Human Rights Terminology

As our understanding of diversity issues continues to evolve, it is only natural that our understanding of commonly agreed upon terms and phrases will also evolve.  Existing terms and definitions vary, and these too will invariably change with time.

Ableism

… is a pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses people who have psychological, emotional and physical disabilities.  People with disabilities experience discrimination, segregation and isolation as a result of other people’s prejudices and institutional barriers, and not because of the disability itself. Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006.

Ageism

… can give rise to individual acts of discrimination, but can also have an impact on a wider scale by influencing policies, programs and legislation that affect broad sectors of society.  It impacts on young people and elderly people the most.  However, it more commonly applies to treatment of older persons.  It usually refers to two types of behaviour that have a negative effect on seniors or older persons.  The first involves the social construction of age, including incorrect assumptions and stereotypes about older persons.  Another form involves a tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older persons.  Adapted from: OntarioHuman Rights Commission 

Ally

…is a member of the dominant group who acts against oppression out of belief that eliminating oppression will benefit the targets of oppression and dominant group members.  In the struggle against sexism, men are women’s allies; in the struggle against racism, white people are allies who take leadership from activists who are People of Colour and Aboriginal people, and so on.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006.

Class and Classism

Class denotes the differences between those who rule the economy and those employed in or are outside the margins of that economy.  Indicators of class include income, wealth (sometimes inherited), formal education, networks of influence, and access to basic and other resources.  In a class system, the wealth of those at the top results from exploiting the labour of those at the bottom and middle. Classism refers to the practices and beliefs that assign differential value to people according to their perceived social class. The language of most workplaces reflects and reinforces this hierarchy.  For example, support staff often experience the undervaluing of their work, knowledge and opinions, through exclusion from decision-making, lower pay scales, and disrespectful behaviours.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Colonialism

…is a process by which a foreign power dominates and exploits indigenous groups by taking their land and resources, extracting their wealth, and using them as cheap labour.  The term also refers to a specific era of European expansion into the Americasand countries of the South, between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.  Colonialism was explained by racial doctrines which tried to justify these practices.  These ideas about race, superiority and inferiority are still widespread.  Uncovering and challenging both the ideas and ongoing practices of colonialism is an important part of racial equity work.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Discrimination

… is the unequal treatment and differential allocation of resources to individuals who are members of particular social groups that have been historically disadvantaged.  Discrimination may occur in education, accommodation, health care, employment, services, goods and facilities; it may be based on race, nationality, sex, gender identity, age, religion, political affiliation, marital or family status, physical or psychiatric disability, sexual orientation or class.  Discrimination may be direct differential treatment.  Or it may result from treating individuals and groups with unequal resources and advantage the same way.  If a behaviour or practice has a disproportionate, negative effect on a particular social group, this is discrimination.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Dominant Group

The dominant group refers to people whose social identity confers on them unearned power and privilege.  Most of us have one or more dominant identities.  In most parts of Canada dominant identities are white, male, English-speaking, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian, affluent and middle class, 30-65 years of age, university educated, from central Canada.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Ethnocentrism

… can be defined as an uncompromising loyalty to one’s own cultural values as natural, normal and necessary.  Difficulties arise when these standards are used to evaluate the behaviour of other groups as inferior, backward or irrational.  Elliot, Jean Leonard; & Augie Fleras (1992). Unequal Relations. An Introduction to Race and Ethnic Dynamics in Canada. Prentice-Hall, Scarborough(p.330).

Equity

…refers to the rights of individuals and groups to an equitable share of the resources and influence in society.  “Equity” means equitable access and outcomes.  Equity work analyses and challenges unfair systems and practices, and works towards the creation of equitable outcomes. Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Gender Identity

Characteristics linked to an individual’s intrinsic sense of self as a man or as a woman, which may not be the same identity as one’s biological sex.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Gender Roles

The socially constructed and culturally specific behaviour, appearance and other expectations imposed on women (femininity) and men (masculinity).  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Heterosexism

