Definitions & Terms

In order to effectively teach and facilitate discussions around the topic of racism, it is important to have a clear understanding of some of the terminology used. Be aware that there are other definitions which vary from source to source. The definitions chosen below are current and those which are most often used by people working in the field of multiculturalism and anti-racism education.

Aboriginal Peoples:

The original inhabitants of North America or descendants of the original peoples who inhabited this continent prior to the conquest by Europeans. Another recommended term is First Nations Peoples.(Halifax District School Board, Anti-Racism Policy, 1995)

Anti-Racism Education:

An approach to education that challenges, combats and rejects racism in the education process in all its forms, by identifying and changing institutional policies, procedures, culture and values as well as individual behaviours and practices which have a discriminatory impact on individuals or groups with non-dominant identities. (HDSB, 1995)


To absorb the minority part into the majority. The minority part loses its identity.
(Handbook on Cross-Cultural Counselling, Multicultural Association of Nova Scotia, 1995)


A term which identifies parentage from two cultural groups. The term is seldom applied to persons whose parentage comes from two white ethnocultural groups, but when parentage is derived from Aboriginal, Black, and Visible Ethnocultural relationships and/or combined Visible and White relationships. The children of such relationships are often subject to racism and discrimination based on skin colour.(HDSB, 1995)


A subjective opinion, preference or prejudice without basis in fact, which is detrimental to a group's or an individual's ability to treat ideas or people objectively. (MANS, 1995)

Black People:

People of Black African heritage. Due to colonialism, slavery and migration, persons of Black African heritage now live in all parts of the world, including Canada. Other recommended terms are African Nova Scotian or Afro-Nova Scotian. (HDSB, 1996)

Cultural Group:

People who share the same race or national background. (MANS, 1995)

Cultural Identity:

The combination of traits that distinguishes one culture from another: a culture as it is seen by others. (MANS, 1995)


The way people live, including language, relation, race, gender, age, etc.
(MANS, 1995)


The granting and/or denying of certain rights to certain groups. This term is an action directed towards persons or groups based on preconceived notions, usually not based on truths (prejudices). Discrimination based on race results in people of colour being maltreated and/or excluded. Discrimination based on race is only one of many forms of discrimination. People may also be discriminated against on the basis of: Age Sex Ability Marital Status Race Sexual Orientation Economic Level Religion


Having variety.


To have the greatest influence or the most power.(MANS, 1995)

Dominant Culture:

The culture of the majority of people in a society; it usually sets the social norms and has the greatest influence on society's institutions. (MANS, 1995)

Often referred to as the "majority".


Having equal access to all that a society offers, regardless of colour, religion, gender, clan, ethno-cultural background or other factors. (MANS, 1995)

Ethnic Group:

A group of people who share a common ancestry or sense of belonging together. All people are part of an ethnic group (ethnicity). (MANS, 1995)


Inclined to regard one's own race or social group as the centre of culture and as exhibiting an incapacity for viewing different cultures favourably. (MANS, 1995)


Belief in the superiority of one's own race and culture. A habitual disposition to judge different peoples or groups by the standards and practices of one's own culture or ethnic group. (MANS, 1995)


Exclusive or almost total attention to events and peoples originating in Europe as well as consideration of all information from the perspective of White people who came to North America from Europe. (MANS, 1995)

Institutional Racism:

Exercise of notions of racial superiority by social institutions through their policies, practices, procedures, and organizational culture and values, either consciously or unconsciously. Institutional racism results in the unequal treatment of, or discrimination against, individuals or groups with non-dominant identities. Institutions can reward as well, by the way social goods are distributed - by deciding who receives training and skills, medical care, formal education, political influence, moral support, self-respect, productive employment, fair treatment by the law, decent housing, self-confidence, and the promise of a secure future for self and children. (HDSB, 1995)


Fairly stable social arrangements and practices through which collective actions are taken. Examples of institutions are government, business, unions, schools, churches, courts and police, and the people who represent these establishments.
(HDSB, 1995)


Persons born outside of Canada or first generation Canadians. The word refers to people who have moved to a country with the intention of settling. Preferred term: New Canadians. (HDSB, 1995)


