Social Justice Resources: Glossary

This guide provides information and resources for anyone interested in learning about social justice.

GLOSSARY*

ABLEISM: A system of oppression based on the social construction of superior and inferior physicality, which is expressed in individual, institutional as well as cultural forms and functions for the benefit of those deemed able-bodied at the expense of those deemed disabled.

AFRICAN AMERICAN OR BLACK: For U.S. governmental purposes, African American is used interchangeably with Black and defined as: citizens or residents of the United States who have origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.[5] As an affirmation of identity, the choice of terminology is a matter of personal preference. Emerging at different times in history, both terms reflect the continually shifting nature of identity in relation to socio-political currents. In the U.S., the descendants of Africans have preferred colored, then Negro, followed by African American, and later, Black, to describe their common heritage, history, culture, and politics. Since the advent of the Black Power movement of the 60s, Black has come into popularity as an assertion of the pride and empowerment. Nevertheless, the vernacular colored and negro survives in limited contexts where it evokes positive, historic associations, as in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Negro National Anthem.

AGEISM: A system of oppression based on the social construction of age superiority and inferiority, which is expressed in individual, institutional as well as cultural forms and functions for the benefit of some at the expense of others.

AMERICAN INDIAN OR ALASKA NATIVE: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment.

AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA): Passed by Congress in 1990, this act requires that "reasonable accommodation" be made in public accommodations, including the workplace, for individuals with disabilities. 

ASIAN: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.

ASSIMILATION: To be structurally and/or culturally absorbed by a dominant group through the policy and practice of repression, domination and erasure. During this process, an individual or a group is largely forced to shed its own culture and take on the culture of the dominant group. Assimilation may not be done on equal terms and thus is one–sided.

BIGENDERED: One who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male and female.  Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.

BIAS: A preference for or tendency toward a particular viewpoint or outcome. Bias stems from the internalization and institutionalization of particular values, beliefs, and assumptions. Not to be confused with bigotry, which is motivated by ill-intent, bias can co-exist unconsciously with good intentions, but nevertheless result in outcomes that are inclined to favor some groups over others.

CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS: The rights to liberty and equality. Such rights include freedom to worship, to express oneself, to vote, to take part in political life, and to have access to information.

CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964: Prohibits discrimination in programs receiving federal funds. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in federally-financially assisted programs. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (including pregnancy).

CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1991: Amends Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding the protected category of "disability" and provides for appropriate remedies for intentional discrimination and unlawful harassment in the work place. The 1991 Act does not affect court-ordered remedies, affirmative action, or conciliation agreements, which are in accordance with the law.

CLASSISM: A system of oppression based on the social construction of superiority and inferiority based on class, which is expressed in individual, institutional as well as cultural forms and functions for the benefit of the dominant class at the expense of the rest.

CRITICAL THINKING: Analyzing and contemplating past and present experiences, as well as future possibilities, by taking into account multiple perspectives on a story or narrative.

CULTURAL RIGHTS: The right to preserve and develop one’s cultural identity, as well as the right to protect endangered cultures.

DISCRIMINATION: Discrimination denotes different treatment. As a term of law, however, it refers specifically to the illegal denial of equal rights and protections based on such characteristics as gender, race, ethnicity, and disability.

DISPARITIES: Disparities commonly refer to group differences in educational, health, economic, legal and other outcomes. Disparities highlight the salience of social group membership in structuring privilege and inequality. Disparities stem from intentional discrimination as well as from unconscious bias. (See Achievement Gap, Bias, Discrimination, Disparate Treatment, Privilege)

DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN FACT, OPINION, and REASONED JUDGMENT: Fact can be defined as knowledge or information based on real occurrences or empirical evidence, while opinions are beliefs or conclusions held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof. Judgment means discernment, assessment and/or comparison of ideas to arrive at a conclusion. Reasoned judgment is any belief or conclusion reached on the basis of careful thought and reflection, distinguished from mere or unreasoned opinion on the one hand, and from simple fact on the other.

DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN WANTS, NEEDS, and RIGHTS: A want is a desire, whereas a need is a necessity and rights constitute entitlements. Human rights are mutual, equal, universal, non–discriminatory, inalienable, indivisible, and interdependent.

EQUITY: The proportional distribution or parity of desirable outcomes across groups. Sometimes confused with equality, equity refers to outcomes, while equality connotes equal treatment. Where individuals or groups are dissimilarly situated, equal treatment may be insufficient for or even detrimental to equitable outcomes. An example is individualized educational accommodations for students with disabilities, which treat some students differently in order to ensure their equitable access to education. (See Parity)

ETHNICITY: The shared sense of a common heritage, ancestry, or historical past among an ethnic group (see Ethnic Group). Ethnicity is a distinct concept from race, as illustrated by the fact that Hispanics, designated an ethnic group in the U.S., may nevertheless be of any race. In accordance with the Office of Management and Budget definition of ethnicity, the U.S. Census Bureau defines ethnicity or origin as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States.

