Equity Glossary


To develop shared language as a community, we offer the following list of key terms and concepts to inform a thoughtful discussion about equity. This glossary draws from the work of Michelle Cassandra Johnson and Kerri Kelly of Race & Resilience, and a number of other resources and research in this space. Language and thinking on race, equity, and justice evolve over time, and this will remain a living document that will continue to evolve. Questions and suggestions for additions can be sent to EquityTeam@Kripalu.org


Ableism: The discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability. Like racism and sexism, ableism classifies entire groups of people as ‘less than,’ and includes harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations of people with disabilities.⁸

Advantage: Head start, gain, or benefit.¹

Affinity group: A body of people who are members of a particular social group or share a certain social identity. This can be a group formed around a shared identity, trait, ideology, interest or common goal, to which individuals formally or informally belong.²

Ageism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in age.²

Ahimsa: Nonviolence toward others, our environment, and ourselves. Ahimsa emerges when we replace judgment and criticism with observation and an open mind.³ Read more.

Ally: Someone whose position is a member of a dominant group (white, male, able-bodied, etc) but who stands with those in the oppressed group. An ally knows that standing with oppressed people is in her own best interest. If this is not the case the relationship is patronizing; the supposed “ally” is working “for” not “with” the oppressed—acting out of sympathy and/or guilt rather than compassion and solidarity. An ally believes that oppressed groups know best what they need and supports self-determination.¹

Anti-Fatness and Anti-Fat bias: The attitudes, behaviors, and social systems that specifically marginalize, exclude, underserve, and oppress fat bodies.²⁸

Capitalism: An economic system in which the factors of production are privately owned and individual owners of capital are free to make use of it as they see fit; in particular, for their own profit.⁴

While the above definition seems straightforward, capitalism in its current form has many negative outcomes and consequences. The act of capitalizing the natural world and human labor often comes at the expense of personal, collective, and environmental health. Additionally, it results in large disparities of wealth, power, and inequality.

Caucus: A group that comes together around a shared purpose, often built on Affinity Groups. For example, white staff might convene a white affinity group to explore what they have in common (e.g., white identity, white privilege, etc.), how they might experience these similarly or differently from each other based on their identities, and how these commonalities impact their work; or they might convene a white caucus for anti-racist action to organize and practice ways of interrupting systemic racism inside the organization.²

Cisgender: A person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.

Classism: The institutional, cultural, and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign differential value to people according to their socioeconomic status. Classism also refers to the systematic oppression of poor and working-class people by those who control resources.⁵

ColonizationDefined as some form of invasion, dispossession, and subjugation of a people. The invasion need not be military; it can begin—or continue—as geographical intrusion in the form of agricultural, urban, or industrial encroachments. The result of such incursion is the dispossession of vast amounts of lands from the original inhabitants. This is often legalized after the fact. The long-term result of such massive dispossession is institutionalized inequality. The colonizer/colonized relationship is by nature an unequal one that benefits the colonizer at the expense of the colonized. Ongoing and legacy colonialism impact power relations in most of the world today. For example, white supremacy as a philosophy was developed largely to justify European colonial exploitation of the Global South (including enslaving African peoples, extracting resources from much of Asia and Latin America, and enshrining cultural norms of whiteness as desirable both in colonizing and colonizer nations).⁶

Decolonization: Defined as the active resistance against colonial powers, and a shifting of power towards political, economic, educational, cultural, psychic independence and power that originates 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.

Per Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang: “Decolonization doesn’t have a synonym”; it is not a substitute for ‘human rights’ or ‘social justice’, though undoubtedly, they are connected in various ways. Decolonization demands an Indigenous framework and a centering of Indigenous land, Indigenous sovereignty, and Indigenous ways of thinking.⁷

Diversity: All the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. A broad definition includes not only race, ethnicity, and gender—the groups that most often come to mind when the term "diversity" is used—but also age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values. 

It is important to note that many activists and thinkers critique diversity alone as a strategy. For instance, Baltimore Racial Justice Action states: “Diversity is silent on the subject of equity. In an anti-oppression context, therefore, the issue is not diversity, but rather equity. Often when people talk about diversity, they are thinking only of the “non-dominant” groups.”⁹

Environmental degradation:  A process through which the natural environment is compromised in some way, reducing biological diversity and the general health of the environment. This process can be entirely natural in origin, or it can be accelerated or caused by human activities. Many international organizations recognize environmental degradation as one of the major threats facing the planet, since humans have only been given one Earth to work with, and if the environment becomes irreparably compromised, it could mean the end of human existence.¹⁰

Environmental stewardship: The responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices to enhance ecosystem resilience and human well-being.¹²

Equity/Equitable: The effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.¹¹

Gender: A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can and do change over time. They are also different between cultures.²

Global Majority: Black, Indigenous, and people of color represent over 80% of the world’s population, so the term Global Majority is used to point out the demographic inaccuracy of the euphemism “minority.”¹³

