Europe, have been criticized appropriately for their erasure of race and class dynamics and cultural specificity--claiming, for example, a "universal sisterhood" to unite black African women and North American middle-class women, without consideration of how white middle-class women may be complicit in racism, classism, and the First World's exploitation of Third World peoples.

First Nations, First Peoples, Aboriginal People
"In Canada, [refers to] status Indians, non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 325). Indigenous peoples of North America, recognizing that in both pre-and post-contact with European civilizations, indigenous peoples are not a single entity or a single nation. This term also recognizes, in a contemporary Canadian context, not just that people lived in the geographic space before Western contact, but that their nations preceded the formations of Canada's current political nation-state.[ The term is sometimes used interchangeable with Aboriginal," "Native," and "Indigenous," or by more specific nation/band affiliations (e.g, .Sikskia, Stoney, Peigan). Depending on self-and group-identification, some aboriginal people might include themselves in the designation "people of colour."] HI: As I've written above,  to me the terms are not/should not be used interchangeably; and I've never heard Indigenous people in Alberta refer to themselves as people of colour. Otherwise I'm good with this content... The most important distinction to make here is that non-aboriginal people of colour, along with white people, come from immigrant ancestors: "The evidence of racism in Canada is most graphically manifested in the 400-year relationship between a white racist society and oppressed Aboriginal indigenous peoples . . . . . The relationship of aboriginal peoples to the state is significantly different from its relationship to racial minorities." (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 5)

First Nations: A term used to refer to the original inhabitants of the territories overlain by Canada, which came into popular usage in the 1980s. It refers to the more than 50 specific, autonomous and sovereign Indigenous nations that existed and flourished prior to European colonization, and which continue today. The term has been adopted as a collective term among Indigenous communities in Canada, particularly as it asserts both custodianship/occupancy of the land prior to colonization, as well as inherent sovereignty. And it has been taken up by one of the national bodies representing Indigenous peoples in Canada: The Assembly of First Nations.

 "First Nations" (plural) refers to more than one of these communities, while "First Nation" (singular) refers to one community/nation. Many communities will self-identify using their traditional terminology (e.g., Piikani, Tsuu T'ina, Siksika, Kainai).

The term should not be confused with or be considered to include Métis or the Inuit, as these are culturally, linguistically, and in the case of the Inuit, distinct from First Nations peoples.

Freedom of Expression: In Canada, the right to freedom of thought, belief, expression and opinion, including freedom of the press, and other media, as guaranteed by section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Dissemination of hate propaganda and genocide, however, is a crime under the Criminal Code, although this has recently been appealed successfully in a Supreme Court decision. There are limits placed on this freedom by the Human Rights Act(s) of various provinces. It is a criminal offense in Canada to promote hatred or advocate genocide or distribute hate propaganda. According to the United Nations definition, genocide can involve mass murder (Rwanda, The Holocaust) as well as assimilationist practies such as the removal of children from their homes/communities with the express intent to destroy their culture (cultural genocide).

Genocide/The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: Passed in New York in 1948, "this convention declares genocide a crime under international law...The convention defines genocide as any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. This includes such acts as:

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to the group
  • Deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to destroy the group (the whole group or even part of the group)
  • Forcefully transferring children of the group to another group.

The convention declares that there is no immunity from being prosecuted for committing genocide: those found guilty of genocide will be punished for their crime, regardless of whether they are or were legally constituted ruler, public officials, or private individuals. 

 According to this convention, anyone charged with genocide will be put on trial by either:

 A Royal Commission into the separation of Indigenous Australian children from their families (entitled Bringing Them Home) identified the practice as genocide under the UN definition. Canada's Indian Residential School System, by removing children and placing them in boarding schools with an assimilationist agenda, is considered by Indigenous communities and their allies in Canada as a form of attempted genocide.

Hate Group Activity: Representing some of the most destructive forms of human rights-based discrimination in that it promotes hatred against identifiable groups of people. Hate groups generally label and disparage people who may include immigrants, people with disabilities, members of racialized, religious, or cultural groups, or people who are gay, lesbian (CRRF), bisexual, or transgendered. Individuals who promote hatred will often insist that they have the right to do so as a right of freedom of speech. Dissemination of hate propaganda is an offense  under the criminal code.

Heterosexism: The belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and thereby its right to dominance. It comprises an ideological system as well as patterns of institutionalized oppression which deny, denigrate, and stigmatize any non-heterosexual form of behaviour, identity, relationship, or community (CRRF). It is also referred to as "normative heterosexuality" and "compulsory heterosexuality" and is a foundational assumption of both Western patriarchy and fundamentalist Christianity, whose strong hold on Alberta remains.  

Many Indigenous communities in Canada traditionally have celebrated and often venerated "two-spirited" peoples as having particular gifts relating to their understanding of male and female perspectives. These individuals were not recognized or defined by the narrow, Western tendency to define individuals by sexual orientation alone. In other words, to equate homosexuality/ bisexuality/ transgender with Indigenous "two spiritedness" is inadequate to the breadth of ‘two-spiritedness.'

Homophobia: Fear of or contempt for lesbians and gay men; also behaviour based on such feeling. Prejudice against (fear or dislike of) homosexual people and homosexuality. The fear and persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, rooted in fear and the desire to maintain the heterosexual social order (CRRF).