FEMINISM: Refers broadly to an ideology and movement advancing full gender equity. [T]he most effective versions of feminism acknowledge the various ways gender, class, race and sexual orientation inform each other.

GAY: The word appeared in popular culture in the 1970s to describe homosexuals. It is used mainly as an adjective and underscores sexual orientation as one aspect of an individual, not as the total individual.

GENDER IDENTITY: An individual's internal sense of being male, female, or something else.  Since gender identity is internal, one's gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

GENDER EXPRESSION: How a person represents or expresses one's gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.

GENDER FLUID: A gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time.  A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities.  

GENDER NON-CONFORMING: A term used by some individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.

GENDER ROLES: Society places arbitrary rules and roles, how one is supposed to act, dress, feel, think, relate to others, etc., on each of us based on a person’s sex (what genitalia they have).

GENDERQUEER: A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female.

HARASSMENT: Harassment is a form of illegal discrimination defined as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and/or age. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

HETEROSEXISM: Heterosexism is the idea that there is a natural form of sexuality, which is inevitable and good. The structures and institutions of our society exist to perpetuate this belief. Some examples are: the invisibility of gay men and lesbians, the lack of role models in schools and the media, and the lack of legal and cultural recognition.

HISPANIC OR LATINX: For U.S. governmental purposes the terms are used interchangeably and defined as: a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. The terms describe an ethnic group and not a race. Accordingly, on many federal forms, Hispanics/Latinx can also express a racial identity on a separate race question. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the choice of terms is a matter of regional usage. Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latinx is commonly used in the western portion. In addition, for many, Latinx is preferred as a term of self-naming, signifying identification with the empowerment movement of peoples who share a common history of colonialism and oppression. The "x" in Latinx makes Latino/Latina gender-neutral to respect those who are gender-nonconforming.

HUMAN RIGHTS: Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education, or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.

IMMIGRATION: The act of moving to a country where one is not a native. Immigrants are people who come to a country where they intend to settle permanently and many of them obtain citizenship. A legal immigrant is a person who comes to settle in a country with the legal permission of its government. An undocumented immigrant is a person residing in a country without the legal permission of its government.

INALIENABLE: Word that describes something that cannot be taken or given away. Human rights that individuals have cannot be taken away, surrendered, or transferred.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: People who are the original or natural inhabitants of a land. Native Americans/American Indians, for example, are the Indigenous Peoples of the United States.

INTERSECTIONALITY: Refers to the analytical framework through which the relationship among systems of oppression can be understood. African American women made an early contribution to this analysis in the 19th Century. Recognizing that they experienced racism and sexism differently from both black men and white women even while they shared commonalities with both, they argued that a struggle that did not simultaneously address sexism and racism would only perpetuate both. Since then, movements against racism, sexism, heterosexism, disability, colonialism, and imperialism both within the U.S. and abroad have recognized similar correspondences, enabling more broad-based coalition-building.

JUSTICE: Fairness, equity, and morality in action or attitude in order to promote and protect human rights and responsibilities. In most societies, people work for justice by organizing through different categories of rights, such as civil, political, economic, social, and cultural.

LESBIAN: The term Lesbian originates from ancient Greece where the homosexual poet Sappho lived on the isle of Lesbos with other Greek women. It is from this isle that the term originates. Homosexual women sometimes prefer the term Lesbian as opposed to the generic term "Gay." This term acknowledges the fact that homosexual women have different priorities and experiences than homosexual men.

LGBTQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Trans-Gendered, Questioning/Queer.  Also used: GLBT, LGBTQIA

LIBERTY: The freedom to act.

MARGINALIZATION: The experience of groups who are denied political, economic and social equity in society, and hence, relegated to its margins. It can also refer to an individual who is rendered voiceless or irrelevant in particular social context.

MINORITY: In the social sciences the term minority may be applied to those groups that are considered protected classes based on historical exclusion and discrimination. In general usage, it is commonly used to refer to people of color as in minority community and minority students. Such labels are increasingly disfavored as they naturalize the minor political, economic, and social status to which people of color have been subjected. (See People of Color/Women of Color)

MISOGYNY: An aggravated form of male sexism. Hatred of women.

MULTICULTURAL: Arising from or informed by cultural heterogeneity. Goals for multicultural education vary along a continuum that includes demographic inclusion, student empowerment, intergroup understanding, educational equity, and social transformation.