… is a system of practices which communicate that heterosexuals are inherently superior. It includes the assumption that everyone is, or must be heterosexual.  Like other forms of prejudice and discrimination, heterosexism awards privilege and rights to members of the dominant group – heterosexuals – that are not accorded to gay or lesbian, bisexual and trans people.  For example, heterosexuals do not have to change the law to have their marriage recognized, or to receive spousal benefits.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Institutional discrimination

… is manifested in the policies, practices, and procedures of various institutions, which may, directly or indirectly, consciously or unwittingly, promote, sustain or entrench differential advantage or privilege for people of certain groups.  It generally encompasses overt individual acts of discrimination to which there is no serious organizational response, such as discriminatory hiring decisions based on the employer’s bias.  It also includes organizational policies and practices that, regardless of intent, are directly or indirectly disadvantageous to protected groups, such as the lack of recognition of foreign credentials or the imposition of inflated educational requirements for a position.  Adapted from: Henry, Frances. Concepts of Race and Racism and Implications for OntarioHuman Rights Commission Policy. 2004.

Internalized Dominance

…occurs when members of the dominant group accept their group’s socially superior status as normal and deserved, and deny the oppression experienced by target groups.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Internalized Subordination

…occurs when members of an oppressed social group accept the superior status of the dominant group, and their own subordinate status as deserved, natural and inevitable.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Oppression

… exists when one social group exploits (knowingly or unconsciously) another social group to its own benefit.  It results in privilege for the dominant group and disenfranchisement for the target group.  Oppression is achieved through force, and/or through the control of social institutions and resources of society.  After a while, it does not require the conscious thought or effort of individual members fo the dominant group.  Unequal treatment becomes institutionalized, systemic and looks “normal”.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Prejudice

… is a prejudgement based on stereotyped ideas about a group, of which the person is a member.  It is an attitude, not a behaviour.  These negative attitudes are frequently not recognized as unsoundly based assumptions because of the frequency with which they are repeated.  They become common sense notions which are widely accepted, and are used to justify acts of discrimination.  Adapted from:  Special Committee on Participation of Visible Minorities in Canadian Society (1984).  Equality Now! Report of the Special Committee on Visible Minorities in Canadian Society. Ottawa: Government of Canada(p. 144).  Lee, Enid(1985). Letters to Marcia. A Teacher’s Guide to Anti-Racist Education. Toronto: Cross-Cultural Communication Centre (p. 12).

Privilege

… is unearned power which gives dominant group members economic, social and political advantages.  It can also include rights that are denied to others, and should be available to all.   Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Race

… is a social construct used to classify people into different groups based upon general external physical characteristics such as colour of skin, hair texture, stature, and facial features.  The concept of “race” is not rooted in science; there are as many differences within “races” as between “races”. Nevertheless, the concept has played an important role in identity formation. Individuals may in fact self-identify as a member of a racial group.  This concept of “race” is often confused with ethnicity.  PSAC Anti-racism Policy 2008

Racism

…is a system in which one group of people exercises power over another group on the basis of “race.” It includes the belief in the inherent superiority and dominance of one “race” over all others.

Individual racism: The beliefs, attitudes and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can be unconscious or conscious, active or passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial slur, believing in the inherent superiority of whites.

Systemic/Institutional Racism: Policies, practices and procedures of organizations and institutions that have the effect of perpetuating racism and inequalities within the workplace. It can be the result of activities or arrangements that set out to discriminate or harm, or it can result from ignorance or inadvertence. An example could be a biased recruitment/hiring process.

Cultural/Ideological racism: Is the basis of both other forms of racism, as it is the value system which is imbedded in society which supports and allows discriminatory actions based on perceptions of racial difference, superiority and inferiority.   PSAC Anti-racism Policy 2008

 

Racialization

…is a process by which racial categories are constructed as different and unequal in ways that have social, economic, and political consequences.  It emphasizes the active process of categorizing people along racial lines while at the same time recognizing that these processes are socially constructed and reinforced. The term racialization accepts the premise that “race” is not a scientific category.  PSAC Anti-racism Policy 2008

Anti-racism

…is a proactive process which acknowledges the existence of racism and seeks to identify, challenge and eliminate racism in all of its various forms wherever it exists. PSAC Anti-racism Policy 2008