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 peoples are respected, regardless of age, ancestry, citizenship, colour, creed (faith/spirituality), disability, ethnic origin, family status, gender, marital status, place of origin, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status (CRRF).

On 10 December 1948, the United Nations adopted and proclaimed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Click here for more information and to read the full text of the declaration..   

Ideology:  "A complex set of beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions that provide members of a group with an understanding and an explanation of their world. Ideology influences how people interpret social, cultural, political, and economic systems. It guides behaviour and provides a basis for making sense of the world" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 350).

Immigrant: One who moves from his/her native country to another with the intention of settling there, and for a wide range of reasons. Historically in Canada, "immigrant" referred to white people, as racist immigration policies gave preferential treatment–even free land–to people of white/British ancestry. Since the demographic shift, begun in the 1960s, resulting from increased immigration from many countries, the word has often been "used incorrectly to refer, implicitly or explicitly, to people of colour or those with non-dominant ethnicities" (CRRF).  The term "New Canadian" has emerged more recently, partly in resistance of this misuse of the term and the assumption that a ‘true' Canadian is white. 

Imperialism: (See also Colonialism): "A policy of seeking to extend control of a nation by acquiring new territory or dependencies especially when lying outside the nation's natural boundaries and extending control over the political or economic life of these other areas" (Laliberte et al 568). The term "imperialism" is at times distinguished from the term "colonialism" in the following way: "imperialism" is the ideological foundation that justifies and normalizes domination and exploitation of people and territories (i.e. racism, capitalism), while "colonization/colonialism" refer to the material practices, policies, and actions of dispossession and domination (e.g., war, enslavement, dispossession/dispersal of people through violence as well as ideology--education, Christianization, and so on).  

Inclusive Education: Education that is based on the principles of acceptance and the inclusion of all students. Students see themselves reflected in their curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, in which diversity is honoured and all individuals are respected (CRRF).

In recent years, the term "inclusive" has proven problematic, insofar as its practitioners and proponents (often white), hav falsely e assumed that an increase in representations of diversity (a wider range of students seeing their communities reflected in the curriculum) somehow automatically equals anti-racism education. This is because the diversity of representations (and even increases in the hiring of teachers of colour and Indigenous teachers) does not automatically change how the system functions; nor does it in itself change the power dynamics that continue to grant power and authority to whiteness/white people and dominant methods. Instead, an ‘add-on' approach to education has been adopted, in which the system remains fundamentally unchanged in its practice and assumptions, with representations of people of colour and Indigenous people added on to an unchanged, dominant, centre. This leaves Indigenous people and people of colour, in a difficult position: the increase in diverse representation is pointed to by white people as evidence that inclusiveness has already been achieved, while they are left in periphery of the decision-making process.

Inclusive Language: The deliberate selection of vocabulary that avoids the exclusion of particular groups and that avoids the use of false generic terms (CRRF).  An example of inclusive language is the use of the word "partner" in place of "husband/boyfriend" and "wife/girlfriend," which reinforce heterosexuality as norm.  

Indian: The term widely used until very recently  by Europeans and Euro-Canadians  to identify (and erase the differences among) the Indigenous peoples of South, Central, and North America. It is believed to have originated with Christopher Columbus, who thought he had arrived in Asia when he arrived in the Caribbean.  Indigenous communities have continued to assert and fight for the formal recognition of their own traditional terms of self-identification (in their traditional languages), and the term Indigenous has become generally accepted as an appropriate term for referring collectively to Indigenous peoples. The term "Indian" has been recognized as derogatory and incorrect in its history and usage, but its use in Canada persists because of the continuing legislated definitions of "Indian" contained in The Indian Act (1876), and, more recently, in the enshrinement of Aboriginal Rights under the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982. While some Indigenous people in Canada do self-identify as "Indian," the use of the term "Indian" by non-Indigenous people is generally confined to discussions of legislative definitions and concerns.

"The Government of Canada defines three groups of Aboriginal people in the Constitution: Indians, Inuit, and Métis. Indians are categorized as "status" (also referred to as registered), non-status, and Treaty Indians.  According to the Indian Act, a status Indian is registered as an Indian under the Indian Act and a non-status Indian is not registered under the Act. A Treaty Indian is a person who belongs to a First Nation that signed a treaty with the Crown. 

As with the Indian Act, the legislated definition of an "Indian" person in Canada is fraught with the ideologies, and material realities of colonialism, and profoundly affects eligibility for a persons rights, access to voting privileges, and funding within a band/reserve/community. Indeed, it is used to determine band membership, though First Nations have fought strenously for the right to determine their own membership. One example of the colonial foundation of the Act is its history of the stripping of Indigenous women of any Indian status if she married a non-Indian (i.e. white) person, which affected the status of her children. Bill cC-31, which was passed in 1985, only partly addressed this problem (as it conflicted with human rights legislation), as it restored status for the individual women but placed limits on the status of her children and grandchildren.