NEUTROIS: A non-binary gender identity which is considered to be a neutral or null gender.  It may also be used to mean genderless,

NON-BINARY: A gender identity this is not exclusively masculine or feminine. (see genderqueer)

NON-DISCRIMINATION (OPPOSITE: DISCRIMINATION): Non-discrimination is vital to the concept of equality. It ensures that no one is denied the protection of their human rights based on external factors. Such factors include age, birth, color, creed, disability, ethnic origin, familial status, gender, language, marital status, political or other opinion, public assistance, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. These categories, however, are only examples; they do not mean that discrimination is allowed on other grounds.

OPPRESSION: A system of individual, institutional, and cultural beliefs and practices that privilege a dominant group at the expense of the subordinate groups.

PARITY: The proportional distribution of desirable outcomes, or equity, across groups. Sometimes confused with equality, equity refers to outcomes, while equality can simply mean equal treatment. Where individuals or groups are dissimilarly situated, equal treatment may be insufficient for or even detrimental to equitable outcomes. An example is individualized educational accommodations for students with disabilities, which treat some students differently in order to ensure their equitable access to education.

PEOPLE OF COLOR/WOMEN OF COLOR: The term of color embraces Black, Asian, Latino, and indigenous peoples both within the U.S. and transnationally, whose collective marginalization as colored peoples and colonial subjects informs coalition politics that cut across many issues. In contrast to the label minority, which carries negative connotations, ‘of color,’ is an example of self-naming that is positively associated with a politics of empowerment.

PRIVILEGE: Privilege is best understood as the systematic advantage that is conferred to one group at the expense of another. The function of hegemony is to rationalize privilege as natural, legitimate, and earned. Hence privilege goes unnamed while its effects, described by such euphemistic terms as under-privilege and disadvantage, are often blamed on individual misbehavior, character flaws, and cultural deficiencies. Terms such as white privilege, male privilege, and heterosexual privilege make explicit the relationship between privilege and the group for whom it is intended to function.

RACE: A spurious taxonomy of human beings that assigns worth and status on the basis of phenotypic and cultural characteristics. Race is not a fixed, biological essence passed on thru the genes.  [It is a] complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle.

RACISM: A system of oppression based on the social construction of a racial hierarchy, which is expressed in individual, institutional as well as cultural forms and functions for the benefit of the dominant race at the expense of the others.

REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION: A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and (B) job restructuring, part-­time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

RESPECT: To honor, appreciate, and treat others with dignity.

RESPONSIBILITY: Obligation, duty, and/or accountability.
Government responsibility – Human rights are not gifts given at the pleasure of governments, nor should governments withhold them or apply them to some people but not to others. Governments must be held accountable for promoting and protecting the human rights of all persons.
Individual responsibility– Duties possessed by individuals. For example, every individual has a responsibility to teach human rights, to respect human rights, and to challenge institutions and individuals that abuse them.
Other responsible entities – Every organ of society, including corporations, educational institutions, foundations, and non-governmental organizations also share responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights.

SAFE ZONE: A safe zone refers to the programmatic efforts of an organization to ease the effects of heterosexism on its climate as well as to promote a sense of inclusion among all of its constituents. Elements may include educational programming as well as explicit symbols and other measures identifying persons with whom and places where those who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgendered or who are questioning their sexual identity can feel welcome.

SEX: The division of a species on the basis of reproductive organs. Sex is not interchangeable with gender, which connotes social definitions of sex role assignments. (See Gender)

SEXISM: A system of oppression based on social constructions of gender superiority and inferiority, which is expressed in individual, institutional as well as cultural forms and functions for the benefit of the dominant sex at the expense of others

SEXUAL IDENTITY: Sexual Identity is the consistent and enduring sense of one's own sexuality and repeated sexual thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors. Sexual identity is how one thinks of oneself in terms of whom one is sexually and romantically attracted to. The process of sexual identity is on-going.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Sexual Orientation is defined as a predominant erotic attraction for the same or other sex, or for both sexes in varying degrees. Few, if any, obvious identifiable mannerism exists that distinguish between individuals of different sexual orientations. Sexual Orientation is not a choice, lifestyle or behavior, it is an inner sense of identity. Sexual Orientation is only one small aspect of a person's being.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: The practice of promoting and protecting human rights and responsibilities, with a particular emphasis on the economic and social rights of society’s most vulnerable groups.

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: The obligation to ensure that one’s actions produce an overall positive impact on society and on the promotion and protection of human rights.

TWO-SPIRIT: A Native American term for people who blend the masculine and the feminine.  It is commonly used to describe individuals who historically crossed gender.  It is often used by contemporary LGBTQIA Native American People to describe themselves.

TRANSGENDER: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.  Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use.  "Trans" is shorthand for "transgender." (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus "transgender people" is appropriate but "transgenders" is often viewed as disrespectful.)

WHITE: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. 

*Xavier University, Minnesota Human Rights Education Experience and National Center for Transgender Equality