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One Book One College 2018-19: Small Great Things: RACE: Definitions & Facts

Words Matter – Definitions to Consider

Racial Stereotype

An image, attitude or judgment, applied to an entire group of people.


A social construct (with no biological validity) that divides people into distinct groups by categorizing them based on arbitrary elements of physical appearance, particularly skin color.


Access to individuals, social groups, and institutions that own and/or control the majority of a community's resources, as well the ability to define norms and standards of behavior.


An attitude or opinion—usually negative—about socially defined group (racial, religious, national, etc.) or any person perceived to be a member of that group, formed with insufficient knowledge, reason, or deliberation.


Most people use the word "racism" the way they used the term "prejudice." But antiracist activists see racism as "race prejudice PLUS power," in other words, discrimination based on racial stereotyping (conscious or unconscious, active or passive) that is backed by significant institutional power (race prejudice + power = racism).

Institutional Racism

The ways in which institutions—social, political, educational, financial, religious, medical, housing, jobs, criminal justice—create and/or perpetuate systems that advantage white people at the expense of people of color.

White Privilege

Unearned advantages that benefit whites (whether they seek such benefits or not) by virtue of their skin color in a racist society.

White Supremacy

Once used only by racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the word is also used in antiracism work to describe the historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of domination and exploitation of people of color by white people, and which maintains white peoples’ position of relative wealth, power, and privilege.

"Reverse Racism"

A term commonly used by white people to equate instances of hostile behavior toward them by people of color with the racism people of color face. This is a way of ignoring the issue of who has the power.

Internalized Racism

The conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group, leading to finding fault with oneself or members of one's own group, while valuing the dominant culture (internalized inferiority). Another form of internalized racism is when a white person mistakenly believes s/he is better than people of color ( internalized superiority).


Term used by those who consider themselves "color-blind," a claim that in effect, denies any role in perpetuation systemic racism, or any responsibility to act to dismantle it. Institutional racism is perpetuated not only by those who actively discriminate, but also by those who fail to challenge it (silence = consent).


An anti-racist is someone who makes a conscious choice and persistent effort to challenge white supremacy, including her/his own white privilege, and to actively oppose forms of discrimination against people of color.

These definitions are based on definitions originally created by the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop -

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

Our eyes tell us that people look different. No one has trouble distinguishing a Czech from a Chinese. But what do those differences mean? Are they biological? Has race always been with us? How does race affect people today? There's less - and more - to race than meets the eye:

1. Race is a modern idea

Ancient societies, like the Greeks, did not divide people according to physical distinctions, but according to religion, status, class, even language. The English language didn't even have the word 'race' until it turns up in 1508 in a poem by William Dunbar referring to a line of kings.

2. Race has no genetic basis

Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.

3. Human subspecies don't exist

Unlike many animals, modern humans simply haven't been around long enough or isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species.

4. Skin color really is only skin deep

Most traits are inherited independently from one another. The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms of intelligence. Knowing someone's skin color doesn't necessarily tell you anything else about him or her.

5. Most variation is within, not between, "races"

Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.

6. Slavery predates race

Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, even debt, but not because of physical characteristics or a belief in natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, ours was the first slave system where all the slaves shared similar physical characteristics.

7. Race and freedom evolved together

The U.S. was founded on the radical new principle that "All men are created equal." But our early economy was based largely on slavery. How could this anomaly be rationalized? The new idea of race helped explain why some people could be denied the rights and freedoms that others took for granted.

8. Race justified social inequalities as natural

As the race idea evolved, white superiority became "common sense" in America. It justified not only slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and the taking of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.

9. Race isn't biological, but racism is still real

Race is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Our government and social institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to white people. This affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.

10. Colorblindness will not end racism

Pretending race doesn't exist is not the same as creating equality. Race is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice. To combat racism, we need to identify and remedy social policies and institutional practices that advantage some groups at the expense of others.

Created by: RACE - The Power of an Illusion, produced by California Newsreel in association with the Independent Television Service (ITVS). Major funding provided by the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Diversity Fund. © 2003 California Newsreel.