The Indian Act (Canada):  First passed by the Canadian government in 1876 as an amalgamation of existing colonal legislation, policies, and ideologies, and still in existence today, the Indian Act essentially gives the federal government power/jurisdiction over Indigenous people and affairs in Canada. It is the only legislation in Canada that defines individuals and groups according to imperialistic definitions of ‘race', defining who is or isn't an Indian and who, therefore, is eligible for specific rights, access to resources, and funding. The act has granted the government the authority to ban traditional ceremonial practices such as the Potlatch, (and imprison practitioners, if found) , to grant Indian Agents virtually complete authority over reserve communities, to create the Indian Residential School system, and to strip Indigenous women of ‘status' for marrying non-Indigenous men. While many of the most offensive provisions of the Indian Act were removed in 1951, Indigenous communities and their allies view the Act as the mechanism by which the federal government has been able to serve its own interests in terms of the acquisition of and power over land, resources, and Indigenous people. At the same time, Indigenous communities are hesitant to abolish the Indian Act because: a) the Act does by implication recognize some inherent Indigenous rights (even if it does so by actively denying these rights) and b) for justified fears that abolishing the Act would be a move towards assimilation rather than recognition of Indigenous sovereignty.

In the words of Patrick Brazeau (National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples), the Indian Act is an "outdated, paternalistic, and colonial piece of legislation". See more at 

Indigenous: According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Indigenous peoples are the descendants "of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement, or other means." Indigenous peoples practice unique traditions and "retain social, cultural, economic, and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. It is estimated that there are more than 370 million Indigenous peoples spread across 70 countries worldwide." ( 

According to the UN, the most fruitful approach is to "identify rather than define Indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents." A contemporary understanding of this term is based on the following:

  • self-identification as Indigenous, at the individual level, and accepted as such by the community as their member
  • historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
  • strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
  • distinct social, economic, or political systems
  • distinct language, culture, beliefs
  • formation of non-dominant groups of society
  • resolution to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities 

"There are 370 million indigenous persons living in the world today. Of those, there are more than 5,000 distinct  groups in more than 70 countries. Although representing 5 per cent of the world's population, indigenous peoples represent 15 per cent of the world's poorest people" (UN, "Durban Review Conference - Geneva 2009;

Internalized Racism/Oppression: Inferiorization denotes not only an acceptance of a second-class or inferior citizenship status in society by a member of an oppressed group, but a belief that he or she and all members of that group are inferior to the dominant group. It is a belief that their oppression is deserved, unique, unchangeable or temporary (Adam, 1978) and that their problems in living are due to their personal shortcomings (Shulman, 1992). It is an acceptance of the negative identity and defined by the larger society and of the stereotypes assigned to them. Inferiorization describes a situation whereby oppressed persons often understand their interests in ways that reflect the interests of the dominant group (Freire, 1994).

Internalized oppression takes inferiorization a step further as it includes not only a belief that the self and social group are inferior, but also encompasses the behaviours (discursive practices) that are self-harming and contribute to one's own oppression. These self-destructive behaviours on the part of some oppressed people, of course, reinforce the dominant group's view of them as inferior and lead to a rejection of the, which in turn often confirms the low image they may have of themselves (Moreau and Leonard, 1989). Shulman (1992) points out that these self-perceptions can be reinforced by social workers who focus on personal pathology and ignore external or structural factors that create and reinforce this negative self-image. (Challenging Oppression A Critical Social Work Approach, p.124) 

The incorporation and acceptance by individuals within an oppressed group of the prejudices against them within the dominant society. This is likely to consist of self-hatred, self-concealment, fear of violence, feelings of inferiority, resignation, isolation, powerlessness and gratefulness for being allowed to survive.  Internalized oppression is the mechanism within an oppressive system for perpetuating domination not only in external control, but also by building subservience into the minds of oppressed groups.

Accepting society's view. When people of color take the dominant culture's view of themselves, they implicitly accept the negation of their humanness and are thus forced to question their own basic worth. This strategy for reducing contradictions creates new conflicts and tensions, for by buying into the belief that people of color are "bad," they are left with the problem of how to be "of color" and "good" at the same time. The preservation of self-esteem, then, becomes the source of tension. In order for the individuals to be of basic worth, they must resist accepting the fact that they belong to an inferior group. Consequently, they try to become less like their own people and more like the admired group. In other worlds, accepting society's view pushes these individuals to locate themselves outside of the racial/ethnic group. (Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism A Developmental Approach 58) 

Internalized Racism/Dominance: The incorporation and acceptance by individuals within a dominant group, of prejudices against others. Internalized domination or dominance is likely to involve feelings of superiority, normalcy and self-righteousness, together with guilt, fear, projection and denial of demonstrated inequity.

Internalized dominance is a product of racism for people from the dominant group in North America, white Europeans. It normalizes relationships, making it difficult for people of the dominant group (white people) to see the power inequities for others of non-dominant groups (people of colour and aboriginal people). Internalized dominance makes it almost impossible to see the privilege that accrues from belonging to the dominant group. (Adapted from Alberta Community Development and United Way of Calgary Multicultural Organizational Change Training Team. December 1994, and Gail Pheterson. Alliances Between Women: Overcoming Internalized Oppression and Internalized Domination.)

Intersectionality: "The interconnected nature of all forms of oppression (cultural, institutional, and social) against particular groups, and t way they are embedded within existing systems such that they operate in insidious, covert, and compounded ways (i.e., gender and class; religion and race; sexual orientation and race)" (CRRF).       

