Understanding Anti-Racism

The terminology surrounding racism and anti-racism is dynamic and has evolved throughout history. Demonstrating dedication to anti-racism and honouring the motivations behind these changes involves familiarizing oneself with how these terms have changed and selecting the language that aligns with current norms. Here we offer an opportunity to learn about anti-racism and consider the meaning of the following keywords.

Note: The resources shared external to Western University are offered as points of consideration, not an implied endorsement.


Race is a term used to classify people into groups based principally on physical traits (phenotypes) such as skin colour. Racial categories are not based on science or biology but on differences that society has created (i.e., “socially constructed”), with significant consequences for people’s lives. Race is not the same as ancestry. Racial categories may vary over time and place and can overlap with ethnic, cultural, or religious groupings (Ontario Government, 2022).


Racism "is any attitude, action, institutional structure, or social policy that subordinates persons or groups because of their racial group membership"(Sue and Spanierman, 2020). It is "prejudice plus power", which leads to disparities and inequities between groups of people based on their racial group because of the ideology of one race considered superior or inferior to another. It can be openly displayed in racial jokes and slurs or hate crimes, but it is also more deeply rooted in attitudes, values, and stereotypical beliefs perpetuated over time. Racism occurs at four levels or dimensions: internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and structural (Race Forward, 2023).


Individual racism includes internalized and interpersonal racism.

Internalized Racism

Internalized Racism lies within individuals. These are private beliefs and biases about race that reside inside our own minds. For some people, this can be internalized privilege, entitlement, and superiority; for people of colour, this can be internalized oppression. Examples: prejudice, xenophobia, conscious and unconscious bias about race, influenced by white supremacy (Race Forward, 2023).

Interpersonal Racism

Interpersonal Racism occurs between individuals, including bias, bigotry, and discrimination based on race. Once we bring our private beliefs about race into our interactions with others, we are now in the interpersonal realm. Examples: public expressions of prejudice and hate, and microaggressions between individuals (Race Forward, 2023).

Systemic Racism includes institutional and structural racism

Institutional Racism

Institutional Racism occurs within institutions. It involves unjust policies, practices, procedures, and outcomes that work better for dominant groups with power, whether intentional or not. Example: A school district that concentrates students of colour in the most overcrowded, under-funded schools with the least experienced teachers (Race Forward, 2023).

Structural Racism

Structural Racism is racial inequities across institutions, policies, social structures, history, and culture. Structural racism highlights how racism operates as a system of power with multiple interconnected, reinforcing, and self-perpetuating components which result in racial inequities across all indicators for success. Structural racism is the racial inequity that is deeply rooted and embedded in our history and culture and our economic, political, and legal systems. Examples: The “racial wealth gap,” where White persons on aggregate have greater intergenerational wealth when compared to people of colour, resulting from the history and current reality of institutional racism in multiple systems (Race Forward, 2023).

Racial Prejudice

Racial prejudice is discriminatory or derogatory attitudes based on assumptions related to race or skin colour. Racial prejudice could be directed toward White individuals, but it is not considered Racism because racism is “prejudice+power” based on power structures on aggregate in the Canadian context (Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center, 2021).


Racialization is the process through which groups come to be socially constructed as races, based on characteristics such as race (perceived phenotype), ethnicity, language, economics, religion, culture, politics, etc. (Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2023).

Racialized (person or group)

Racialized persons and/or groups can have racial meanings attributed to them in ways that negatively impact their social, political, and economic life. This includes but is not necessarily limited to people classified as “visible minorities” under the Canadian census and may include people impacted by antisemitism and Islamophobia (Ontario Government, 2022).


Discrimination "means a distinction, intentional or not, based on a prohibited ground, which has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations, or disadvantages on an individual or group not imposed on others, or which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits, and advantages available to other members of society" (Non-Discrimination/Harassment Policy, Western University, 2017).

Among the prohibited grounds are race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, and ethnic origin, which is racial discrimination. Other prohibited grounds are citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status, or disability, and additional grounds as may be designated as prohibited grounds in the Ontario Human Rights Code from time to time (Ontario Human Rights Commission).


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

               -NAC International Perspectives: Women and Global Solidarity


"Anti-Racism is an active way of seeing and being in the world, in order to transform it. Because racism occurs at all levels and spheres of society (and can function to produce and maintain exclusionary "level" and "spheres"), Anti-Racism education/activism is necessary in all aspects of society. In other words, it does not happen exclusively in the workplace, in the classroom, or in selected aspects of our lives."

              -Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre



Anti-Oppression is the strategies, theories, actions and practices that actively challenge systems of oppression on an ongoing basis in one's daily life and in social justice/change work. Anti-oppression work seeks to recognize the oppression that exists in our society and attempts to mitigate its effects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities. Oppression operates at different levels (from individual to institutional to cultural) and so anti-oppression must as well.

Though they go hand in hand, anti-oppression is not the same as diversity & inclusion. Diversity & Inclusion (which are defined in another tab) have to do with the acknowledgment, valuing, and celebration of difference, whereas Anti-Oppression challenges the systemic biases that devalue and marginalize difference. Diversity & Inclusion and Anti-Oppression are two sides of the same coin--one doesn't work without the other--but they are not interchangeable. (Simmons University Library, 2023).


Ontario Government. Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism (Updated: April 13, 2022). Glossary of Terms. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/document/data-standards-identification-and-monitoring-systemic-racism/glossary

Race Forward. (2023). What is Racial Equity? Retrieved from https://www.raceforward.org/what-racial-equity-0

Ontario Human Rights Commission. Racial Discrimination, Race and Racism Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/racial-discrimination-race-and-racism-fact-sheet

Canadian Race Relations Foundation. (2023). Glossary of Terms. Retrieved from https://crrf-fcrr.ca/glossary-of-terms/

University of Western Ontario. (2023). POLICY 1.35 – Non-Discrimination/Harassment/Sexual Misconduct Policy. Retrieved September 11, 2023, from https://www.uwo.ca/univsec/pdf/policies_procedures/section1/mapp135.pdf

Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center (ACLRC). (2021). Anti-Racism. Retrieved from https://www.aclrc.com/antiracism

Simmons University Library. (January 9, 2023). Anti-Oppression Resources. Retrieved from https://simmons.libguides.com/anti-oppression