Anti-Oppression Terminology

The writers, contributors, and readers of the Policy all come from different backgrounds of experiences and knowledge around anti-oppression work. Thus, prior to presenting the Policy, we have provided a list of key words and shared definitions to help guide reading and understanding. It is important to note that many of these terms change with time and community preference; updates will be made accordingly. Many of these definitions are pulled from other organizations and experts, who are cited through linked superscripts, as well as the end of the Policy.

Terms for the Bigger Picture

Anti-oppression: The continuous and active practice of challenging and removing oppression perpetuated by power inequalities in society – both systemic oppression and its individual expressions.

Discrimination: “The unequal allocation of goods, resources, and services, and the limitation of access to full participation in society based on individual membership in a particular social group; reinforced by law, policy, and cultural norms that allow for differential treatment on the basis of identity.”2

  • Disparity: “a lack of equality or similarity, especially in a way that is not fair”8; while disparity is often a term used to describe differences in healthcare and health outcomes by “individual membership in a particular social group,” it applies to other “allocation of goods, resources, and services”2 as well. The presence of disparities indicates the impact of discrimination and/or oppression, not that a particular social group is bringing hardship upon themselves.

Social Power: “Access to resources that enhance one’s chances of getting what one needs in order to lead a comfortable, productive and safe life”2

  • Privilege: “Unearned access to resources (social power) that are only readily available to some people because of their social group membership; an advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by one societal group above and beyond the common advantage of all other groups. Privilege is often invisible to those who have it.”2
  • Marginalized Groups: “Social groups that are negatively valued, considered to be inferior, abnormal, or dependent and given limited access to resources and social power”; also referred to as “target” or “oppressed” groups.2

“Discrimination + Social Power = Oppression”2

Oppression: “When an agent group (i.e., those with Social Power or Privilege), whether knowingly or unknowingly, abuses a target group (i.e., those without, or with less, Social Power; those belonging to Marginalized Group(s)).”2 “Oppression happens at all levels, reinforced by societal norms, institutional biases, interpersonal interactions and individual beliefs.”3 Oppression is also “rooted historically and thus can manifest in more subtle ways overtime.”2

  • Systemic Oppression: characterized by practices, policies, laws, and standards that disadvantage a target group.
    • Societal/Cultural: collective ideas about what is “right”3
    • Institutional: legal system, education system, public policy, hiring practices, and media images3
  • Interpersonal Oppression:. The idea that one group holds a higher status in society over another and therefore uses this normalization of the imbalanced power dynamic to facilitates the enactment of control over their inferior counterparts — characterized by actions, behaviors, and language3
  • Individual Oppression:  the  internalization of oppressive behaviors that reflects  both institutional and interpersonal forms of oppression that are  characterized by feelings, beliefs, and values3. This form of oppression is most known for creating an inferiority complex that is manifested through an inability to counteract oppressive behaviors onto a person, group, or community.
    • Implicit Bias: “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.”9 The concept of implicit bias has been criticized for numerous reasons10, including that it may allow agent groups to excuse oppressive behavior.

“Most individuals are both a target and an agent of oppression…”3

Intersectionality: Legal scholar and professor, Kimberle Crenshaw, coined the term intersectionality in 1989 specifically to center the experience of Black women (rather than the “women’s experience” or “the Black experience” independently; Crenshaw, 1989, p. 140).11 Today, Crenshaw clarifies that intersectionality is “a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is  how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”12

Equality versus Equity versus Justice and Liberation15

  • Equality: “…it is assumed that everyone will benefit from the same supports.”
  • Equity: “…individuals are given different supports to make it possible for them to have equal access…”
  • Justice: “…the cause of the inequity was addressed. The systemic barrier has been removed.”
  • Liberation: when justice is real and lasting such that oppression no longer exists.

Reproductive Justice: A group of Black women, the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, coined the term in 1994 prior to attending the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. Reproductive justice, distinct from reproductive rights and health, is “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”13 Reproductive justice frames reproductive autonomy as “impacted by power inequities inherent in our society’s institutions, environment, economics, and culture.”14

Community Identity Terms

AFAB and AMAB: “Acronyms meaning ‘assigned female/assigned male at birth’ (also designated female/male at birth or female/male assigned at birth). No one, whether cis, trans, or non-binary, or agender gets to choose what sex they’re assigned at birth. This term is preferred to ‘biological male/female’, male/female bodied’, natal male/female’, and ‘born male/female’ which are inaccurate.”1

