Diversity Glossary

May 15, 2010

Below are just a few terms and definitions related to diversity and inclusion work. The majority of the definitions below can be found in the National MultiCultural Institute's Diversity Glossary, which also includes terminology related to legislative acts, "ism," slang words and phrases, and acceptable and unacceptable terms for various populations.

Accommodation (cultural)
A process through which an individual or group adjusts to new circumstances by creating a new culture to substitute the old; incorporating aspects of other cultures as a form of adapting to a new environment or society.1
colorblind (adj.)
Term used to describe personal, group, and institutional policies or practices that do not consider race or ethnicity as a determining factor. However, many people take offense to the term “colorblind” because it de-emphasizes, or ignores, race and ethnicity, a large part of one’s identity (e.g. “When I look at you, I don’t see a Latino/a, I just see you.”). Instead, many people prefer that individuals and organizations that are supportive of diversity acknowledge and respect differences (e.g. “when I look at you, I see that you are Latino/a and I respect the ways in which we are different”).
community (n.)               
A group of people in a given geographic area (i.e. the Brooklyn community, the Berkeley community) or a group of people with shared interests and experiences (i.e. the Asian American community, the Deaf community).
creative class (n.)
A term coined by social scientist Richard Florida whose book, "Rise of the Creative Class," caused a national ripple in the way some theorists, policy makers and practitioners view regional and urban economic development.
The "creative class" is an economic class of people whose function - to create "meaningful new forms" and designs that are readily transferable and widely used and engage in "creative problem solving" - "underpins and informs its members' social cultural and lifestyle choice." According to Florida, the creative class consists of people who bring economic value through their creativity and are defined by their "creative capacity," and are divided into two groups. The first, a "super creative core" of scientists, engineers, professors, poets, novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects, nonfiction writers, editors, think tank researchers, analysts and other opinion-makers, and the second, "creative professionals," in the "knowledge-intensive industries such as high-tech sectors, financial services, the legal and healthcare professions, and business management." 2
cross-cultural (adj.)      
Relating to more than one culture. Often refers to practices (such as communication, counseling, conflict resolution) that deal with more than one culture and incorporate the belief- and value- systems of the cultures involved.
cultural ally (n.)               
An individual who actively supports others who experience racism and/or discrimination. For example, a cultural ally challenges discriminatory statements, even when s/he is in the company of members comprised solely of people from his or her own “identity group.” A cultural ally also recognizes when s/he is the recipient of privileges awarded to him/her because of race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation or ability, and works to end systemic or institutionalized oppression.
cultural awareness (n.)
An internal change in one’s attitudes and values resulting in openness and flexibility in relation to others. Acknowledgement of ones own personal cultural assumptions and biases and how these shape individual values, beliefs and behaviors; recognition and respect of cultural difference in others.
cultural competence (n.)
“A process of learning that leads to an ability to effectively respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by the presence of social cultural diversity in a defined social system.” 3
cultural competence (organizational) (n.)           
In an organizational context, cultural competency means managing diversity in ways that create a climate in which the potential advantages of diversity for organizational or group performance are maximized, while the potential disadvantages are minimized.
cultural patterns (n.)     
The behaviors, values, and beliefs exhibited by some members of cultural groups as indicators of their cultural/ethnic/linguistic/gendered identities and affiliations. Cultural patterns differ from stereotypes in that they are not fixed or static across time; nor is there the expectation that all members of a given group will exhibit these behaviors, values, and beliefs. While knowledge of cultural patterns may prove useful in relating to others, they should not be relied upon as a way of interpreting behavior.
disability (n.)
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines a “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity;” a person who is disabled “has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment.” 4
discrimination (n.)         
Unfavorable or unfair treatment towards an individual or group based on their race, sex, color, religion, national origin, age, physical/mental abilities, or sexual orientation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public facilities, employment, education, and housing.   Protected classes include women, ethnic minorities, religious groups, and persons with disabilities, among others.
diversity (n.)     
Psychological, physical, and social differences that occur among any and all individuals, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic class, age, gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical ability, and learning styles. A diverse group, community or organization, is one in which a variety of social and cultural characteristics exist. 
equity (n.)         
Fairness and justice, especially pertaining to rights and protection under the law.  
ethnicity (n.)
A specific racial, religious, or cultural (including linguistic) heritage. The meaning of ethnicity is not static and, within the United States, is often times used interchangeably with nationality. However, in many countries, ethnicity is determined by regional, political, or linguistic affiliation, rather than nationality, such as: Kurds who possess different nationalities (Turkish, Iranian, Syrian, Armenian, etc.) but continue to identify ethnically as Kurdish; individuals of the Basque region of northern Spain (where Basque and not Spanish is the original language) who are Spanish by nationality, but may identify ethnically as Basque; individuals who are Kenyan by nationality who ethnically identify as (Asian) Indians.
gender (n.)        