Healthism: The belief system that sees health as the property and responsibility of the individual and ranks the personal pursuit of health above anything else. Healthism judges people’s worth according to their health and ignores the impact of poverty, oppression, war, violence, historical atrocities, abuse, and the environment on health outcomes. It protects the status quo, leads to victim blaming and privilege, increases health inequalities, and fosters internalized oppression.¹⁴

Holding space: The process of witnessing and validating someone else’s emotional state while simultaneously being present to your own.¹

Interdependent liberation: The idea that Dr. Martin Luther King taught: “No one is free until we are all free.” From Dr. King’s 1967 Christmas Sermon on Peace and Nonviolence “All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than twenty or thirty years, no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”¹⁵

Implicit bias: Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.¹

Justice: The process required to move us from an unfair, unequal, or inequitable state to one which is fair, equal, or equitable, depending on the specific content. Justice is a transformative practice that relies on the entire community to respond to past and current harm when it occurs in society. Through justice, we seek a proactive enforcement of policies; practices and attitudes that produce equitable access; opportunities; and treatment and outcomes for all regardless of the various identities that one holds.¹⁶

Land Acknowledgement: The practice of recognizing and naming the history and impact of colonialism on Indigenous people by acknowledging and speaking the names of the original inhabitants of a place or space.¹⁷

Meritocracy: A society or social system in which people get status or rewards because of what they achieve, rather than because of their wealth or social status.¹

Microaggression: A subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype: microaggressions such as "I don't see you as Black."¹

Oppression: The prejudice and discrimination of one social group against another, backed by institutional power. Oppression occurs when one group is able to enforce its prejudice and discrimination throughout society because it controls the institutions. Oppression occurs at the group or macro level and goes well beyond individuals. Sexism, racism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism are forms of oppression.¹

Patriarchy: The manifestation and institutionalization of men and/or masculinity as dominant over women and/or femininity in both the private and public spheres, such as the home, political, religious, and social institutions, sports, etc. Patriarchy is deeply connected with cissexism and heterosexism through the perpetuation and enforcement of the gender binary.¹⁸

Power: The ability to define, set, or change situations. Power can manifest as personal or collective self-determination. Power is the ability to influence others to believe, behave, or adopt values as those in power desire.¹⁹

Prejudice: Learned prejudgment about members of social groups to which we don’t belong. Prejudice is based on limited knowledge or experience with the group. Simplistic judgments and assumptions are made and projected onto everyone from that group.¹

Privilege: A systemically conferred dominance and the institutional process by which the beliefs and values of the dominant group are “made normal” and universal. Rights, advantages, and protections enjoyed by some at the expense of and beyond the rights, advantages, and protections of others.¹

Pronouns: In English people frequently refer to other people using pronouns. Often, when speaking of a singular human in the third person, these pronouns have a gender implied—such as “he” to refer to a man/boy or “she” to refer to a woman/girl. These associations are not always accurate or helpful.²⁰

Race: A social and political concept, not a scientific one. Even though this is true, race is a powerful political, social, and economic force. Race was and is constructed for social and political purposes, in large part to divide and conquer poor and working white people from poor and working People and Communities of Color.¹

Racism (Individual): The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can be deliberate, or the individual may act to perpetuate or support racism without knowing that is what he or she is doing. Avoiding people of color whom you do not know personally, but not whites whom you do not know personally (e.g., white people crossing the street to avoid a group of Latino/a young people; locking their doors when they see African American families sitting on their doorsteps in a city neighborhood; or not hiring a person of color because “something doesn’t feel right”). Accepting things as they are (a form of collusion).  

Example: Telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of whites over other groups.²¹

Racism (Institutional): The ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color. 

Example: Government policies that explicitly restricted the ability of people to get loans to buy or improve their homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans (also known as “red-lining”). 

Example: City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.²¹

Reconciliation: The process of restoring harmony and relationships.¹

Social/Institutional Power: The power wielded by entities like governments, churches, and corporations to control people and direct their behavior through access to resources, the ability to influence others, access to decision-makers to get what you want done, the ability to define reality for yourself and others.¹

Social Location: The practice of knowing and naming your proximity to power as it relates to a combination of factors including gender, race, class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location.¹

Spiritual Bypass: A term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.¹

System: An interlocking set of parts that together make a whole, an established way of doing something, such that things get done that way regularly and are assumed to be the ‘normal’ way things get done, runs by itself; does not require planning or initiative by a person or group.¹

Tokenism: The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce. Essentially, it gives the appearance of equality without achieving it and can give a false sense of achievement. For example, many corporate boards may have only one woman director, which may be considered tokenism if there is not an inclusive environment on the board.

