The Reformation Project

The Language of Justice

The Language of Justice

Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive, universal language for justice work. Still, a glossary for commonly used terms will be vital to communication. Without a common language we have the increased risk of misunderstanding, controversy and frustration. The following glossary of terms will foster shared understanding and deeper discourse.

Ableism – Ideas, practices, institutions, and social relations that presume able-bodiedness, and by so doing, construct persons with disabilities as marginalized [...] and largely invisible 'others'

A doctrine that falsely treats impairments as inherently and naturally horrible and blames the impairments themselves for the problems experienced by the people who have them.
— Amundson and Taira

Amundson, Ron; Taira, Gayle (2005). "Our Lives and Ideologies: The Effects of Life Experience on the Perceived Morality of the Policy of Physician-Assisted Suicide" (PDF). Journal of Policy Studies 16 (1): 53–57

Chouinard, Vera (1997). "Making Space for Disabling Difference: Challenges Ableist Geographies". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15: 379–387. 

Allyship – Describes the act of supporting a group other than one's own (in terms of racial identity, gender, faith identity, sexual orientation, etc.) Allies acknowledge disadvantage and oppression of other groups than their own; take risks and supportive action on their behalf; 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: Center for Assessment and Policy Development

Anti-Oppression – A practice within justice work to acknowledge oppression in societies, economies, cultures, and groups, and to remove or negate the influence of that oppression and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities.

Anti-Semitism - The belief or behavior hostile toward Jewish people just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jewish people, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jewish people. Source: The Anti-Defamation League

Asexual – Person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation. Source: Diversity Talks

Aromantic – The absence of desire to become romantically involved with another person. Source: The Asexual Visibility and Education Network

Assimilation – the process by which a person or persons pursues survival by acquiring the social and psychological characteristics of a group.

Biphobia – The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals, which is often times related to the current binary standard. Biphobia can be seen within the LGBTQI community, as well as in general society. Source: Diversity Talks

Bisexual – A person who has significant romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions to members of multiple genders. The frequency, intensity, or quality of attraction is not necessarily directed toward each genders equally. Source: Diversity Talks

Cisgender – a term used to describe those who are not-transgender - having a gender identity or performing in gender roles that society considers appropriate for one's sex. Source: Diversity Talks

Classism – Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in socio‐economic status, income, class; usually by upper classes against lower.

Colonialism – the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Color Blind – the belief in treating everyone “equally” by treating everyone the same; based in the presumption that differences are by definition bad or problematic, and therefore best ignored (i.e., “ I don’t see race, gender, etc.”). Source: UML Office of Multicultural Affairs

Cultural Appropriation – the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people's cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.

Decolonization – the undoing of colonization - it is about recognition and reclamation. When people talk about the need for decolonization it is a call to action to address how countries, systems, relationships, and even minds are shaped by white supremacy (ex: what cultural practices we see as normal and civilized and which we do not). Sometimes, it's about reclaiming and re-valuing knowledge/histories/practices that have been disrespected or forgotten as a result of colonialism. Sometimes it's about challenging white/western norms of behavior, practice, and identity that demand assimilation as a prerequisite for acceptance. Sometimes, it's about creating or giving respect to new hybrid forms of identity that were produced through colonialism (such as in Gloria Alzaldua's writing about mestiza identity in Borderlands). Sometimes, it's about the literal reclamation of territory and resources. Sometimes, it's about dismantling structures that are so deeply rooted in white supremacy and control that something new needs to be built (e.g. in efforts for prison abolition).

Derailing – The act of throwing a thread in a discussion off topic, oftentimes so much so that the original discussion is unable to continue.

Diaspora – means “to scatter” in Greek, but today we use the term to describe a community of people who live outside their shared country of origin or ancestry but maintain active connections with it. A diaspora includes both emigrants and their descendants. Source: Diaspora Alliance

Dysphoria – (n.) refers to “gender dysphoria” which is the experience of unbearable or nearly unbearable confliction between (1) how other people gender you (social) and (2) how you perceive the gendering of your own body (physical) Source: Kit Apostolacus

Equality –means everyone gets exactly the same outcome without regard to individual differences. Equality is about equal sharing and exact division.