Inuit: The word "Inuit" means "people." The "majority of Inuit inhabit the northern regions of Canada, known as Nunaat, or ‘homeland,' populated with small, scattered communities and villages throughout the Arctic from Alaska to eastern Greenland. In 2006 Statistics Canada estimated that 50 485 people, about 4% of the Aboriginal population, identified themselves as Inuit. . . .There are 8 main Inuit ethnic groups: the Labrador, Ungava, Baffin Island, Iglulik, Caribou, Netsilik, Copper, and Western Arctic Inuit. There are five main Inuit language dialects in Canada...collectively known as Inuktitut or Inuttituut."

As a result of note being subject subject to the Indian Act and government supervision until 1939, Inuit remained ignored until to the some Inuit communities were relocated out of their traditional territories, without proper consultation, to meet the needs and interests of the Canadian government, particularly during the Cold War and in relation to resource development; some, Inuit children were sent to Indian Residential Schools in southern Canadian First Nations communities. Despite these challenges, the Inuit have demonstrated tremendous resiliency and adaptability, negotiating the land claim resulting in the creation of the Inuit territory of Nunavut. In 2010, Leona Aglukkaq was named the first Inuk federal cabinet minister, when she became the federal minister of health. ("Inuk" is the singular term for a person of Inuit ancestry."

(Minnie Aodla Freeman. Rev. Anne-Marie Pedersen. The Canadian Encyclopedia Online and Multicultural Canada



LGBTIQ: An acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (Transexual) and Intersexed People (CRRF).

Liberalism/Liberal Racism (or Democratic Racism): "Democratic liberalism is distinguished by a set of beliefs that includes, among other ideals: the primacy of individual rights over collective or group rights; the power of (one) truth, tradition, and history; an appeal to universalism; the sacredness of the principle of freedom of expression; and a commitment to human rights and equality. But as many scholars observe, liberalism is full of paradoxes and contradictions and assumes different meanings, depending on one's social location and angle of vision (Hall, 1986; Goldberg, 1993; Apple, 1993; Winant, 1997). As Parekh argues, ‘Liberalism is both egalitarian and inegalitarian.' It simultaneously supports the unity of humankind and the hierarchy of cultures. It is both tolerant and intolerant (1986:82). (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 28).                .        


Majority: "Refers to the group of people within society either largest in number, in a superior social position, or that successfully shapes or controls other groups through social, economic, cultural, political, military or religious power. In most parts of Canada, the term refers to White, English-speaking, Christian, middle-to-upper income Canadians (CRRF).

Melting Pot: "Term usually used to refer to the American monocultural society in which there is a conscious attempt to assimilate diverse peoples into a homogeneous culture, rather than to participate as equals in the society while maintaining various cultural or ethnic identities" (CRRF). The term is often used as a contrast to multiculturalism in Canada.

 Metis: A term used in Canada to refer to people of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry who comprise a distinct culture and ‘nation' within Canada. The term was enshrined in the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982, which defines Aboriginal people as those of Indian, Inuit, and Métis descent. (See First Nations Indigenous, Indian, and Aboriginal.)

In the words of the Métis National Council, the Métis people "emerged out of the relations of Indian women and European men" in the period "prior to Canada's crystallization as a nation in west central North America. While the initial offspring of these Indian and European unions were individuals who possessed mixed ancestry, the gradual establishment of distinct Métis communities outside of Indian and European cultures and settlements, as well as the subsequent intermarriages between Métis women and Métis men, resulted in the genesis of a new Aboriginal people-the Métis."

"Distinct Métis communities emerged as an outgrowth of the fur trade, along some parts of the freighting waterways and Great Lakes of Ontario, throughout the Northwest and as far north as the McKenzie river. The Métis people and their communities were connected through the highly mobile fur trade network, seasonal rounds, extensive kinship connections and a collective identity."

The Métis Nation "has a shared history, a common culture...a unique language (Michif, with various regional dialects), extensive kinship connections from Ontario westward, a distinct way of life, a traditional territory, and a collective consciousness" (The Métis National Council, "Who are the Métis? 09/11/2010). 

While the federal government formally recognizes the distinct history and culture of the Métis people, the specific determination of  what constitutes Métis rights remains in process. It should be noted, however, that in Western Canada there is a history of scrip (a form of land ownership granted by the Canadian government) and a growing body of court cases recognizing Métis hunting and fishing rights. 

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. A group in a minority position does not have to be in the minority numerically. In Canada, minority rights are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,The Human Rights Acts and Codes, and a range of International UN Conventions and Declarations, which apply to Canada.

