This glossary of terms was developed to create common understanding in the planning and execution of efforts toward racial equity and health equity. It includes terms that are critical to understanding and achieving racial equity, systems change and movement building.

Additional terms and definitions may be added to this glossary as needed to broaden and deepen understanding.

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Systems of Oppression

The ways in which history, culture, ideology, public policies, institutional practices, and personal behaviors and beliefs interact to maintain a hierarchy–based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and/or other group identities–that allows the privileges associated with the dominant group and the disadvantages associated with the targeted group to endure and adapt over time.

Systems Change

An effort to bring about lasting change by altering underlying structures and supporting mechanisms (root causes) which make the system operate in a particular way. These can include policies, routines, relationships, resources, power structures and values.

Restorative Practice

Restorative Practice works on relationships. It creates a common language and approach to building relationships and dealing with conflict. When conflict does arise, restorative approaches provide those who have been harmed with a voice, an opportunity to express the effect the harm has had on them, as well as the opportunity to express what needs to happen to repair the harm. People who cause harm are often unaware of the full impact of their actions. The chance to have a voice themselves, to hear the impact their actions have had on others and to actively make amends rather than passively enduring a punishment leads to more positive feelings about their community and helps to break the cycle of wrongdoing and misbehavior.


Measures provided which seek to address the harms caused by systematic human rights violations in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them. They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented–providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims–and help to change the underlying causes of abuse. Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.


The very complex and contradictory process through which groups come to be designated as being of a particular “race” and subjected to differential and/or unequal treatment. While white people are also racialized, this process is often rendered invisible or normative to those designated as white. As a result, white people may not see themselves as part of a race but still maintain the authority to name and racialize “others”.


Laws and regulations that govern systems, including health, education, criminal justice, education, etc. Individuals are directly affected by unequal application of policies and laws by race/ethnicity, and by unequal consequences by race/ethnicity. This spiral of difference–in application, enforcement and consequences–is one way of understanding structural racism and internalized advantage and disadvantage within a system.


The 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, sports, religious and social institutions, etc. Patriarchy shapes and is shaped by white supremacy and capitalism.


The systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. It is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures. This includes dismantling the root causes of racism (institutional and structural policies and practices.

Direct Service

Assistance provided to individuals to navigate a current crisis situation. This is the most immediate response to a social injustice. Direct services may also be used as part of a comprehensive approach to power building and change, such as skill or capacity development opportunities that are longer term such as leadership development or enhance vocational skills.


In the context of racial equity work, accountability refers to the ways in which individuals, communities and organizations hold themselves to their goals and actions and acknowledge the values and groups to which they are responsible. Accountability includes creating processes and systems that are designed to help individuals and groups to be held in check for their decisions and actions and for whether the work being done reflects and embodies racial justice principles. Accountability in racial equity work involves checking the work against a set of questions:
1. How is the issue being defined?
2. Who is defining it?
3. Who is this work going to benefit if it succeeds?
4. Who will it benefit if the work does not succeed?
5. How are risks distributed among the stakeholders?
6. How will a group know if its plan has accounted for risks and unintended consequences for different racial and ethnic groups?
7. What happens if people pull out before the goals are met?
8. Who anointed the people and groups being relied on for answers to these questions? PAUSE: Shouldn’t all work toward equity and be accountable? If so that belies the question who anointed the people… We expect all to do this work and be accountable.
9. Who else can answer these questions to guide the work?

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