Social Justice Terminology

This is a list of carefully researched and thoughtfully discussed definitions for key social justice terms. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is a good place to start. If there is a term that you feel should be included here, please let us know.

A system of oppression that includes discrimination and social prejudice against people with intellectual, emotional, and physical disabilities; their exclusion; and the valuing of people and groups that do not have disabilities.

A system of oppression that works against the young and the old and values individuals in their 30s to 50s.

A person who is a member of an advantaged social group who takes a stand against oppression, works to eliminate oppressive attitudes and beliefs in themselves and their communities, and works to interrogate and understand their privilege.

The systematic discrimination against and oppression of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture and traditions.

An identity term for people who either do not feel sexual attraction or do not feel desire for a sexual partner or partners. Some asexual individuals may still have romantic attractions.

The irrational hatred or fear of people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, or fluid.

An identity term for people who are attracted to people of two genders, usually to both men and women. Bi* is used as an inclusive abbreviation for the bi, pan, and fluid community.

The designation that refers to a person’s biological, morphological, hormonal, and genetic composition. One’s sex is typically assigned at birth and classified as either male or female.

Individuals whose gender identity and expression line up with their birth-assigned sex.

The system of oppression that values cisgender people; upholds the gender binary; and marginalizes, oppresses, and makes invisible the lives and experiences of transgender people.

The institutional, cultural, societal, and individual beliefs and practices that assign value to people based on their socioeconomic class. Members of more privileged socioeconomic classes are thus seen as having greater value.

Thinking and acting in ways that support dominant systems of power, privilege, and oppression. Both privileged and oppressed groups can collude with oppression.

The process by which LGBTQI individuals recognize, accept, typically appreciate, and often celebrate their sexual orientation, sexuality, or gender identity/expression. Coming out varies across culture and community.

When members of a more powerful group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a less powerful group.

Judging another culture solely based on the standards and values of one’s own culture. Also, a belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own nation or ethnic group.

An identity term for a male-identified person who is attracted to other male-identified people.

Socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society deems masculine or feminine. This social construct is often linked to and confused with the biological construct of sex.

A social construction of gender in which there are two distinct and opposite genders: male/masculine/men and female/feminine/women.

A person’s presentation of their gender. These outward expressions of gender can be intentional or unintentional and involve one’s mannerisms, clothing, hair, speech, clothing, and activities (and more).

A person’s innate sense of their own gender: being a man, a woman, a girl, a boy, in between, or outside of the gender binary.

An identity term for a person who may not identify with and/or express themselves within the gender binary.

The individual, societal, cultural, and institutional beliefs and practices that favor heterosexuality and assume that heterosexuality is the only natural, normal, or acceptable sexual orientation. This creates an imbalance in power leading to systemic, institutional, pervasive, and routine mistreatment of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

An identity term for a female-identified person who is attracted to male-identified people or a male-identified person who is attracted to female-identified people.

The fear, hatred, and intolerance of people who identify or are perceived as gay or lesbian.

When people from targeted groups believe, act on, or enforce dominant systems of oppression against other members of targeted groups.

The fear and self-hatred of one’s own identity or identity group. Internalized oppression is learned and is based on the acceptance of oppressive stereotypes, attitudes, and beliefs about one’s own identity group.

A feminist sociological model and/or lens for critical analysis that focuses on the intersections of multiple, mutually-reinforcing systems of oppression, power, and privilege. Intersectional theorists look at how the individual experience is affected by multiple axes of oppression and privilege. Variables include, but are not limited to: race, gender, ethnicity, religion, ability, education, sexual orientation, sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, class, first language, citizenship, and age.

A person whose genitals, secondary sex characteristics, chromosomes, and/or hormone levels do not fit into the medical/societal definition of male or female. This is the preferred term to hermaphrodite.

The irrational fear or hatred of Islam, Muslims, Islamic traditions and practices, and, more broadly, those who appear to be Muslim.

An identity term for a female-identified person who is attracted to other female-identified people.

The systemic and pervasive nature of social inequality woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry, and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures that saturate most aspects of life in our society.

  • Oppression denotes structural and material constraints that significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility.
  • Oppression also signifies a hierarchical relationship in which dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups.
  • Oppression resides not only in external social institutions and norms but also within the human psyche.
  • Eradicating oppression ultimately requires struggle against all its forms. Building coalitions among diverse people offers the most promising strategies for challenging oppression systematically.

An identity term for a person who is attracted to people of all genders: men, women, transgender individuals, and genderqueers.

The ability to get what you want.

A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or group toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics.

A group of unearned cultural, legal, social, and institutional rights extended to a group based on their social group membership. Individuals with privilege are considered to be the normative group, leaving those without access to this privilege invisible, unnatural, deviant, or just plain wrong. Most of the time, these privileges are automatic and most individuals in the privileged group are unaware of them. Some people who can “pass” as members of the privileged group might have access to some levels of privilege.

A term for individuals whose gender identity/expression and/or sexual orientation does not conform to societal norms. This reclaimed term is increasingly being used as an inclusive umbrella term for the LGBTQIA community.

A word that substitutes for a noun. Most people have pronouns that they expect others to use for them. Most cisgender individuals use pronouns that line up with their birth-assigned sex. Many genderqueer and trans folks have selected pronouns that best suit who they are and sometimes generate new terms.

Oppression against individuals or groups based on their actual or perceived racial identity.

Oppression against individuals or groups based on their religious beliefs and practices.

A system of oppression that privileges men, subordinates women, and devalues practices associated with women.

A person’s sexual and emotional attractions, not necessarily dependent on behavior. Terms associated with sexual orientation include: gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, heterosexual, and more.

A process and a goal. A commitment to a socially just world and the committed actions to make that world a reality. “The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.… Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others, their society, and the broader world in which we live.” (Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice).

An umbrella term for people who do not identify with their birth-assigned sex and/or whose gender expression does not conform to societal expectations. Trans* is used as an inclusive abbreviation.

People who change their presentation to express their gender identity. Examples of these transitions might include changing one’s name, pronouns, hair, or manner of dress; and medical transitions, like gender affirmation surgery and hormone replacement therapy.

The fear and hatred of transgender people.

The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to share the norms and values of society that Whites receive, tacitly or explicitly, by virtue of their position in a racist society.

The fear and hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.