Multiculturalism:  A state policy announced by the federal Liberal government in 1971. It acknowledged that many Canadians with non-dominant ethnicities experienced unequal access to resources and opportunities. It urged more recognition of the contribution of those ethnicities and more equity in the treatment of all Canadians. Since 1971 there has been increasing recognition of the limitations of this concept. Firstly because it does not explicitly acknowledge the critical role that racism plays in preventing this vision from materializing; and secondly, because it promotes a static and limited notion of culture as fragmented and confined to ethnicity (Thomas, 1987). Moreover, while multiculturalism in policy did not explicitly exclude or deny Indigenous Canadians' treaty rights and claims to territories, in practice, or in mainstream/dominant perceptions of multiculturalism, Indigenous Canadians and ‘non-dominant ethnic communities' were viewed as being the ‘same' under the law. The practice of multiculturalism is often about examining or celebrating surface culture. Surface culture refers to the things that bring cultures together for example events where ethnic groups are focused on in the context of food, dance or traditional dress. This is often referred to as a multicultural event or celebrating diversity. Although these types of celebrations bring people together, they do not address the political, social and economic imbalances as there is no discussion of race as a social construct, racism or power (Sleeter & Mclaren, 1995). These events ignore the deeper cultural issues which often cause difficulties or conflict between cultures due to lack of understanding of deeply held cultural beliefs. Deep cultural beliefs that are different than mainstream beliefs are often viewed problems or disadvantages by mainstream/white Canadians (see culture and deep culture).

Native: The strict definition of this term is "a person born in a particular place." The term has become confusing for some because of it has been used to refer to Indigenous people in Canada and the United States (Native Canadians and Native Americans, respectively), while those of non-Indigenous ancestry may also refer to themselves as native Canadians. The capitalization of the word has helped to clarify matters in terms of referring specifically to people of Indigenous ancestry; at the same time, however, other collective terms such as Aboriginal and Indigenous have become more widespread.   

New Canadian: See Immigrant.

Non-Status Indian: See The Indian Act

Normalization/Ethnocentrism: We often make assumptions about others who are different from us based on our own experiences. For example we assume that others want to be treated the same as we would like to be treated when we espouse the golden rule, "do unto other as you would have them do unto you". If your background is from a culture that privileges group achievement over individual achievement and you are singled out for your achievement you may find it embarrassing where as if you are from a culture that privileges the individual like may western cultures do, you would want to be singled out for achievements (find a website on intercultural communication).

Oppression: "The 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. Refers also to the injustices suffered by marginalized groups in their everyday interactions with members of the dominant group. The marginalized groups usually lack avenues to express reaction to disrespect, inequality, injustice, and lack of response to their situation by individuals and institutions that can make improvements" (CRRF).




Patriarchy: "The norms, values, beliefs, structures and systems that grant power, privilege and superiority to men, and thereby marginalize and subordinate women" (CRRF). While patriarchy does privilege men, this privilege does not automatically extend to all men, to men of colour, Indigenous men, gay/bisexual men, men living poverty, or men with disabilities, given the intersecting operation of racism, heterosexism, classism, and ableism.

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. The term is an attempt to describe people with a more positive term than ‘non-White' or ‘minority,' which frames them in the context of the dominant group" (CRRF).

Political correctness: In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, minority groups argued that the terms used by the mainstream, dominant culture were often inaccurate, inappropriate, and offensive. They urged the acceptance of their own terms of self-definition. As these terms have entered the public discourse, they have been met with a combination of relief and support, supportive uncertainty, and downright resistance. All of these responses, rather confusingly (though not, in the end, surprisingly) have been referred to as "political correctness." For example, those of us who want to support the groups' processes of self-naming, and want to avoid using a term that is seen by the group as derogatory, want to use the "appropriate" or "correct" term. In the case of Aboriginal groups and the vast array of terminology, this can be a process of uncertainty. Change, however, typically involves resistance, and "political correctness" has also been used, increasingly negatively, as backlash against the struggle of minority peoples' rights to self-definition and the power shifts that entails. "Political correctness" has been accurately identified as a liberal or conservative (often white, middle-class) strategy that defuses the momentum of minority groups to shift power relationships in our society. The "words we use to describe groups of people have developed within the system of racism as it has changed historically....It can be hard for white people to accept new terms because they represent challenges to long standing social relationships. Different words call forth different behaviour. We may feel less secure that we know the racial rules--what to say and how to act." (Kivel, 1996, pp. 75-76).

Power: Basically, all power is relational, and the different relationships either reinforce or disrupt one another. The importance of the concept of power to anti-racism is clear: racism cannot be understood without understanding that power is not only an individual relationship but a cultural one, and that power relationships are shifting constantly. Power can be used malignantly and intentionally, but need not be, and individuals within a culture may benefit from power that they are unaware of.

Position Power: Is the extent of your authority within the organization, and is the juice that comes with your title or place in the organization. This power is usually governed by predetermined rules, policies, and procedures, and generally speaking it is your right to exercise various punishments and rewards that are within your scope of the organization. (Transitional Leadership) 

Prejudice/Racial Prejudice: Literally, to ‘pre-judge.' "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." Prejudice is "irrational and very resistant to change, because concrete evidence that contradicts the prejudice is usually dismissed as exceptional. Frequently prejudices are not recognized as false or unsound assumptions or stereotypes, and, through repetition, become accepted as common sense notions. When backed with power, prejudice results in acts of discrimination and oppression against groups or individuals" (CRRF). Racial prejudice refers to a set of discriminatory or derogatory attitudes based on assumptions deriving from perceptions about race/skin colour. Racial Prejudice can be directed at white people (e.g., white people can't dance) but is not considered racism because of the systemic relationship of power. (See discussion/definition of racism). 