Sexual classification based on the social construction of the categories of “men” and “women.” Gender differs from one’s biological sex (male or female) in that one can assume a gender that is different from one’s biological sex.
gender identity (n.)
Gender identity can be described as “a person’s internal sense of being male or female.” 5
GLBTQ (LGBTQ) (n.)(adj.)            
The acronym means literally “Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender” or “Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender.” Both are widely accepted terms that refer to individuals who may identify with this community. The addition of the “Q’ represents people who identify as “queer” or “questioning” (sometimes abbreviated with a question mark).
handicapped (adj.)
An offensive term used to describe individuals with a physical or mental disability. This term “should be avoided in describing a disability, but can be used when citing laws and situations.” A “handicap” can be defined as a disadvantage or hindrance imposed upon a person or group.
inclusion (n.)
A practice of encouraging belonging and civic participation; often used in reference to historically marginalized groups such as racial and ethnic minorities, women and the disabled. Also refers to the practice of maintaining heterogeneous classrooms, particularly integrating students with disabilities in regular classrooms. 6
institutional racism (n.)               
Those accepted, established, and respected forces, social arrangements, institutions, structures, policies, precedents, and systems of social relations that operate and are manipulated in such a way as to allow or acquiesce to acts of individual racism. Institutional racism deprives certain individuals within a society a chance to have equal opportunity to social, economic, and political advancement. Institutional racism is less visible and identifiable, but no less destructive to human life and human dignity, than individual acts of racism. 7  
little person (n.)
A person of short stature; a person living with dwarfism, a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4'10" or shorter, among both men and women. Dwarfism is caused by a genetic condition called achondroplasia which resulting in disproportionately short arms and legs. The term “midget” dates back to 1865 and has in the past been used interchangeably with dwarf. However, today the use of the term “midget” is considered offensive due to its historic association as a word used to describe people of short stature who were displayed for public amusement.  8
mainstream (n.)(adj.)   
Refers to the dominant (or majority) cultural norms of a given society. In the United States, the “mainstream” culture encompasses the language, values, beliefs, and behaviors of the white/European population. 
majority culture (n.)      
A culture (language, values, beliefs, and behaviors) of the dominant or majority sector of a given population. To varying degrees, majority culture in the U.S. has historically afforded privileges to those who are white, heterosexual, and Christian.
managing diversity (v.)
A process in an organization of creating and maintaining a positive environment where the differences of all personnel and/or clientele are recognized, understood, and valued, so that all can reach their full potential and maximize their contributions to the organization or cause.  9
marginalization (n.)       
Social exclusion; the placement of minority groups and cultures outside mainstream society. Accordingly, all that varies from the norm of the mainstream is devalued and at times perceived as deviant and regressive. The term implies that “marginalized” groups, often the subjugated minority populations, are deprived of a fair and/or proportionate share of political, economic, and social resources.
melting pot (n.)
A term used to describe the mix of cultures found amongst the United States population. Some individuals may take offense to the use of this term in that it implies the loss of individual identity, or one’s native culture, in order to adopt or blend with a generic identity, or the mainstream culture of the U.S.
microinequities (n.)
"Apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’" 10 Much like daily indignities, micro-inequities perpetuate cycles of oppression and discrimination.
minority (n.)(adj.)
A term often used in the United States to refer to persons who have historically been in the demographic minority when compared to whites of European descent. It is important to note that some people take offense to the use of the term “minority” due to its negative and diminutive implications.
multiculturalism (n.)     
Theory and practice that promotes the peaceful coexistence of multiple races, ethnicities, and cultures in a given society, celebrating and sustaining language diversity, religious diversity, and social equity. Multiculturalism in the United States is often presented as an alternative to the white/Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) social structures that determine much of mainstream culture in the U.S. The term is also often used in reference to educational curricula that include and emphasize the world views and histories of cultures outside the historical focus of Western Europe.   
native (n.)          
Native is often used to refer to “original,” or “inherited,” traits of an individual, or that with which one is associated by birth. Native peoples are the original, or “first” peoples of a given geographic region. However, use of the term “native” or “natives” may carry negative or pejorative historical connotations in that the term was used by European colonizers to refer to indigenous populations whom they deemed “savage” and “uncivilized.”
prejudice (n.)   
Unfounded negative beliefs or judgments made about an individual or group prior to any actual knowledge or experience involving that person or group; hatred of an individual or group based on superficial knowledge, i.e. stereotypes.
privilege (n.)
An unearned advantage or benefit enjoyed by members of a group, a phenomenon derived through a history of oppression of other groups. 11
race (n.)              
A grouping of human beings based on a shared geographic dispersion, common history, nationality, ethnicity, or genealogical lineage. Race is also defined as a grouping of human beings determined by distinct physical characteristics that are genetically transmitted. 
In their book Racial Formation in the United States, Michael Omi and Howard Winant argue that the concept of race as we know it today did not exist before the rise of European colonization in the Americas. They state race to be less a biological given and more “a socially constructed way of differentiating human beings.”  12  
racial identity (n.)
