Race Literacy: A Glossary

It is important to have a shared language around basic racial literacy so we can name the different ways that racism manifests.

Racism is not static. It is organic, and it shifts and is shaped over time and place by the differential power relations played out through global, national, political, and economic events, the media, societal values and norms, as well as our policies and procedures.

It is important to recognise and understand racism(s) and then be able to change practice.

See this Race Literacy Glossary to aid your understanding.


The term ‘allyship’ has been used in a range of contexts, including to support

LGBT+ and disabled communities.

Although there is no single, widely accepted definition, ‘allyship’ refers to the continued acts of being an ally. An ally is a person who is not directly affected by a particular kind of discrimination (e.g., a white person fighting racism, a straight person fighting homophobia) but is invested in proactively supporting anti-discrimination efforts. A white ally may, for example, use their position as a white person to challenge racist behaviours, microaggressions, or banter, raise objections about policies that may exacerbate racial inequalities, and help to amplify the voices of those experiencing racism. An ally works alongside those experiencing racism and takes guidance from them, rather than centring themselves.


The active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.

Anti-racism acknowledges there is no ‘neutral’ position on racism.

Anti-Asian and Anti-Chinese racism

Anti-Asian racism is the specific exclusion and prejudice against people visibly (or perceived to be) of Eastern or South-East Asian heritage.

Related article: 

Anti-black racism

Anti-black racism is the specific exclusion and prejudice against people visibly (or perceived to be) of African descent. White people and people from other ethnic minority groups can enact anti-black policies and hold anti-black beliefs.

Related article:

Anti-Gypsy, Traveller and Roma racism

Members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities can often face harassment and discrimination on a daily basis as a result of negative stereotypes and deeply ingrained cultural prejudices. 


Offensive actions or statements fuelled by prejudice or stereotyping of Jewish people.

The University has adopted the IHRA definition of Antisemitism, which states:

  • Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.


An acronym for ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic’ that is used to refer to individuals from these ethnic backgrounds. The term is commonly used by the UK government and other public bodies in the UK.

The acronym BME (‘Black and minority ethnic’) is used in a similar way.

There are limitations to this term, particularly that it is reductive, assumes that minority ethnic individuals are a homogenous group, and fails to account for significant differences between ethnic groups. It is also important to recognise that terms such as ‘BAME’ are often labels placed upon groups, rather than identities with which the groups themselves have chosen to identify.

Black (as a political definition)

Some groups use the term ‘Black’ in a broad, political sense to refer to people in Britain who have shared histories of oppression and continue to experience racism and diminished opportunities in today’s society. These people are not necessarily solely from Black ethnic groups.


Caste is a system of rigid social stratification characterised by hereditary status and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law or religion. It originated in South Asia, and caste-based discrimination and harassment can persist in some environments among groups of South Asian descent.

Related article: 


Colourism is a global cultural, social construct with its roots deeply embedded in racism, exists within many groups, including Black, Asian, and Latino American communities.

Colourism can occur intra-racially (for instance, within groups) and interracially (for instance, across ethno-racial groups). It can manifest both interpersonally and systemically.

Related articles: 


A 1983 House of Lords decision in the case of Mandla-vs Dowell Leev defined an‘ethnic group’ as having the following features:

  • a long shared history of which the group is conscious as distinguishing it
  • from other groups and the memory of which it keeps alive
  • a cultural tradition of its own including family and social manners, often
  • but not necessarily associated with religious observance
  • a common, however distant, geographical origin
  • a common language and literature

It is therefore important to distinguish the term ‘ethnicity’ or ‘ethnic origin’ from the term ‘race’.

Everyone belongs to an ethnic group and has an ethnicity. Categorisations used by the UK government such as ‘White British’, ‘Black Caribbean’ or ‘Bangladeshi’ refer to ethnic groups.

Ethnic minority and minority ethnic

Both these terms refer to an ethnic group that is in the minority in a society. 'Ethnic minority' places the emphasis on ethnicity as the main issue. There can be a tendency in the UK to see 'ethnic' as synonymous with not-white (e.g. ‘ethnic shops’), and so the term could be perceived as implying the issue is with people not being white. As a consequence, the term tends to be reversed to refer to 'minority ethnic groups', to highlight the fact that everyone has an ethnicity and the issues being referred to relate to groups that are in the minority in the context of UK society.


As defined by the Equality Act 2010, harassment is unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic (including race) that has the ‘purpose or effect’ of either violating dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Therefore, behaviour may constitute harassment even if this is unintended by the perpetrator, provided it has the ‘effect’ of violating dignity or creating an offensive environment. 

Institutional racism

As defined by the Macpherson report, institutional racism is the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping with disadvantage minority ethnic people.

The term ‘institutional racism’ has been in usage since the 1960s, but was highlighted in the UK by the 1999 Macpherson report, prompted by the racially motivated murder of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the subsequent police and legal investigation. The then Home Secretary Jack Straw announced an independent inquiry into his death, conducted by the judge Sir William Macpherson. The Macpherson report made seventy recommendations to demonstrate commitment to ‘zero tolerance’ for racism in UK society and to enhance accountability for addressing racism, including in public sector spheres such as education.