Privilege: Refers to gaining benefits, advantages, and rights by default at the expense of others, because one belongs to the perceived "us", "normal" or "natural" state of the "mainstream" and/or dominant culture. Privilege allows for active persistent exclusion and devaluation of "them", those "othered" or "marginalized". There are several elements to privilege: (1) "the characteristics of the privileged group define the societal norm." For example, one judged to succeed or fail depending on how similar their characteristics are to those who hold the privilege (the norm). (2) "Members of the privileged group gain greatly by their affiliation with the dominant side of the power system... [therefore] achievements by members of the privileged group are viewed as the result of individual effort, rather than privilege. (3) "Members of privileged groups can opt out of struggles against oppression if they choose. Often this privilege may be exercised by silence." (4) The holder of privilege may enjoy deference, special knowledge, or a higher comfort level to guide societal interaction." (5) "Privilege is not visible to its holder; it is merely there, a part of the world, a way of life, simply the way things are." (Wildman & Davis, 1997, pp. 315-316)  

"As a white person I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage. . . . I have come to see white privilege as . . . an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks. . . I began to see why we [white women] are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don't see ourselves that way. At the very least, obliviousness of one's privileged state can make a person or group irritating to be with." (McIntosh, 1997, p. 292)  

Some make a distinction between economic privilege and the concept of benefit: "Benefits . . . are the advantages that all white people gain at the expense of people of color, and aboriginal people regardless of economic positions." (Uprooting Racism 28) 

Queer: "Once a negative term to describe those who did not meet societal norms of sexual behaviour, queer is now used by many LGBTIQ people to describe themselves. An umbrella term to refer to all LGBTIQ people. Can also be a political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as fluid" (CRRF). 

Race: "A socially constructed category used to classify humankind according to common ancestry, and reliant on differentiation by such physical characteristics as colour of skin, hair texture, stature, and facial characteristics. The concept of race has no basis in biological reality, and, as such, has no meaning independent of its social definitions. But, as a social construction, race significantly affects the lives of people of colour" and Indigenous peoples (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 351). 

"A concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies." (Omi & Winart, 1994, p. 55)
"A category used to classify humankind according to common ancestry and reliant on differentiation by physical characteristics as colour of skin, hair texture and colour, stature and facial characteristics . . . The concept of race has no basis in biological reality and, as such, has no meaning independent of its social definitions. But, as a social construction, race significantly affects the lives of people of colour [and aboriginal people]." (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 328) 

See our extensive discussion in Race

Race Relations: Relationships and patterns of interaction among people who are seen as or self-identify as racially different. "In its theoretical and practical usage, the term has also implied harmonious relations....Two key components for positive race relations are the elimination of racial intolerance arising from prejudicial attitudes, and the removal of disadvantage arising from the systemic nature of racism" (CRRF).   

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. (CRRF). "The extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice or group. Racialization is an ideological process, an historically specific one. Racial ideology is constructed from pre-existing conceptual (or, if one prefers, "discursive") elements and emerges from the struggles of competing political projects and ideas seeking to articulate similar elements differently" (Omi & Winant, 1989).  

Racial Discrimination: "Any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on" perceptions about ‘race' "that has the purpose of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 351).

It is important to note the difference between racial discrimination and racism, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission website provides a generally good discussion. They describe racism as being a "broader experience" than racial discrimination.

Racial discrimination can happen to anyone who is discriminated against based on their race, and is usually an individual act. Racism is more pervasive because it is not only an individual behaviour or act, but a way of thinking and is institutionalized/inherent in Canadian institutions. It is the institutionalize element of racism or any ism that provides the imbalance of cultural power. The difference between racial discrimination and racism is cultural power.  In Canada anyone can experience racial discrimination but only people of colour and aboriginal people can experience racism because in Canada white people have cultural power [link definition of cultural power - do we have?].

Although both racial discrimination and racism are oppressive, racism is a bigger/cultural problem and it is important to recognize it as such in order to address it. Understanding the terms (racism, racial discrimination and so on) provides us the basis for having meaningful conversations about race and racism.

See the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

Racial Minority: "A group of persons who, because of their physical characteristics, are subjected to differential treatment. Their minority status is the result of a lack of access to power, privilege, and prestige in relation to the majority group" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 351). 

Racial Profiling: Any action undertaken for [so-called] 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 cause, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny, differential treatment, or arrest.  

Racism: Racism refers not only to social attitudes towards non-dominant ethnic and racial groups but also to social structures and actions which oppress, exclude, limit and discriminate against such individuals and groups. Racist social attitudes originate in and rationalize discriminatory treatment. Racism in the larger society can be seen in discriminatory laws, residential segregation, poor health care, inferior education, unequal economic opportunity and the exclusion and distortion of the perspectives of non-dominant Canadians in cultural institutions. (Thomas, 1987).   

Racism refers to "a system in which one group of people exercises power over another on the basis of skin colour; an implicit or explicit set of beliefs, erroneous assumptions, and actions based on an ideology of the inherent superiority of one racial group over another, and evident in organizational or institutional structures and programs as well as in individual thought or behaviour patterns (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 352). 