A sense of belonging to a specific group; a perception of a shared racial heritage which impacts personal feelings and attitudes concerning distinguishable racial groups.  13
retarded (adj.)
Mental retardation can be defined as “a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before age 18.”  14 However, some may take offense to the use of “retarded” to describe something perceived as unpleasant or undesirable (e.g. “that’s so retarded”).
stereotype (n.)
A positive or negative set of beliefs held by an individual about the characteristics of a certain group. The term “stereotype” first originated in the late 1790s when two European printers invented an image setting process called “stereotyping.” The term has since evolved to mean the fixing of intellectual (as opposed to printed) images. Stereotypes isolate and emphasize one perceived aspect of the target group and apply it, as a given, to the whole group. Stereotypes deny complexity and diversity of the target group. Word of mouth, television, movies, newspapers, music, comic books, textbooks, and even scientific research can spread stereotypes widely.  15
Stereotypes ignore a group’s humanity by depicting it as having only certain traits and not others. Stereotypes, both positive and negative, impair our ability to communicate with and understand each other. They can foster hatred and aggression towards certain groups while granting other groups a feeling of entitlement to superiority and the right to subjugate others.  16
street culture (n.)           
A phrase historically used to refer to the way of life of the homeless, unemployed, and destitute. In the era of industrialization, the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the urban “street” was overrun with slums, poor sanitation, high pollution, poverty, prostitution, violence, and crime, harsh realities faced by the working classes and the urban poor. Recent marketing of “street culture” through fashion, film, and music, to younger generations mimics a certain resilience, artistic flair, urban savvy, and street smart resourcefulness that urban and inner city residents supposedly possess. The hip hop and rap music industries have attempted to depict street culture by addressing issues such as life on the street, gang warfare, poverty, prostitution, the drug trade, and life in or after prison.
tokenism (n.)   
The policy of making only a perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture toward the accomplishment of a goal, such as racial integration; the practice of hiring or appointing a token number of people from underrepresented groups in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules.  17
tolerance (n.)
Recognition and respect of values, beliefs, and behaviors that differ from one’s own.
unearned privilege (n.)
Privileges accorded to some individuals because they possess or demonstrate certain characteristics associated with the dominant culture in society, such as being heterosexual, white, or male. These privileges are deeply ingrained into U.S. culture and for this reason it is hard to identify and relinquish them.
white privilege (n.)
Concept pertaining to privileges and advantages afforded to white persons not enjoyed by members of racial and ethnic minority groups. The term was popularized by Peggy McIntosh who in her essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” writes: “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage… I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”  18
zebra (n.)
Derogatory term for person of mixed race. 19

1.            Rice, R. P. & Dolgin, K. G. (2005) The Adolescent: Development, Relationships, and Culture (11th edition.) Pearson Education, Inc.
2.            Florida, R. (2002). Rise of the Creative Class. Basic Books: New York, NY.
3.            Cox, J, and Beale, R. (1997). Developing competence to manage diversity: Readings, cases and activities. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
4.            U.S. Department of Labor. Office of Disability Employment Policy. Online at: www.dol.gov/odep/
5.            Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PLFAG). Online at: www.pflag.org.
6.            McGraw Hill Human Diversity in Education Glossary, Online at: http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072486694/student_view0/glossary.html
7.            University of Maryland, Diversity Database. Online at: www.inform.umd.edu
8.            Online at Little People America, Inc. Frequently Asked Questions: www.lpaonline.org
9.            US Coast Guard, Online at: http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-w/g-wt/g-wtl/divdef.htm
10.          Rowe, M. "Micro-Affirmations and Micro-Inequities." Journal of the International Ombudsman Association, Volume 1, Number 1, March 2008.
11.          Dewees, M. (2001). “Building cultural competence for work with diverse families: Strategies from the privileged side.” Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social W ork, 9 (3/4), 33-51.
12.          Omi, M. and Winant, H. (1994). Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge: New York, pp. 61 – 67.
13.          Helms, 1990, 1994; Mitchell & Dell, 1992 as cited in Brown, S., Parham, T.A., & Yonker, R. (1996). “Influence of cross-cultural training course on racial identity attitudes of white women and men: Preliminary perspectives.” Journal of Counseling & Development, 74 (5), 510-516.
14.          American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD). FAQ on Intellectual Disability. Online at: http://www.aamr.org/content_104.cfm .
15.          Lhamon, Jr., W. T. Racial stereotypes, history. Online at: www.africana.com.
16.          Introductory Essay: Stereotypes. (1996). The Balch Institute: Philadelphia, PA.
17.          The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. © 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Online at: http://dictionary.reference.com/
18.         McIntosh, P. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Online at: http://mmcisaac.faculty.asu.edu/emc598ge/Unpacking.html#daily
19.          Ryerson University School of Journamlism. DiversityWatch. http://www.diversitywatch.ryerson.ca/glossary/z.htm