8 terms used in anti-racism work explained

A starting place for those looking to engage in anti-racist work

Why It Matters

Canada is not immune to racism. Though this has always been clear, the pandemic has demonstrated very visibly to Canadians that people of colour are disproportionately impacted. Anti-racism work is imperative for all Canadians, including those who work in the world of social impact.

There is a major conversation happening globally between those affected by racism and those with the privilege not to be affected. The latter have an opportunity and a responsibility to learn about it.

If you’re white, this work might feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to. It forces you to confront systems you might have once thought were fair and just, that have allowed you to get ahead in the world, only to now realize that this has come at the cost of non-white lives. 

Canada is not immune to racism. Though this has always been clear, the pandemic has demonstrated very visibly to Canadians that people of colour are disproportionately impacted. And beyond the current crisis, police brutality and surveillance disproportionately impact Black Canadians, and many other manifestations of systemic anti-Black racism are very much alive north of the border. 

If you’re looking for a place to begin engaging in anti-racism work, here are 8 key terms you might have heard throughout the global conversation on racism, and what they mean. 



BIPOC is an acronym for ‘Black, Indigenous, People of Colour,’ it is meant to unite all people of colour in the work for liberation while intentionally acknowledging that not all people of colour face the same levels of injustice.

Source: Sunrise Movement


Implicit or unconscious bias

This refers to the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group. Shaped by experience and based on learned associations between particular qualities and social categories, including race and/or gender. Individuals’ perceptions and behaviours can be influenced by the implicit stereotypes they hold, even if they are unaware/unintentionally hold such stereotypes. 

Source: Wikipedia

Resource: Take Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test


Institutional racism

Institutional racism occurs within and between institutions (schools, mass media, etc.). Includes discriminatory treatment, unfair policies, and inequitable opportunities and impacts, based on race. Individuals within institutions take on the power of the institution when they act in ways that advantage and disadvantage people, based on race.

Source: Racial Equity Tools

Resource: Watch this video from TMI Consulting


Structural racism

This kind of racism lies underneath, all around and across society. It encompasses (1) history, providing the foundation for white supremacy; (2) culture, providing the normalization and replication of racism, and (3) interconnected institutions and policies providing the legitimacy and reinforcements to maintain and perpetuate racism.

Source: Racial Equity Tools


Systemic racism

Systemic racism includes the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions, which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups. No individual intent is necessary.

Source: Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre 


Systems of oppression

This refers to discriminatory institutions, structures, norms, to name a few, that are embedded in the fabric of our society. Upheld by the various societal institutions such as culture, government, education, etc., are all complicit in the oppression of marginalized social groups while elevating dominant social groups.

Source: Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group


White fragility

Coined in 2011 by Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility; Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism,” white fragility is defined as “discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.”

Source: Oxford Dictionary


White privilege

White privilege refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally, white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.

Source: Racial Equity Resource Guide

And here are some more resources to continue dismantling racism in your individual or organizational work.