"Consists of policies and practices, entrenched in established institutions, that result in the exclusion or advancement of specific groups of people. It manifests itself in two ways: (1) institutional racism: racial discrimination that derives from individuals carrying out the dictates of others who are prejudiced or of a prejudiced society; (2) structural racism: inequalities rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that excludes substantial numbers of members of particular groups from significant participation in major social institutions." (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 329)

Reverse Racism: This term is sometimes used to characterize anti-racism initiatives or affirmative action or equity policies which are actually designed to rectify the results of institutionalized racism by setting guidelines and establishing procedures for finding qualified applicants from all segments of the population. 

The term "reverse racism" is also sometimes used to characterize the mistreatment that individual whites may have experienced at the hands of racialized people. The inaccuracy here is that we should not confuse racial discrimination and other forms of mistreatment experienced by whites at the hands of people of colour with racism - the concentration of power and privilege in our society that leads to the systematic and institutionalized mistreatment of racialized people. (Adapted from "A working definition of racism," Unlearning Racism Workshops, Ricky Sherover-Marcuse.) 

Segregation: "The social, physical, political and economic separation of diverse groups of people, particularly referring to ideological and structural barriers to civil liberties, equal opportunity and participation by minorities within a majority racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic or social group. Segregation may be a mutually voluntary arrangement but more frequently is enforced by the majority group and its institutions" (CRRF). Exclusive neighbourhoods and gated communities are examples of economic segregation; the fact that these neighbourhoods are predominantly white demonstrates how whiteness and middle/upper class ideologies are mutually reinforcing. 

Sexism: "Sexism stems from a set of implicit or explicit beliefs,erroneous assumptions and actions based upon and ideology of inherent superiority of one gender over another, and may be evident within organizational structures or programs, as well as within individual thought or behaviour patterns. Sexism is any act or institutional practice, backed by institutional power, which subordinates people because of gender. While, in principle, sexism may be practiced by either gender, most of our societal institutions are still the domain of men and usually the impact of sexism is experienced by women" (CRRF). 

Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation "is defined as feelings of attraction for members of the same sex, for the opposite sex, or for both sexes, and does not require sexual activity or intimacy" (CRRF). 

Socially-imbued Power: Is based on social identities which the society has historically (and currently) privileged. Social identities include one's gender, race, class, language, ethnicity, sexuality, physical and mental health. A high level of socially-imbued often brings greater access to other forms of power. Generally, socially-imbued power is exercised unconsciously and influences others through the confidence which accompanies such power. When people are conscious of the dynamics of socially imbued power, they may choose to use it and/or challenge it with different consequences. (Developed by Barb Thomas and Marie Steward, September 1988)

Social Justice: "A concept based 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" (CRRF).  

Status and non-Status Indian: See The Indian Act 

Stereotyping: "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 over-generalization, in which the information or experience on which the image is based may be true for some of the 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" (CRRF). 

Systemic/Institutional Racism: "Racism that consists of policies and practices, entrenched in established institutions, that result in the exclusion or advancement of specific groups of people. It manifests itself in two ways: (1) institutional racism: racial discrimination that derives from individuals carrying out the dictates of others who are prejudiced or of a prejudiced society; (2) structural racism: inequalities rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that excludes substantial numbers of members of particular groups from significant participation in major social institutions." (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 352) 

Tolerance: Usually meant as a supportive or open attitude towards those perceived as different from oneself, and most often referring to attitudes of white people to people of colour and Indigenous peoples. While the term has a basis in international law, in Canada it has developed the problematic connotatoin of "putting up with." That is, white Canadians may perceive themselves as "tolerant" of "differences" but only insofar as they are not required to think or behave in non-racist ways. 

Transgender: Sometimes shortened to ‘trans', the term refers to people whose "psychological self (‘gender identity') differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. To understand this, one must understand the difference between biological sex, which is one's body (genitals, chromosomes), and social gender, which refers to [perceptions and ideologies about] masculinity and femininity. Often society conflates sex and gender, viewing them as the same, but they are not" (CRRF).  

Transexual: Transexual refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the sex they were born as and the sex they identify as. A transexual individual may undergo medical treatment to change their physical sex to match their sex identity (through hormone treatments and/or surgery). Not all transexual individuals can have, or desire, this treatment (CRRF).  

Treaty: According to Anthony J. Hall, Indian treaties in Canada are "constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and aboriginal peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where aboriginal groups agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral  lands in return for various kinds of payments and promises from Crown officials. On a deeper level Indian treaties are sometimes understood, particularly on the aboriginal side, as solemn pacts or sacred covenants between peoples that establish the underlying principles for the relationship linking those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland with those whose deepest family roots lie in other countries. The treaties between the Crown and aboriginal peoples establish a constitutional and moral basis of alliance between  First Nations peoples and the sovereign institutions of the Canadian state.

"In 1990 the Supreme Court of Canada in the Sioui case determined that ‘treaties and statutes relating to Indians should be liberally construed and uncertainties resolved in favour of the Indians.' In the same case the court introduced into Canadian jurisprudence a principle adopted from a 19th-century ruling in the USA indicating that Indian treaties ‘must therefore be construed, not according to the technical meaning of its words to learned lawyers, but in the sense in which they would naturally be understood by the Indians.'