Equity – means everyone gets the same quality of outcome so that it meets the individual needs of each person. Equity refers to the qualities of justness and fairness between all people and acknowledges the differences between individuals.

Erasure - A practice in which a dominant culture, for example a colonizing nation, attempts to negate, suppress, remove and, in effect, erase the culture of a subordinate culture. Cultural erasure can be seen as a system of small changes  all leading to the forced acceptance of a new dominant, or non-native, culture. Source:

Ethnicity – A social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history and ancestral geographical base. Source: Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Gaslighting – a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.

Gay – A word describing a man or a woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to members of the same sex. Source: Human Rights Campaign

Gender – The socially constructed concepts of masculinity and femininity; the ‘appropriate’ qualities accompanying biological sex. Source: UML Office of Multicultural Affairs

Gender Expression – How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics. Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Gender Identity – An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Gender Non-conforming - A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender. Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Gender Normative – A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society. (Also referred to as ‘Genderstraight’.) Source: Diversity Talks

Genderqueer - A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female. Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Heteronormativity – The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality and bisexuality. Source: Diversity Talks

Homophobia – negative feelings, attitudes, actions or behaviors towards anyone who is gay, or perceived to be gay.

Homosexuality – defines attraction to the same sex, and is one orientation on the continuum from homosexual to bisexual to heterosexual. Many prefer the terms “gay”, “lesbian”, or “bisexual” to describe their identities. Source: Diversity Talks

Internalized Racism – Internalized racism is the situation that occurs in a racist system when a racial group oppressed by racism supports the supremacy and dominance of the dominating group by maintaining or participating in the set of attitudes, behaviors, social structures and ideologies that undergird the dominating group's power.

Internalized Homophobia - Occurring in a heterosexist system when LGBQ individuals are subjected to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance and stigmas towards LGBQ people, and as a result, turn those ideas inward believing they are true.It has been defined as ‘the gay person’s direction of negative social attitudes toward the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and resultant internal conflicts and poor self-regard.’ Researchers have suggested that using ‘heterosexism’, ‘self-prejudice,’ and ‘homonegativity,’ in addition to the widely accepted term “internalized homophobia,” can help to add depth to our comprehension of the true meaning of the issue. Source: (Meyer and Dean, 1998)

Intersectionality – a concept coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. The Latinx theory that parallels intersectionality is Interlocking Theory by Cherríe Moraga.

Intersex –A term used for people who are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that does not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. Intersex conditions are also known as differences of sex development (DSD). Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Islamophobia - A contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure.  It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve "civilizational rehab" of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise). The term was coined in the context of Muslims in the UK in particular and Europe in general, and formulated based on the more common "xenophobia" framework. Source: Center for Race & Gender, University of California, Berkeley

Lesbian – a woman whose primary romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions are to other women. Source: Diversity Talks

Marginalization – the process of making a group or class of people less important or relegated to a secondary position

Microaggression – a form of unintended discrimination. It is depicted by the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

Minority Group – a culturally, ethnically, or racially distinct group that coexists with but is subordinate to a more dominant group. Minority status does not necessarily correlate to population.

Misogyny - The hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification. Source: Code, Lorraine (2000). Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories (1st ed.). London: Routledge. p. 346


  • “ ” ethnic - An individual that comes from more than one ethnicity.
  • “ ” racial - An individual that comes from more than one race.
  • “ ” cultural - An individual that identifies with more than one culture
  • “ ” national - An individual that identifies with more than one nationality.

Nationalism - An attitude and practice that can be civic, ethnic, or a combination of the two, which include beliefs about one’s own people and about others, who feel one’s attachment to their nation passionately, and who even, at times, act with great cruelty against their enemies. Source: Joshua Searle-White, The Psychology of Nationalism

Othering – The process of perceiving or portraying someone or something as fundamentally different or alien.

