Racial Equity in Public Policy

Download Guide


In conversations about racism, racial equity and health equity, many terms are used, often interchangeably. Being clear in your language—and ensuring that you have a good internal grasp of what these concepts mean—can make your conversations more powerful. Keep in mind that terms mean different things to different people, so when you use a term in conversation, also describe what you mean.

This glossary is by no means a comprehensive list. These terms also change over time, and impacted communities may prefer to use different language. Be sure to work with your community coalition to shape your conversation and inform the terms you use.


The proactive practice of working in solidarity and partnership with people enduring structural racism or other systemic discrimination that deprives them of basic rights, equal access and the ability to thrive in society. Allyship involves unlearning and re-evaluating systems, practices, policies, norms, traditions, thought processes and language that support structural racism.[1]


Actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic and social life. This includes the expression or ideas that racial groups are equals and supporting policies that reduce racial inequity.[1][2][3]


An acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Color emphasizing the historic and systemic oppression of Black and Indigenous people in the U.S. and Canada. Use only if accurate in specific situations. Avoid as a general term for people of color.[1]

Note: In advocating for policy change, it is critical to refer to specific communities whenever possible and work with local organizations and coalitions to understand the best language to use. “BIPOC” is sometimes criticized as a one-size-fits-all term that masks the unique differences within a racial/ethnic group or implies homogeneity across Indigenous peoples and tribes. The terms people use are a personal preference; listen for how people choose to identify themselves.

Black Lives Matter

#BlackLivesMatter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the man charged with murder for shooting Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Inc. is a global organization in the U.S., UK and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.[4]


Equality is thought of as each getting an “equal” amount of a resource. Equality treats everyone the same without attention to the needs between people in different races, sexes, social classes, and more.[1]


The distribution of resources according to the needs of recipients (sometimes not equal).[1]

Health disparities

A particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic and environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.[5]

Health inequities

Systemic differences in the health status of different population groups. These inequities have significant social and economic costs to both individuals and society.[5]


The idea that people whose individual identities overlap with a number of marginalized groups (defined, e.g., by race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, income, education, etc.) experience multiple, overlapping threats of discrimination.[6] This term was initially coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the injustice black women face in the workplace due to their female and black identities. Over time it has evolved to describe the impact of any overlapping identities.[7]

Racial equity

Racial equity would occur when a person is no more or less likely to experience society’s benefits or problems because of skin color. Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.[1]

Racial equity is also described as the condition that would be achieved if one's racial identity no longer predicted how one fares. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce different outcomes predicted by race.[8] 

Racial justice

The systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. Racial justice is the absence of discrimination and inequities, and the presence of systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity.[1]


Any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.[9] Prejudice or discrimination against individuals or groups based on beliefs about one’s racial superiority or the belief that race reflects inherent differences in attributes and capabilities.[1]

Structural racism

A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. In the U.S., structural racism gives privileges to white people resulting in disadvantages to people of color. This system — which includes among other things the justice system, the education system, housing, the economy and lack of access to care — has been constructed and reinforced throughout our history, guided by a mindset of white superiority.[1]


Refers to communities lacking in income, employment and educational opportunities, access to care, healthy foods and safe places to exercise, and other resources. When an area lacks resources, be specific about what its lacking.[1]


Describes communities and populations lacking resources but is usually best replaced with under-resourced. Underserved can have negative connotations, as if people need to be served to succeed, exercise caution with this word.[1]

White dominant culture

The explicit to subtle ways that the norms, preferences and fears of white people overwhelmingly shape how we organize our work and institutions, see ourselves and others, interact with one another and with time, and make decisions.[10]  

White supremacy

The idea that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to people of color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.[11]


This link is provided for convenience only and is not an endorsement of either the linked-to entity or any product or service.