"In spite of the high constitutional character of treaties in Canada, these deals were often viewed cynically by those non-Indians responsible for both making and implementing these agreements as relatively cheap and expedient ways to ease natives of most of the lands of Canada so that these resources could be opened for exploitation by other groups and interests. The tendency on the part of the federal and provincial governments so far has been to continue this cynicism by interpreting Treaties as narrowly and legalistically as possible, while holding to the position that natives ‘ceded, surrendered and yielded' all their aboriginal rights and titles to their ancestral lands through these instruments. ...On the one hand is the view of treaties as legal instruments that extinguished Aboriginal rights. On the other is the view of treaties of instruments of relationship between peoples who agree to share the lands and resources of Canada as co-existing but relatively autonomous communities. Seen from this latter perspective, treaties didn't extinguish rights but rather confirmed rights through Crown recognition that aboriginal peoples have the capacity to make and enforce their own laws and thus to act as self-governing participants on the international stage.  (Anthony J. Hall, "Treaties,"  The Canadian Encylopedia Online. 08 Nov. 2010).

More (the remainder of the article): 

Two-Spirited People: A term originating in Indigenous communities to refer to those who embody both the male and female spirit. "The term is inclusive and can refer to both sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression" (CRRF). As such, the mainstream terms used for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered individuals are seen, in an Indigenous context, as Eurocentric, too focused on sexual orientation/gender identity alone, and as, therefore, narrow and limiting. 


U to Z


UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: "The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is a human rights proclamation issues by the United Nations  General Assembly, outlining that body's views on racism. It was adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1963. This Declaration was an important precursor to the legally binding Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Wikipedia, 08/11/2010).  

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007): "The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly on Thursday, September 13  [2007], by a majority of 144 states in favour, 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa, and Ukraine).

Since its adoption, Australia and New Zealand have reversed their positions and now endorse the Declaration. Colombia and Samoa have also reversed their positions and indicated their support for the Declaration. In March 2010, the Government of Canada announced it would take steps to endorse the UN Declaration and, in April 2010, the United States indicated that it will also review its position regarding the Declaration" (UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; 08/11/2010). Follow this link to review the entire text of the Declaration:

United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: "The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid ‘pass laws.' Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination" (UN,; 08/11/2010) 

Universalism: "The assumption that there are irreducible features of human life and experience" (Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin, 2002). Claims about the universality of existence, however, usually emanate from the mainstream/dominant locations, and use white, western, middle-class, straight, male experience and perspectives as holding true (or ideal) for all of humanity. An insistence on universality, or its possibility, often emerges as a response by white people to discussions of racism (‘we are all the same'); the evidence these people ‘present,' however, is often vague, or generalized to the point of meaninglessness, in the attempt to erase the materialities of privilege and oppression (i.e., ‘we all love our children'). The ideology of universalism is pervasive in Canada, used to market a wide range of commodities, especially literature and film. 

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' (CRRF). 

Whiteness: "A social construction that has created a racial hierarchy that has shaped all the social, cultural, educational, political, and economic institutions of society. Whiteness is linked to domination and is a form of race privilege invisible to white people who are not conscious of its power" (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 353). 

"‘Whiteness,' like ‘colour' and ‘Blackness,' are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior" (Henry & Tator, 2006, pp. 46-67).   

Drawing on the important work of Ruth Frankenberg (1993), the authors of Teach Me to Thunder: A Manual for Anti-Racism Trainers, write that whitess is

a dominant cultural space with enormous political significance, with the purpose to keep others on the margin....white people are not required to explain to others how ‘white' culture works, because ‘white' culture is the dominant culture that sets the norms. Everybody else is then compared to that norm....In times of perceived threat, the normative group may well attempt to reassert its normativity by asserting elements of its cultural practice more explicitly and exclusively. (21) 

See our extensive discussion in Section 1: Racism, Anti-Racism, and Anti-Racism Education 


  • 1. What is White culture (p. 130)
  • 2. Adjective List (p. 151)
  • 3. White Benefits Checklist (Kivel p 32)

White Privilege/White-Skin Privilege: "The unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed upon people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. Examples of privilege might be: ‘I can walk around a department store without being followed'; ‘I can come to a meeting late and not have my lateness attributed to my race'; ‘I can turn on the television or look to the front page and see people of my ethnic and racial background represented" (Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege..." qtd. in Evaluation Tools for Racial Equity). 

White supremacy: This term is often connected to extremist, right-wing hate groups. However, the term is often used in anti-racist work to force an acknowledgement of the belief systems underlying whiteness. Thus, white supremacy is seen as the ideology which perpetuates white racism. This ideology exists in both the overtly prescriptive form, i.e. the white supremacy that we attach to right-wing white power groups, and as the self-perpetuating cultural structure also know as whiteness. 

Worldviews:  "Worldviews are not only composed of our attitudes, values, opinions and concepts but also they may affect how we think, make decisions, behave and define events." (Sue & Sue, 1990). "Worldview is how a person perceives himself or herself in relation to the surrounding world: nature, institutions, other people and so forth." (McFadden, 1993). "To provide ethical and appropriate counseling and psychotherapy to clients from different cultural backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities, races, genders, ages, life stages, educational levels and social classes, the counselor must understand his or her own worldview and cultural identity and philosophical and psychological assumptions." (McFadden, 1993). 

Xenophobia: "An unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers, their cultures and their customs" (CRRF).