An Anti-Racist Guide to Terminology

Understanding and rethinking the language that we use is essential to advancing anti-racist conversations. Language is fluid and identity is central to these conversations. We only need to look back over recent years to see how communities and individuals are reclaiming their identity as a result of conversations and knowledge. Not everyone will identify with the terminology used here, and we always recommend speaking to individuals to find out how they identify and using their preferred choices.

Building confidence in language and understanding the meaning behind them is a vital part of your anti-racist learning and should help you develop your knowledge and conversations. 

We hope you find the below explanations and definitions of these terms helpful.

It’s important to note that these suggestions are constantly evolving and under review, they are not one size fits all. 


People are treated unfairly which can be because of the colour of their skin, and because of socially constructed perceptions combined with power. Racism operates on three levels: Individual , Systemic (see below) and Institutional (see below)

Institutional Racism

Happens when there is inherent inequality in the structures and processes carried out by groups in power – governments, police, schools, businesses (employment) for e.g. affecting opportunities and progress of people who are Black and Brown.

Systemic Racism

A form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organisation. It can lead to discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power, education and more. The systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another


A social construct – not scientifically based – created to categorise, group and divide people in order to uphold power and wealth.


The intentional and/or obvious harmful attitudes, language or behaviours towards another individual or group because of their ‘race’.


Discrimination that is concealed or subtle rather than obvious to general public.


The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing. For example; recruiting a small number of Black or Brown people in order to give the appearance of equality or diversity within a workforce or companies putting black squares on social media in support of “Black Lives Matter” but taking no real or authentic action in within their organisation or otherwise.


The interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. In simpler terms, it’s the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider all of the factors that can marginalise people: gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Audre Lorde


The everyday, sometimes subtle interactions or behaviours that communicate bias toward historically marginalised groups. e.g “Where are you really from?”



A white ally / accomplice acknowledges the limits of their knowledge about other people’s experiences but doesn’t use that as a reason not to think and /or act. They confront racism as it comes up daily, and seeks to deconstruct it institutionally at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression.


The social, economic, and political systems that collectively and inherently enable White people to maintain power


When White people engage in conversations about racism it may trigger a range of defensive actions, feelings, and behaviours, such as anger, fear, and silence. Often this is because this is the first time they have had to deal with conversations about race. By developing stamina White people can begin to get comfortable with their discomfort and more able to listen, learn and grow.


Does not mean a person has not had any difficulties in life, it means a White person’s struggle has never been caused or amplified or structurally imposed on them because of the colour of their skin. It is a privilege of having the absence of racism.


The idea that the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, with no regard to ethnicity – however this not only dismisses of the lived experiences of people who experience racism, but also suggests that racism does not exist so long as one ignores it. Within the context of structural and systematic racism, it serves as a way to disengage from conversations about racism entirely.


Opinions are formed by people before we know them, often based on stereotypes.

Unconscious Bias

Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness – through media, family & peers, societal ideals etc.

Political Blackness

An umbrella term used to refer to all the people who are likely to experience racial discrimination based on skin colour born out of the British Trade Union movement.




We choose not to use this term because it implies that all Ethnicities and cultures are part of one homogeneous group: it was created to ‘categorise’ all Black and Brown people as a convenient acronym without consideration of the differences and intricacies between communities and cultures.


A collective term that refers to Black, Brown and indigenous people, who represent over 80% of the world’s population. This wording points out the demographic inaccuracy of the euphemism “minority” and can feel more empowering for some.


This phrase is offensive because it was coined to uphold segregation. It’s reflective of subjugation and prejudice and was written on benches & bus seats to mark out difference: to keep Black people out of ‘White spaces.’ It also perpetuates the idea that Whiteness is the ‘benchmark of normality’.


Similar to BAME, the definition is literally “a person who is not White”. It turns a plural into a singular, creating space for stereotypes and generalisations across multiple communities.


A term used to identify people with African heritage – whether that be African or Afro-Caribbean (remember, Black people are not indigenous peoples of the Caribbean) and also those of mixed heritage who identify as Black. It is a term that in the past was avoided and replaced with words such as the ones we’ve mentioned above, but on the whole, more and more Black people are identifying this way and it is becoming a preferred term.


A term commonly used to self-identify within the South Asian community, we use it to also represent East Asian people (previously referred to as “Yellow” which is now considered an out of date racist term) and all indigenous and first nation people of the Americas and Canada (previously referred to as “Red” another out of date term) and First Nation people of Australia and Maori and Pacific Islanders.


These terms refer to racial and ethnic groups that are in a minority in the population (of the country the term is being used). In the UK, it usually covers all ethnic groups except White British. For example, it includes groups such as Polish or Gypsy, Roma Traveller communities.


This term is preferable to ‘Mixed Race’ as we seek to avoid the word ‘race’ where possible – see above.

‘half-caste’ or ‘exotic’

Like ‘Coloured’ and ‘Mixed Race’ these are outdated and offensive, they are not accepted as terms today by the global majority.