Race and Ethnicity Terms & Definitions


Anti-Blackness: Behaviors, attitudes and practices of people and institutions that work to dehumanize black people in order to maintain white supremacy. Anti-blackness can also be internalized and might show up in black people or black communities in the form of colorism, an elevation of white culture or attempts to separate oneself from black cultural norms.

Black Lives Matter: Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a chapter-based national organization working for the validity of black life. BLM works to (re)build the black liberation movement and is an ideological and political intervention in a world where black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of black folks’ contributions to this society, black humanity and black resilience in the face of deadly oppression. BLM came as a rallying call created by three black queer women, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. (blacklivesmatter.com)

Colorblindness: The ideology that believes the best way to end racial discrimination is through treating individuals the same, regardless of race, culture and ethnicity. This belief, however, ignores historical and structural factors that benefit white people and disadvantage indigenous, black and all other people of color. “Colorblindness” does nothing to address inequity, since it does not acknowledge the impacts of institutional and systemic racism on people of color.

Colorism: A system of oppression that privileges those with lighter skintones and subordinates those with darker skin. This form of oppression is rooted in racism and white supremacy, privileging and upholding white standards of beauty.

Critical Race Theory (CRT): A theoretical framework that critically examines the intersections of race, power and the law. CRT provides counternarratives in order to challenge dominant understandings of race/racism.

Ex: When we utilize Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the context of Amherst College, we can theorize how individual acts of racism relate to larger institutional policies/procedures that perpetuate racism and oppression.

Cultural Appropriation: Theft and exploitative use of cultural elements—such as hairstyles, attire, symbols, language or art attire for profit and/or commodification without historical/cultural understanding or respect for their value in the original culture.

Cultural Assimilation: The process in which one racial/ethnic group takes on the cultural  norms and traits (language, dress, behaviors, etc.) of a dominant racial/ethnic group.

Exoticism: The representation of another cultural group as mysterious, exciting and radically different from one’s own. This is particularly common in the context of power imbalance and results in a distorted, exaggerated or essentialized understanding of the exoticized group.

Misogynoir: A term coined by black queer feminist scholar Moya Bailey to describe the specific way anti-black racism and misogyny work together to oppress black women. Similarly, transmisogynoir refers to the experiences of racialized misogyny towards black trans women. Transmisogynoir and misogynoir can be perpetuated by anyone, though it can only be experienced by black women. (catalystjournal. org/ojs/index.php/catalyst/article/view/98/200)

Multiracial/ Multiethnic: A categorization used to identify people who may fall into multiple racial/ethnic groups. Also refers to working in the interest of people from more than one racial/ethnic group.

Ex: A collaboration between the different racial/ethnic affinity groups on campus (such as BSU, ACSU, La Causa, ASA, SASA and KSA) is an example of a multiracial/multiethnic force pushing towards collective liberation. 

Orientalism: The stereotyped perception of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia as static, exotic, primitive and essentially anti-modern. This is often found in an ethnocentric context in Western academia, politics, art, media and culture.

Person of Color: An umbrella term for any individual belonging to a racially minoritized group. At the Multicultural Resource Center, the term “People of Color” refers to communities or groups racialized outside of whiteness, including but not limited to Latinx/o/a/e*, black, Asian, indigenous/First Nations and Pacific Islanders.

*We use Latinx/o/a/e to reference the racializing of people from Latin America/the Caribbean in the United States, though we recognize that within Latinx communities people can identify as white, black, indigenous, etc. 

Post-Racial Ideology: A belief that society has moved beyond race and that race/racism are no longer relevant because all of the racialized barriers have been addressed and dismantled, resulting in full and equal participation of all people in American society.

Ex: The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States marked for many the idea that America had become a post-racial society. However, statistics have shown that in the years since the 2016 presidential election, hate crimes and groups have increased. (YWCA) (ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime)

Race: Race is a social construction (not a biological phenomenon) developed by European (white) scientists intended to rank humans based on perceived biological differences rooted in appearance, skin tone and ancestral homelands. With the intent to subjugate particular communities, race “scientists” asserted that whites/Europeans were the most evolved and blacks/Africans were the least evolved, with Asians existing in the middle. The idea of race is intricately linked with the practice of white supremacy, which continues to have damaging impacts on communities of color globally. 

Racial Battle Fatigue: A concept developed by Dr. William A. Smith that refers to the psychological and physical responses people of color may experience from living in and navigating historically and culturally white spaces and extremely racist environments. Symptoms may include high blood pressure, anxiety, frustration, shock, anger and depression.

White Supremacy: An ideological system of power, rooted in 17th-century scientific racism, that utilizes the exploitation and oppression of black people, indigenous folks and other people of color globally in order to establish and maintain wealth, power and privilege for white people. White supremacy relies on the false belief in white dominance and the assumption of white superiority, and like any system of power, can be perpetuated unconsciously or consciously by both white people and people of color and is enacted in various contexts: institutional, interpersonal, social, cultural, political, ideological and historical. 

Women of Color: Political term coined by, and intended to connect and build solidarity amongst, self-identified racially minoritized women. This term has undergone many variations including “people of color” “queer/trans people of color” (QTPOC), “youth of color,” and (commonly heard on campuses across the country) “students of color” and “faculty/staff of color.” 

NOTE: THE INTENT OF THESE TERMS IS NOT TO ERASE THE UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES OF PEOPLE AND SPECIFIC RACIAL/ETHNIC GROUPS BUT RATHER TO BUILD SOLIDARITY AMONGST VARIOUS COMMUNITIES EXPERIENCING OPPRESSION UNDER WHITE SUPREMACY.