The Macpherson report has prompted greater recognition of institutional racism in the UK. In particular, there has been an increase in research seeking to understand ‘everyday’ racism, both overt and subtle forms, that is happening within institutions, including the higher education sector, and how this can create or perpetuate inequalities between different ethnic groups. This has been reinforced by changes to legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010.


An approach from critical race theory and Black feminism that recognises the way structures of inequality can create specific oppressions relating to the synergy of more than one aspect of identity. It refers to situations of discrimination where, for example, a Black woman experiences discrimination where a Black man, or a White woman, does not.

Intersectional discrimination arises from the synergy of categories of difference such as race, gender, religion or belief, caste, sexuality, disability or socioeconomic background, rather than being additive or cumulative (as in cases of multiple discrimination). It goes beyond identity to highlight the social, economic and political structures that produce discrimination for groups at the cusps of the protected characteristics.


Offensive actions or statements fuelled by prejudice or stereotyping of Muslims.

Global Majority

Global Majority is a collective term that primarily speaks to and encourages those so-called to think of themselves as belonging to the global majority. It refers to people who are Black, Asian, Brown, dual-heritage, indigenous to the global south, and or have been racialised as 'ethnic minorities'. Globally, these groups currently represent approximately eighty per cent (80%) of the world's population making them the global majority.

Person of colour

Someone who does not consider themselves to be White. The phrase originated in America and is now in popular usage within the UK, although less commonly by public bodies.

The term has similar limitations to the term ‘BAME’ with regards to homogenising a large, diverse group of people and failing to account for the significant differences between ethnic groups.


‘Race’ is a social construct. Its changing manifestations reflect ideological attempts to legitimate domination in different social and historical contexts. Racism is therefore not about objective, measurable physical and social characteristics, but about relationships of domination and subordination. This can be demonstrated by the fact that the same individual can be racialised differently in different countries and cultures.

Evidence has shown that the genetic differences within ethnic groups are greater than those between different ethnic groups, and there is therefore no genetic or biological basis for defining race.

Many put the word ‘race’ in inverted commas to emphasise the fact that it is a social construct. While agreeing that race is socially constructed, UUK has chosen not to do so in this publication, on the grounds that race is real in the lived experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

‘Race’ as a protected characteristic

As defined by the Equality Act 2010, the protected characteristic of race includes colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origins.

Race-based hate crime

In England and Wales, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) defines hate crime as someone being hostile to another person because of their protected characteristic (including race) and showing this hostility by intimidation, harassment, damaging property, or violence. Such crimes motivated on the grounds of race would therefore be race-based hate crime. In Scotland, race hate crime is defined as any offence committed when there has been aggravation based on racial prejudice. In Northern Ireland, although not legally defined, ‘hate crime’ is generally used to describe criminal offences which are motivated by hostility or bias on the basis of race, religion (including sectarianism), sexual orientation, transgender or disability.

Race-based hate incident

A hate incident is any action motivated by hostility or prejudice based on protected characteristics, including race. When hate incidents are criminal offences, they become hate crimes.

In England and Wales, the police and CPS state that something should be reported as a hate incident if the victim (or anyone else present, such as a bystander) believes it to be. This is sometimes known as the ‘Macpherson definition’, after the definition of racist incident used in the 1999 Macpherson report (see also definition of ‘institutional racism’). Similarly, in Northern Ireland the Public Prosecution Service state that something should be reported as a hate incident if the victim perceives this to be the case.

In Scotland, at least one other independent source of evidence is needed to support the claim that an incident is a hate incident. The victim themselves cannot be the independent source of evidence.

Racial microaggressions

Everyday, subtle and insidious forms and acts of racism that send a denigrating message to those who belong to racially minoritized groups. Microaggressions are likely to be less blatant than more overt forms of racism or racial harassment, and the perpetrator may often be oblivious to the offence they have caused.

Racial microaggressions may not be witnessed by others and, if they are, may not be recognized as such by bystanders.

While individual microaggressive acts may not always meet the Equality Act 2010 definition of harassment, they could lead to behaviour which does meet the definition through repetition or escalation of the behaviour. Microaggressive acts may often have a cumulative effect on those experiencing them.

Reporting party

A student or member of staff who has made a disclosure or report.

Responding party

A staff member or student who has a disclosure or report made against them.

White privilege

White privilege can be defined as the inherent advantages possessed by a White person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.

Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay ‘Unpacking the invisible knapsack’ provides a metaphor of white privilege as an invisible rucksack, which White people carry, providing them with mostly hidden advantages in a society where racism is prevalent. This is in opposition to the detriments experienced by those who are the objects of racism. Her essay includes numerous examples of white privilege, including: representation of your ethnic background in media and positions of power, not fearing that your personal achievements will be ascribed by others as due to special treatment on the grounds of ethnicity, and an assumption that you will not suffer unfair treatment from authorities as a result of your race.

The concept of white privilege also implies that being White is seen as ‘normal’ or the default in society, while others are ‘different’ and othered. This can be seen in use of the term ‘non-white’ to describe individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds, for example.

White privilege does not mean that all White people are privileged in all respects, but that race is not a factor that will systemically disadvantage or hinder them in a racist society.

Related terms include:

White fragility

The state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable to a White person, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviours, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.

White complicity

The way in which White people may contribute to systems that maintain and perpetuate racism, even when they may consider themselves to be non-racist.

The majority of these definitions are taken from the UUK Report Tackling racial harassment in higher education.