Terminology to Know as a Social Justice Activist

06.26.2020 Arts & Culture
Julia Lucero Orebaugh
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Prejudice vs. Discrimination vs. Oppression


A judgment or belief that is formed on insufficient grounds before facts are known or in disregard of facts that contradict it. Prejudices are learned and can be unlearned. 


Discrimination is the acting out of prejudice. This results in the unequal allocation of goods, resources, and services, and the limitation of access to full participation in society based on individual membership in a particular social group; reinforced by law, policy, and cultural norms that allow for differential treatment on the basis of identity.


To “hold down” a group of people by harnessing prejudice and discrimination within legal, social, and day to day contexts that are rooted in historical, institutional, ideological, and structural forms of power.

Systemic vs. Systematic Oppression


Oppression occurring throughout the societies, based on institutionalized laws and/or procedures.


Oppressive actions or behaviors which occur methodically or in an organized manner – again based on institutionalized laws and/or procedures. 

These types of oppression are often also referred to as “structural” and “institutional” and generally speak to the large-scale nature and reinforcement of the issue.


The idea that multiple identities, or social categories, and power structures, or disadvantages, are affecting a person at the same time – identities include: race, gender, social class, ability, sexual orientation, etc.


I am BOTH Black and a woman

I am a gay, White male

I am an upper class, Asian American female I am a Black man with a permanent disability

** Coined by Black scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw

Race vs. Ethnicity


Racial classifications are socially constructed and externally imposed, involuntary, and usually based on physical differences (such as skin color or facial features) or assumed regional origins (such as Africa, Asia, Europe, etc.) 


Black, White, ‘African American’, Pacific Islander


Self- or group-motivated communities sharing common or specific ancestry and cultural practices, usually associated to a geographic region or religious affiliation. 


Italian, Irish, Pacific Islander is a racial category – Pacific Islander ethnic group would be Samoan.

Over vs. UnderRepresentation

A situation where a racial group has a number of its members in some condition in greater numbers (overrepresentation) or fewer (underrepresentation) than their population would suggest.


Black men are overly represented in the criminal justice system 

13% of US population identifies as Black, while 38% of inmates identify as Black. 


People of Color are disproportionately absent in mainstream and prominent movies and TV shows

Racial Micro-Aggressions

Everyday negative and derogatory slurs, slights, or insults, both verbal and non-verbal, aimed at people of color based on their received race. Micro-aggressions are rooted in stereotypes or false assumptions made about a person’s race and are often not detected by dominant groups as “racist.”


“You speak so well for a black person”

“So where are you REALLY from?”

Speaking slowly to a Person of Color

Assuming a Person of Color does/can not speak English

Failing to learn to correctly pronounce a person’s name after being corrected 

Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the act of taking on or adopting elements of a group’s culture by those outside of it. On the surface, it can be perceived as a form of cultural exchange between groups. However, this act can become problematic when cultural elements are adopted inaccurately or stereotypically, done without proper consent or acknowledgement from the original group, or exploited by those in power typically for profit.


The Kardashian family can often be seen exaggerating aspects of Black femininity for aesthetic pleasure and for profiteering purposes, especially those which were once demonized by popular culture on Black women. i.e. corn row hair, durag hair style, exaggerated lips

Color-Blind Racism 

The false concept that ignoring race and racial differences erases “racism” and promotes racial equality and harmony between racial groups. This type of racism ignores the institutional nature of racism and is difficult to detect as it allows dominant groups to protect their own interests without “sounding racist”.


“I don’t see color”

“I don’t see people as Black or Brown, only human”

Actively avoiding conversations about race because it is “inappropriate”



Essential aspects of who we are which influence our sense of self including gender, race, ability, socioeconomic status, sexuality, religion, etc., and locate us in the social world, particularly in relation to social systems. 

The term ‘identity’ differs from ‘intersectionality’ in that our identities simply position us toward systems of both advantage and disadvantage – privilege and power – while ‘intersectionality’ is referring to compounding marginalizations, rooted in our identity/identities. 

Internalized Racial Oppression

Oppression which has been internalized by the [racially] subordinate group involving both “conscious and unconscious acceptance of racial hierarchy in which Whites are consistently ranked above people of color”, based on a person’s socialization within a society.


Belief in a negative racial stereotype about one’s own racial group

Thinking which supports the status quo even while being oppressed by it (i.e. denying that racism exists)

Supporting political narratives which benefit dominant groups while personally occupying subordinate position(s)

Stereotype Threat

The predicament in which a person feels at risk of confirming others’ negative biases and stereotypes about an individual’s racial, ethnic, gender, or social/cultural group. 


Black women avoiding raising their voice or standing up for themselves in social scenarios in fear of fulfilling the common stereotype of “angry black woman”

Implicit Bias

Attitudes and stereotypes, both positive and negative, regarding a person or a group of people which influence the thoughts and actions of a person without their conscious knowledge or intentional control. 

Implicit biases are pervasive and everyone possesses them (hence, ‘implicit’) and may even contradict our outwardly declared beliefs and personal stances. 

Test your own biases here.

Why is ‘Color-blind Racism’ more hurtful than helpful?

When we ignore racial differences, we are allowing those in power to disregard and discredit the history of oppression which has allowed privileged groups to benefit from the historical persecution of minority groups, and undermine the devastating consequences of oppression occurring TODAY.

Ignoring racial differences is over simplifying, distorting, and discrediting different cultures by not noticing, observing, and honoring that there are so many differences among us.

It is counterproductive to efforts of social reform and social justice to refuse to acknowledge the racial inequality that exists, based on racial differences, and averts attention away from both overt and covert practices which reinforce and reproduce systems of racial oppression.


Intersectionality: Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color by Kimberlé Crenshaw 

“The Urgency of Intersectionality” TEDTalk by Kimberlé Crenshaw

Systemic vs systematic & Micro-Aggressions: The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing by Anneliese A. Singh

Colorblind Racism: Colorblind Racism by Meghan Burke

Prejudice, Discrimination and Oppression

Implicit Bias Test

Internalized Racial Oppression: What Is Internalized Racial Oppression and Why Don’t We Study It? Acknowledging Racism’s Hidden Injuries by Karen D. Pyke

Stereotype Threat and Implicit Bias: “Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Higher Education” TEDTalk by Russel McClain

*This post was written by Julia Lucero-Orebaugh, Nicole Jeffrey, & Cole Dougherty.

Julia Lucero-Orebaugh is a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Masters of Arts program in Sociology where she focused on environmental sociology and social class stratification within the United States. Julia currently finds herself working as an advocate for socially progressive environmental initiatives and plans to teach university courses in sociology while eventually pursuing her Ph.D. 

Nicole Jeffrey is a current Masters of Arts Candidate in Sociology.

No bio for Cole Dougherty per request. 

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