A misleading term often used to describe Aboriginal Black and Visible Ethnocultural persons living in Canada. It is misleading because while they may have fewer numbers in many parts of Canada, they are not a minority in the world. (People of European heritage make up 15% of the worlds population). Preferred terms: Aboriginal, Black, Racially Visible, People of Colour, etc. (HDSB, 1995)

Multiculturalism Policy:

One which promotes the integration, not the assimilation, of all cultural groups into society while at the same time assisting those who so wish to maintain their distinctive cultural identities (i.e. Canadian "cultural mosaic"). The term is understood to include a multiracial element, and also should address issues of equality and power. (MANS, 1995)


A state or condition of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization (MANS, 1995)


A frame of mind which tends to pre-judge a person or group without adequate experience. Frequently these "prejudices" are not recognized as false or unsound assumptions and can become widely held beliefs which can then be used to justify acts of discrimination. It is an attitude. (MANS, 1995)


A social and political construct (not scientific) which categorizes people on the basis of biological characteristics such as skin colour, shape of eyes, texture of hair, body size and physique. (MANS, 1995)


Racism = Prejudice + Power

People often confuse racism with discrimination and prejudice, but racism is different as it includes the aspect of POWER. Any person, of any colour, can be prejudiced towards another person based on any difference between them (this is not okay, but the term used to describe it is not racism). Prejudice based on skin colour does not become racism until you add social, political, economic, ideological and institutional power. In Canada and Nova Scotia it is white people who hold this power and have control over the education system, the banking system, the court system, the educational system, the media, and all our other institutions.
(Carvery & Bishop, 1994)

Racial Discrimination:

Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent , or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose of denying a person or group enjoyment of their fundamental freedoms.(Nova Scotia School Boards Association, 1992)

Racially Visible People:

A term applied to people who are Black, Aboriginal, Chinese, South Asian, South East Asian Filipino and Latin American Canadians. Some racially visible people prefer to identify themselves as "people of colour". These terms are generally regarded as positive identities as opposed to "non-whites, minorities, visible minorities or ethnics". (Nova Scotia School Board Association)

Reverse Racism:

Many white people claim to have experienced mistreatment, prejudice, or racism from people of colour. This claim may be used to justify stereotyping and mistreatment of people of colour. But racism is institutional, the power is always on the side of the institutions, which in Canada favour white people. Anyone from any group can have personal attitudes of prejudice towards others and may be subject to action or litigation based on discriminatory activities. But racism is not only about prejudice - it is about power. And in Canadian society, only white people have the power to enforce systematic, institutionalized racism. We are born into a society in which racial power imbalances are already established. Reverse racism does not exist in today's society. (Halifax District School Board, Anti-Racism Policy, 1996)

Social Class:

What is traditionally viewed as the hierarchical order of a society based on such indicators as income, occupation, education, ownership of property, family, religious and political relationships. (HDSB, 1995)


The word comes from the process of making metal plates for printing and means "set image". When applied to people it means an instant or fixed picture of a group of people used to represent all people from that group. (Carvery & Bishop, 1994). Stereotypes have a negative affect on the people being stereotyped, regardless of the intent, because they deny people the right to be individuals.

Stereotypes often develop from limited experience (as does prejudice) with other groups. For example, if you have only known 2 Asian people, and both of them were good at Math and Science, you might decide that "all Asian people" are good at Math and Science. This is a stereotypes, as it doesn't take other factors into account (the importance some families place on these subjects) as well as that not every Asian person is good at Math and Science.

We often stereotype people without thinking about it. It is important to challenge stereotyping in ourselves and in others. Be wary of statements about groups of people that start with "They......" or "All.......".


A social colour. The term is used to refer to people belonging to the dominant group in Canada. (MANS, 1995)


Carvery, Valerie & Bishop, Anne. (1994). Unlearning Racism: A Workshop Guide to Unlearning Racism. Halifax: Oxfam/Deveric.

Halifax District School Board. (1995). Anti-Racism Policy as regards Aboriginal, Black, and Visible Ethnocultural Persons. Halifax: Halifax District School Board

Multicultural Association of Nova Scotia. (1995). Handbook on Cross-Cultural Counselling.

Halifax: Multicultural Association of Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia School Board Association.(1992). Employment Equity for Racially Visible and Aboriginal Peoples: A Glossary of Terms. Halifax: NSSBA.

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Developed by Kate R. Wang
Last updated: 01/06/2003