Racial Equity

…we mean the equitable distribution of resources and influence, in ways not shaped by racism.  In a racially-divided society and world, racial equity is both a goal and a process.  It requires racialized and white people to analyse and challenge the daily ways in which power and white privilege (re)produce racial inequities.  The progress of racial equity work is measured by the degree to which power and influence is more equitabely shared.  Since racialized people(s) are the global majority (70-80% of the world’s people), racial equity is a key aspect of other struggles for global justice.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Sexism

… the systemic and individual practices that privilege men, subordinate women, and debase woman-identified values.  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

Stereotype

… involves specific beliefs associated with categories of people.  There are positive and negative forms – some demonize while others romanticize racial and other groups.  Both are dangerous because they don’t allow people to meet and interact as individuals.  They lead to prejudgement about others and expectations that others will have qualities that are believed to be true about their particular group. Aboriginal Rights Coalition. So Long As The Sun Rises and River Flows, Education and Resource Kit. Ottawa: 1997.

Systemic Discrimination

Although similar to institutional discrimination, this refers more broadly to the laws, rules and norms woven into the social system that result in an unequal distribution of economic, political and social resources and rewards among various protected groups.  It is the denial of access, participation and equity to people for services such as education, employment and housing.  Systemic discrimination is manifested in the media and school curricula by, for example, the negative representation of people of colour, the erasure of their voices and experiences and the repetition of racist images and discourse. Adapted from: Henry, Frances. Concepts of Race and Racism and Implications for OHRC Policy. 2004.

Transphobia

… is an irrational fear or hatred of transgender persons.  Transgender (or trans for short) describes individuals who are not comfortable with, or who reject, in whole or in part, the gender they were assigned at birth.  A transgender person may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual – there is no direct connection between gender identity and sexual orientation.

Transphobia is based in negative stereotypes, myths, misconceptions and theories that justify and support hatred, exclusion, discrimination, harassment and violence toward people who are transgender.  The medical community previously tried to “cure” transgender persons, just as they did with gays and lesbians, however, it became clear (in both cases) that this approach is inappropriate and ineffective.  Transgender persons are now given the assistance of the medical community in order to become fully integrated in body and mind.  Some elect to do nothing, some engage in hormonal treatment, while others elect sex reassignment through surgical procedures.  Sources: PSAC – Understanding Trans Issues. 2003.   Burke, Bev; Geronimo, Jojo; Martin, D’Arcy; Thomas, Barb; & Wall, Carol. Education for Changing Unions. Toronto: Between the Lines. 2002. (p. 10)

Whiteness and White Privilege

White privilege has been usefully described by Peggy McIntosh as, “the invisible knapsack of unearned assets which white people can count on cashing in each day, but about which they are meant to remain oblivious”.  These are benefits white people receive in a racist society at the expense of  racialized people.  Examples include the ability to be unaware of race; the assurance that police will not stop them because of their “race”; the assumption that getting hired or promoted was due to their competence, and not because of their “race.”  Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations.  Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas.  Toronto, Between the Lines Publications, January 2006

White supremacy

… is a system based on assumptions of the “rightness of whiteness,” in which the “normal” way things work results in white people having more privilege and power than peoples of colour and Aboriginal Peoples.  The term is often associated only with apartheid or societies in which racism is open and violent.  But it can be seen in any society, including Canada, where there is a racial hierarchy with white people at the top.  Burke, Bev; Geronimo, Jojo; Martin, D’Arcy; Thomas, Barb; & Wall, Carol. Education for Changing Unions. Toronto: Between the Lines. 2002. (p. 10)

Xenophobia

… is an unreasonable fear, distrust or hatred of strangers, foreigners or anything perceived as foreign or different.  The object can be a population group present within a society (e.g., recent immigrants), which is not considered part of that society.  However, it can also be directed against a group which has been present for centuries.  This latter form can elicit or facilitate hostile and violent reactions, such as mass expulsion of immigrants, or in the worst case, genocide. Sources: The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary and Wikipedia