BIPOC: An umbrella term and acronym which stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.6 The term represents a shift from POC (People of Color) in order to capture the distinct oppressions of Black and Indigenous communities rather than conflating them.7

Cisgender/Cis: “Term for someone who exclusively identifies as their sex assigned at birth. The term cisgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.”1

Latinx: a pan-ethnic gender neutral or nonbinary alternative to “Latino/Latina” intended to push for more inclusivity5; the term appears to vary in its use across age, ethnicity, and other factors.6

  • Chicano/Chicana: “someone who is native of, or descends from, Mexico and who lives in the United States.”20
  • Latino/Latina: “refers to people of Latin American descent (…) includes Brazilians and excludes people from Spain”5
  • Hispanic: “refers to people from Spain or Spanish speaking origin. For example, Hispanic would include people from Spain and not Brazil where Portuguese is predominantly spoken. (…) The term Hispanic has been highly rejected due to its ties with Spain, which colonized much of Latin America. Thus, the term Latino is used as an alternative to Hispanic.”5

LGBTQ2S+:  An umbrella term and acronym which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two spirited, and other marginalized sexual  (e.g., asexual) and gender (e.g. nonbinary) identities.4 For definitions of each sexual orientation and gender identity named in this definition, click here.

Transgender/Trans: “Encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.”1 

Other Terms in the Policy

Anti-racism: “Being antiracist is fighting against racism.” “Being antiracist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of antiracist choices we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or antiracist is not about who you are; it is about what you do.16

Growth Mindset: the belief that a person’s intelligence and abilities are able to be changed, adapted, and developed, which often leads to a pursuit of challenges, persistence, and learning from experience; Growth Mindset is the opposite of a Fixed Mindset, which is characterized by a belief that a person’s intelligence and abilities are static and unable to be changed, which often leads to a disregard for feedback, easily giving up, and avoiding challenges.17

Non-Violent Communication (NVC): also called Compassionate or Collaborative Communication, NVC is a method of communication developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. in the 1960s which focuses on empathy, the recognition of all people’s experiences, and speaking from personal experience, rather than judgment, after reflection; in this way, one person’s experience is not cancelled out in order to validate the experience of another. NVC suggests that people may resort to violent communication methods when they do not recognize, or have not been shown, more effective strategies for conflict resolution.18

Savior Complex: “A psychological construct which makes a person feel the need to save other people. This person has a strong tendency to seek people who are perceived as desperately in  need of help and to assist them, often sacrificing their own needs for these people.”19  While this definition may not appear entirely negative, the Savior Complex may be characterized by a sense that one is better than others and knows how to best meet their needs; and that, by helping others, the Savior may alleviate their own guilt. This is most commonly discussed through the White Savior Complex.


1. Definitions. (2020, April 15). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

2. Social Justice Definitions. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

3. Goldbach, J. (2020, November 05). Diversity Toolkit: A Guide to Discussing Identity, Power and Privilege. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

4. APA RESOLUTION on Opposing Discriminatory Laws, Policies, and Practices Aimed at LGBTQ+ Persons [PDF]. (2020, February). American Psychological Association.

5. Hispanic vs. Latinos vs. Latinx Explained. (2020, September 16). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

6. The BIPOC Project. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

7. Grady, C. (2020, June 30). Why the term “BIPOC” is so complicated, explained by linguists [News Article]. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

8. DISPARITY: Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

9. Understanding Implicit Bias. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

10. Gawronski, B. (2019). Six Lessons for a Cogent Science of Implicit Bias and Its Criticism. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(4), 574-595. doi:10.1177/1745691619826015

11. Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), Article 8. Available at:

12. Steinmetz, K. (2020, February 20). Kimberlé Crenshaw on What Intersectionality Means Today. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

13. Reproductive Justice. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

14. National Council of Jewish Women and Thorne-Thomsen, A. (n.d.). Understanding Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice An NCJW Primer [PDF]. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

15. Kuttner, P. (updated, 2016, November 10). The problem with that equity vs. equality graphic you’re using. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

16. Being Antiracist. (2020, October 09). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

17. Gross-Loh, C. (2016, December 16). How Praise Became a Consolation Prize [News Article]. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

18. Manske, J. (n.d.). NVC Instruction Guide [PDF].

19. Benton, S., MS. (2017, February 06). The Savior Complex, Why good intentions may have negative outcomes [News Article]. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from

20. Generating Engagement and New Initiatives for All Latinos, Exploratorium. (2017). It is Hispanic, Chicano/Chicana, Latino/Latina, or Latinx? [PDF]. Retrieved April 14th, 2021, from