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Introduction: Sensitive and inclusive language - and the terms associated with discourse about social justice - can help facilitate dialogue about issues that are more difficult for people to understand if they have never examined their own power, privilege, and oppression. Here are some useful definitions to help guide you in facilitating those discussions.
Activist: An activist is someone whose actions are intended to bring about social change. Not all individuals who engage in activism may identify as activists, as it is not always clear what "counts" as activism or they may not want to claim expertise or specialization in activism. However, with this broader understanding of activism, there are many different types and forms of activism and there are many agents of social change that could be considered activists. (Definition is based upon information on the following Permanent Culture Now webpage: http://www.permanentculturenow.com/what-is-activism/)
Activism can be focused on society, politics, or the environment, and oftentimes those areas overlap. To be an effective social activist, an individual would have an awareness of injustices in society that result from the oppression on the basis of various intersecting identities. For example, an effective activist would understand how racism, nativism (the privileging of people who are born in a particular place, resulting in the marginalization of people who are not born in that place), sexism, heterosexism, classism, and ableism are multiple forms of oppression, all of which contribute to injustices in our society. Effective social activists take deliberate actions to challenge or dismantle these systems of power and oppression that affect people differently on the basis of their different identities.
Social activists may also work to bring about environmental justice, which refers to the intersection of environmental issues and social justice. Environmental issues often disproportionately affect marginalized communities, so working towards environmental justice can benefit not only the environment but also the communities of people who live in particular geographic locations.
Ally: Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and who works in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways.
Allies commit to reducing their own complicity or collusion in oppression of those groups and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression. (Source: OpenSource Leadership Strategies, "The Dynamic System of Power, Privilege and Oppressions": http://www.opensourceleadership.com/documents/DO%20Definitions.pdf and Center for Assessment and Policy Development: http://www.capd.org/)
Anti-Oppression: the strategies, theories, actions and practices that actively challenge systems of oppression on an ongoing basis in one's daily life and in social justice/change work. Anti-oppression work seeks to recognize the oppression that exists in our society and attempts to mitigate its effects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities. Oppression operates at different levels (from individual to institutional to cultural) and so anti-oppression must as well." (Source: Simmons College Anti-Oppression Guide: http://simmons.libguides.com/anti-oppression)
Marginalized/Marginalization: - when social structures and social institutions are used to disadvantage those who are not perceived as part of the dominant group. These individuals are often denied equal access to resources and become vulnerable to further exploitation and social exclusion. (Source: University of Central Florida, Social Justice Terminology: http://sja.sdes.ucf.edu/docs/social-justice-terminology.pdf)
Oppression: Systemic devaluing, undermining, marginalizing, and disadvantaging of certain social identities in contrast to the privileged norm; when some people are denied something of value, while others have ready access. (Source: WPC Glossary from 14th Annual White Privilege Conference Handbook, White Privilege Conference, 2013: http://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com/pdf/WPC14_Program.pdf found in Racial Equity Tools: http://racialequitytools.org/glossary#power)
Power: Power can be defined as "the ability to decide who will access to resources; the capacity to direct or influence the behavior of others, oneself, and/or the course of events" (Source: http://www.scrippscollege.edu/xbk/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/files/Power-Privilege-and-Oppression.pdf) Power is unequally distributed globally and in U.S. society; some individuals or groups wield greater power than others, thereby allowing them greater access and control over resources. Wealth, whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism, and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates. Although power is often conceptualized as power over other individuals or groups, other variations are power with (used in the context of building collective strength) and power within (which references an individual’s internal strength). Learning to “see” and understand relations of power is vital to organizing for progressive social change. (Source: Intergroup Resources, 2012: http://www.intergroupresources.com/power/ found in Racial Equity Tools: http://racialequitytools.org/glossary#power)
Prejudice: A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics. (Source: A Community Builder's Tool Kit: http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/idr.pdf)
Privilege: Unearned social power accorded by the formal and informal institutions of society to ALL members of a dominant group (e.g. white privilege, male privilege, etc.). Privilege is usually invisible to those who have it because we're taught not to see it, but nevertheless it puts them at an advantage over those who do not have it. (Source: Colors of Resistance Archive: http://www.coloursofresistance.org/definitions/privilege/ found in Racial Equity Tools: http://racialequitytools.org/glossary#power)
Racism: (Source: Racial Equity Tools - Core Concepts: http://racialequitytools.org/fundamentals/core-concepts#FUN04) "For purposes of this site, we want users to know we are using the term “racism” specifically to refer to individual, cultural, institutional and systemic ways by which differential consequences are created for groups historically or currently defined as white being advantaged, and groups historically or currently defined as non-white (African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, etc.) as disadvantaged."
"That idea aligns with those who define racism as prejudice plus power, a common phrase in the field. Combining the concepts of prejudice and power points out the mechanisms by which racism leads to different consequences for different groups. The relationship and behavior of these interdependent elements has allowed racism to recreate itself generation after generation, such that systems that perpetuate racial inequity no longer need racist actors or to explicitly promote racial differences in opportunities, outcomes and consequences to maintain those differences."
Social Justice: Note: There are many definitions of social justice, and social justice, which is complex, is often hard to define. What follows is just one example of a pretty good definition that captures some important aspects of social justice. Source: Berkeley Social Welfare - Social Justice Symposium: http://socialwelfare.berkeley.edu/social-justice-symposium-about) Social Justice is a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action."
Social Justice is first and foremost about making sure all human beings are treated with dignity and respect. Social justice focuses on equity, which means providing people with what they need or what is owed them because of past grievances, rather than equality, which focuses on giving everybody the same things. Equity allows for reparations, for example, which refers to compensation for losses and injustices suffered in the past. A viewpoint that focuses more so on equality rather than equity might result in arguments against reparations, since reparations involves giving some communities of people that have been historically oppressed more resources than what others are given who have privileged identities.
Xenophobia: Source: Oksana Yakushko, "Xenophobia: Understanding the Roots and Consequences of Negative Attitudes toward Immigrants": http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1089&context=edpsychpapers) "Xenophobia is a form of attitudinal, affective, and behavioral prejudice toward immigrants and those perceived as foreign. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary’s (n.d.) definition of xenophobia as the “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign” highlights that the term has been historically used to emphasize (2009) a sense of fright of outsiders. However, more recent definitions of xenophobia suggest that the fear of foreigners and their impact is linked with ethnocentrism, which is characterized by the attitude that one’s own group or culture is superior to others (Merriam-Webster Online, n.d.). V. Reynolds and Vine (1987) stated that xenophobia is a “psychological state of hostility or fear towards outsiders” (p. 28). Crowther (1995) emphasized that xenophobia focuses on individuals who come from “other countries” and toward whom native individuals have “an intense dislike or fear” (p. 1385)." (Note: See http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1089&context=edpsychpapers for references.)