Understanding commonly used terms, ideas related to racism, injustice

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Monday, June 15, 2020
Understanding commonly used terms about racism, inequality
Learn more about seven terms commonly used when discussing racism and racial injustice like systemic racism, white privilege, institutional racism, microaggression and white fragility.

The US is facing a reckoning about issues of racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others. Here are explanations of common terms and phrases used in discussions about racism, bias and prejudice as reported by ABC News.

Systemic racism refers to the rules, practices and customs once rooted in law with residual effects that reverberate throughout society, according to Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science and director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory University.

Example: While redlining is illegal, homes in formerly redlined communities often haven't appreciated at the same rate as in white suburban communities.

Structural racism is "a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with 'whiteness' and disadvantages associated with 'color' to endure and adapt over time," according to the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change.

Example: The school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts people of color.

"Once you get in that space of being in prison it locks you into a trajectory in life of competing for resources. Once you have the mark of a criminal, it invades every aspect of your life. You can't get an apartment or a job," Alyasah Sewell, an associate professor of sociology at Emory University and the founding director of The Race and Policing Project, explained to ABC News.

Institutional racism is racism that occurs within social and governmental institutions and refers to the blocking of people of color from the distribution of resources in a systematic way that benefits whites, Sewell said.

Example: People of color being charged higher interest rates than white people when taking out a bank loan.

Gillespie added that rules that do not allow for hairstyles such as locs, cornrows and braids are also an example of institutional racism: "It may not have been intended to discriminate, but it doesn't consider that difference in hair texture...The kid wearing dreadlocks doesn't get penalized in the same way as his classmate. It's about making rules that have a disparate impact on people of color."

White privilege "refers to whites' historical and contemporary advantages in access to quality education, decent jobs and livable wages, homeownership, retirement benefits" and wealth, according to the Aspen Institute. It exists regardless of that person's socioeconomic status.

Example: White people may have access to elite institutions or other social circles from a family legacy built during a time when people of color were not allowed such access.

White fragility is the negative emotional reaction some white people have when racism on various levels is called to their attention by people of color. It manifests when a conversation becomes less about what the person of color experienced and more about the white person's reaction.

"When you're trying to describe a system where there are inequities built into it, people start crying and talk about their experience and it acts as a barrier to people of color sharing it with white people because they can't handle it," Bailey explained.

Microaggressions are "quotidian racial slights that accumulate and make a person feel marginalized," Gillespie said, adding that microaggressions can manifest in everyday interactions and communication as the "small actions comments snide or snarky expressions that show their value in a structure."

Example: Not directly answering a black colleague who raised a question and instead directing your response to someone else who is white or perceived as less challenging to your beliefs.

White-splaining occurs "when a white person claims expertise on racial issues to a person of color," Gillespie said.

Example: When there are "meetings in which there are clear experts in the room on matters or race, those experts are ignored" and someone white without that background explains the issue.

Click here to read more from ABC News.