Race and Racism

Terms in this section focus on concepts related to race and racism. Some of these terms may also serve in broader capacities.

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Black, Indigenous, and People of Color: BIPOCCultural Appropriation
Institutional RacismInternalized Racism
Interpersonal RacismRace
Structural or Systemic RacismUnconscious Bias
White Supremacy
Table of terms for race and racism

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color: BIPOC. An acronym used to refer to black, Indigenous and people of color. It is based on the recognition of collective experiences of systemic racism. As with any other identity term, it is up to individuals to use this term as an identifier.1 The term BIPOC was developed to acknowledge that not all people of color face equal levels of injustice. The construction of the term “BIPOC” recognizes that Black and Indigenous people are severely impacted by systemic racial injustices (MerriamWebster, n.d.-a). It is important to note that “BIPOC” is still considered by many to indicate a hierarchy among communities of color. Instead of BIPOC, the preferred term(s) to use are “people/persons of color” and “communities of color”.4

Cultural Appropriation. Originally coined to describe the effects of colonialism, cultural appropriation generally entails adopting aspects of a minority culture by someone outside the culture, without sufficient understanding of its context or respect for the meaning and value of the original. Cultural appropriation done in a way that promotes disrespectful cultural or racial stereotypes is considered particularly harmful.3

Decolonization. The active resistance against colonial powers, and a shifting of power towards political, economic, educational, cultural, psychic independence and power that originate from a colonized nation’s own indigenous culture. This process occurs politically and also applies to personal and societal psychic, cultural, political, agricultural, and educational deconstruction of colonial oppression.5

Ethnicity. Refers to the social identity and mutual belongingness that defines a group of people on the basis of common origins, shared beliefs, and shared standards of behavior (culture).3 A common identity based on ancestry, language, culture, nation or region of origin. Ethnic groups can possess shared attributes, including religion, beliefs, customs and/or shared memories and experiences.2

Institutional Racism. Refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes and opportunities for different groups based on racial discrimination.1 Results from policies, practices, and procedures of institutions—such as school, health care, law enforcement, and criminal justice systems—that marginalize diverse racial groups.4

Internalized Racism. Refers to the acceptance by diverse racial populations of the negative societal beliefs and stereotypes about themselves—including negative stereotypes and beliefs about complexion and color (i.e., colorism) that reinforce the superiority of Whites and can lead to the perception of themselves as devalued, worthless, and powerless (APA, 2021a).4

Interpersonal Racism. Occurs when individuals from socially and politically dominant racial groups behave in ways that diminish and harm people who belong to other racial groups. Interpersonal racism is therefore distinct from bigotry (negative attitudes about an outgroup, not necessarily tied to race) or prejudice (a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience).4

Race. A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance, ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic and political needs of a society at a given period of time.1 Race is a social construct, not a biological fact. As such, racial designations and the ways racial categorizations are enforced have changed over time as social definitions  of race change.5

Racism. The combination of individual prejudice and individual discrimination, on one hand, and institutional policies and practices, on the other, that result in the unjust, negative treatment and subordination of members of racial or ethnic groups that have experienced a history of discrimination. Prejudice, discrimination, and racism do not require intention.3 Racism operates at four levels: structural or systemic, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized.

Stereotype. An oversimplified generalization about a person or a group. These can be about both negative and positive qualities but regardless, they lump people together. Stereotypes are cognitive shortcuts and become a bias when you apply the stereotype to an action.3

Structural or Systemic Racism. The outcome of laws, policies, and practices that produce cumulative, durable, and race-based inequalities. Includes the failure to correct previous laws and practices that were explicitly or effectively racist.4

Unconscious Bias. An implicit association, whether about people, places, or situations, which is often based on mistaken, inaccurate, or incomplete information, and includes the personal histories we bring to the situation.3

White Supremacy. A power system structured and maintained by people who classify themselves as white, whether consciously or subconsciously determined, and who feel superior to those of other racial/ethnic identities.1


  1. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Glossary, UW College of the Environment (2023).
  2. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Key Terms and Definitions, Stacy Nakintu & Ophelia Bitanga-Isreal, National Association of Counties (2021). 
  3. Foundational Concepts & Affirming Language, Harvard Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (2021)  [archived version from July 25, 2023].
  4. Inclusive Language Guide, American Psychological Association (2021).
  5. Racial Equity Tools Glossary, Racial Equity Tools (2020).