Oppression – Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures that saturate most aspects of life in our society. Oppression denotes structural and material constraints that significantly shape a person's life chances and sense of possibility. Oppression also signifies a hierarchical relationship in which dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups. Source: Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Pansexual - A term referring to the potential for sexual attractions or romantic love toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes. The concept of pansexuality deliberately rejects the gender binary, and derives its origin from the transgender movement. Source: Office of Multicultural Affairs University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Patriarchy – a social system of male domination in which males hold primary power, predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property; in the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children

People of Color – A collective term for men and women of Asian, African, Latin and Native American backgrounds; as opposed to the collective "White" for those of European ancestry.

Power – The ability to act; to cause or prevent change.

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: Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative. A Community Builder's Tool Kit. Claremont, Calif.: Claremont Graduate University.

Privilege – a right, license, or exemption from duty or liability granted as a special benefit, advantage, or favor.

Queer – A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender, people. Some use queer as an alternative to "gay" in an effort to be more inclusive. Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way. Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Race – A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Racial categories subsume ethnic groups. Source: Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Racism – Racism is a complex system of beliefs and behaviors, grounded in a presumed superiority of the white race. These beliefs and behaviors are conscious and unconscious; personal and institutional; and result in the oppression of people of color and benefit the dominant group, whites. A simpler definition is racial prejudice + power = racism. Source: National Conference for Community and Justice — St. Louis Region. Unpublished handout used in the Dismantling Racism Institute program.

Respectability Politics - What happens when minority and/or marginalized groups are told (or teach themselves) that in order to receive better treatment from the group in power, they must behave better and/or more like that dominant group. Source:

Sexual Orientation – An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic, sexual and relational attraction to another person; may be a same-sex orientation, opposite-sex orientation or a bisexual orientation. Source: Human Rights Campaign

Tokenism – the practice or policy of making no more than a token effort or gesture, as in offering opportunities to minorities equal to those of the majority

Tone Policing –the act of disregarding the substance of someone's argument by focusing on the way it was conveyed. A tone argument focuses on delivery as a means to sidestep the issue at hand.

Trans* – an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum. The asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all non-cisgender gender identities, including transgender, transsexual, transvestite, genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, genderless, agender, non-gendered, third gender, two-spirit, bigender, and trans man and trans woman. Source: Diversity Talks

Transgender – A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. "Trans" is shorthand for "transgender." (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus "transgender people" is appropriate but "transgenders" is often viewed as disrespectful.) Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Transsexual: An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth who seeks to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical. Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

Transphobia – The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, people whose gender identity or gender expression do not conform to cultural gender norms. Source: Human Rights Campaign

Trigger warning – a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content).

Two-Spirit – A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits. This term is used by some in Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

White Supremacy –  an historically-based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white people and nations of the European continent for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege. Source: CWS Workshop

Whiteness - As with the term ‘race,' it is important to clarify the differences between "white" (a category of ‘race' with no biological/scientific foundation) and "whiteness" (a social construction with tangible effects). Racism is based on the concept of whiteness--a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence. Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white (Kivel, 1996, p. 19). ‘Whiteness,' like ‘colour' and ‘Blackness,' are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior (Henry & Tator, 2006, pp. 46-67). 

White Fragility - a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display 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. Source: DiAngelo, R. (2011). White Fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3).

Whitewashing - The tendency of media to be dominated by white characters, played by white actors, navigating their way through a story that will likely resonate most deeply with white audiences, based on their experiences and worldviews. This happens in a few ways. First, it is when films based on historical events, have white actors play the role of non-white characters. This also occurs in adaptations of written works of fiction when a fictional character from a novel is originally drawn or described as a person of color, yet in the live action adaptation, the character becomes inexplicably white. A third way is when the constellation of events that comprise a historical moment are reconfigured, forcing the audience to experience the story from a white perspective, as such, this type of whitewashing is a principal agent in shifting the public memory of real events. A fourth way is even when the majority of characters in a film are played by black and brown actors but white actors secure all the major roles of a film, or they play the most well-rounded, complex characters of a film.Source:

World View/Cultural Lens – The perspective through which individuals view the world; comprised of their history, experiences, culture, family history, and other influences.