Sexual orientation: An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to other people.²³

Sizeism (or size discrimination): Prejudice or discrimination against a person or persons on the basis of physical size, especially against those viewed as “overweight”. Discrimination based on body size, has increased to the point in our global society that it has become a matter of social injustice.²⁴

White fragility: A range of defensive (and centering) emotions and behaviors that White people exhibit when confronted with uncomfortable truths about race. This may include outward displays of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.²⁵

White savior complex: An ideology that is acted upon when a white person, from a position of superiority, attempts to help or rescue a BIPOC person or community. Whether this is done consciously or unconsciously, people with this complex have the underlying belief that they know best or that they have skills that BIPOC people don't have.²⁶

White Supremacy: A system or social order that keeps power and resources consolidated among white elites, using an ideology (or way of understanding the world) that upholds whiteness—including white people, white cultural values, and white institutions—as being best or most “normal.”²⁷

What It Is:  It’s the water most white people swim through without realizing they are wet. It’s a basic fact of U.S. culture and everyday life and a foundational truth of this country. 

What It's Not: It's not necessarily active hatred of people who are not white or active belief that white people should rule over everyone else. It’s not limited to the most overtly racist fringe elements of society. It's not a slur or an insult. It’s not a historical artifact. 


  • BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, People of Color  
  • POC: Person of Color  
  • JEDI: Justice, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion  
  • DEI: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion  
  • LGBTQIA+: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Agender.


¹Source: Michelle Cassandra Johnson and Kerri Kelly of Race and Resilience.

²Source: The Equity Fluent Leader™ (EFL) Glossary of Key Terms, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

³Source: Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Source: Oxford Dictionary of Business and Management, 5th Edition, Jonathan Law. Retrieved from oxfordreference.com

Source: National Conference for Community and Justice, https://nccj.org/classism-0 , Retrieved from KEY EQUITY TERMS & CONCEPTS: A Glossary for Shared Understanding, Center for the Study of Social Policy

Source: Emma LaRocque, PhD, “Colonization and Racism,” (Aboriginal Perspectives). Also see Racism and Colonialism, edited by Robert Ross (1982), and Andrea Smith, “Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy” (Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century, 2012). Retrieved from Racial Equity Tools Glossary 

Source: The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), “Glossary” and Eric Ritskes, “What Is Decolonization and Why Does It Matter?” Retrieved from Racial Equity Tools Glossary

Source: Access Living, Ableism 101: What it is, what it looks like, and what we can do to to fix it by Ashley Eisenmenger. Retrieved from AccessLiving.org 

Source: UC Berkeley Center for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, “Glossary of Terms” (page 34 in 2009 Strategic Plan). Baltimore Racial Justice Action, “Our Definitions” (2018). Retrieved from Racial Equity Tools Glossary

¹⁰Source: Glossary of Environment Statistics, Studies in Methods, Series F, No. 67, United Nations, New York, 1997. Retrieved from General Multilingual Environmental Thesaurus.

¹¹Source: KEY EQUITY TERMS & CONCEPTS: A Glossary for Shared Understanding, Center for the Study of Social Policy

¹²Source: NOAA noaa.gov

¹³Source: Rosemary Campbell-Stephens, Author Educational Leadership and the Global Majority: Decolonising Narratives

¹⁴Source: Lucy Aphramor, Ph.D., R.D. from Well Now Program via Robyn L. Goldberg RDN, CEDRD-S, What is Healthism. Retrieved from askaboutfood.com 

¹⁵Source: Dr. King’s 1967 Christmas Sermon on Peace and Nonviolence, Massey Lecture #5

¹⁶Source: Kapitan, Alex. “Should I Use the Adjective ‘Diverse’?” Radical Copy Editor, October 2, 2017. Retrieved from KEY EQUITY TERMS & CONCEPTS: A Glossary for Shared Understanding, Center for the Study of Social Policy.

¹⁷Source: Native Land Digital native-land.ca/

¹⁸Source: Anti-Oppression Network. “Terminologies of Oppression.” Retrieved from  KEY EQUITY TERMS & CONCEPTS: A Glossary for Shared Understanding, Center for the Study of Social Policy.

¹⁹Source: YWCA. “Our Shared Language: Social Justice Glossary” Petress, Ken. “Power: Definition, Typology, Description, Example, and Implications.” University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Retrieved from KEY EQUITY TERMS & CONCEPTS: A Glossary for Shared Understanding, Center for the Study of Social Policy.

²⁰Source: Resources on Personal Pronouns. mypronouns.org

²¹Source: Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005) via Racial Equity Tools Glossary.

²²Source: Adapted from Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from KEY EQUITY TERMS & CONCEPTS: A Glossary for Shared Understanding, Center for the Study of Social Policy.

²³Source: Human Rights Campaign, Terminology and Definitions, Retrieved from HRC.

²⁴Source: National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA)

²⁵Source: White Fragility, Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.

²⁶Source: Savala Nolan, author of Don't Let It Get You Down: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Body and the director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law. Retrieved from “What Is White Savior Complex, and Why Is It Harmful?” by Colleen Murphy.

²⁷Source: White Supremacy.” Radical Copy Editor, October 2, 2017.

²⁸Source: Self.com "I'm a Fat Activist. I Don't Use the Word Fatphobia. Here's Why" by Aubrey Gordon.

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