Equity, Inclusion and Other Racial Justice Definitions

Updated April 14, 2021 | Posted August 24, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog equityinclusionandother 2020

Often, race-focused con­ver­sa­tions derail because peo­ple are using the same terms in dif­fer­ent ways. One of the chal­lenges of com­mu­ni­cat­ing effec­tive­ly about race is to move peo­ple from the nar­row and indi­vid­u­al­ized def­i­n­i­tion of racism to a more com­pre­hen­sive and sys­temic awareness.

To illu­mi­nate racism, we need to name it, frame it and explain it.”

Estab­lish­ing a shared lan­guage to present data, describe con­di­tions and out­comes and iden­ti­fy root caus­es of inequities serves an impor­tant func­tion. A com­mon lan­guage cre­ates a nar­ra­tive that makes it eas­i­er to com­mu­ni­cate the com­mit­ment to racial equi­ty, both inter­nal­ly and exter­nal­ly, and it cre­ates a plat­form for coor­di­nat­ed work toward equi­table out­comes.

Learn how to trans­form lan­guage into equi­table outcomes:

Down­load the Race Equi­ty and Inclu­sion Action Guide

The fol­low­ing are def­i­n­i­tions of core con­cepts that can help groups devel­op a shared lan­guage for racial equi­ty and inclu­sion:

Def­i­n­i­tions and core concepts


Equi­ty is defined as the state, qual­i­ty or ide­al of being just, impar­tial and fair.” The con­cept of equi­ty is syn­ony­mous with fair­ness and jus­tice. It is help­ful to think of equi­ty as not sim­ply a desired state of affairs or a lofty val­ue. To achieve and sus­tain equi­ty, it needs to be thought of as a struc­tur­al and sys­temic concept.

Equi­ty vs. Equality

Equi­ty involves try­ing to under­stand and give peo­ple what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equal­i­ty, in con­trast, aims to ensure that every­one gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equi­ty, equal­i­ty aims to pro­mote fair­ness and jus­tice, but it can only work if every­one starts from the same place and needs the same things.

Sys­temic Equity

Sys­temic equi­ty is a com­plex com­bi­na­tion of inter­re­lat­ed ele­ments con­scious­ly designed to cre­ate, sup­port and sus­tain social jus­tice. It is a dynam­ic process that rein­forces and repli­cates equi­table ideas, pow­er, resources, strate­gies, con­di­tions, habits and outcomes.

For exam­ple, com­mu­ni­ties with a siz­able por­tion of incar­cer­at­ed res­i­dents are eco­nom­i­cal­ly bur­dened and, con­se­quent­ly, lack resources to sup­port fam­i­lies appro­pri­ate­ly. A Shared Sen­tence offers sys­temic and equi­table pro­pos­als to sup­port chil­dren and fam­i­lies dur­ing and after parental incarceration.

Learn how the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has been help­ing Atlanta’s South­side com­mu­ni­ties dis­man­tle sys­temic bar­ri­ers for peo­ple of col­or in Chang­ing the Odds: Progress and Promise in Atlanta.


Inclu­sion is the action or state of includ­ing or of being includ­ed with­in a group or struc­ture. More than sim­ply diver­si­ty and numer­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, inclu­sion involves authen­tic and empow­ered par­tic­i­pa­tion and a true sense of belonging.

Learn what it takes to cre­ate a cul­ture of inclu­sion in the work­place in Advanc­ing the Mis­sion: Tools for Equi­ty, Diver­si­ty and Inclu­sion.

Racial Jus­tice

Racial jus­tice is the sys­tem­at­ic fair treat­ment of peo­ple of all races that results in equi­table oppor­tu­ni­ties and out­comes for every­one. All peo­ple are able to achieve their full poten­tial in life, regard­less of race, eth­nic­i­ty or the com­mu­ni­ty in which they live.

A racial jus­tice” frame­work can move us from a reac­tive pos­ture to a more pow­er­ful, proac­tive and even pre­ven­tive approach. Learn the impor­tance of lead­er­ship devel­op­ment for racial jus­tice and how to devel­op and sup­port lead­ers that con­tribute to the move­ment in Lead­er­ship and Race.


Race is a social­ly con­struct­ed sys­tem of cat­e­go­riz­ing humans large­ly based on observ­able phys­i­cal fea­tures (phe­no­types), such as skin col­or, and on ances­try. There is no sci­en­tif­ic basis for or dis­cernible dis­tinc­tion between racial categories.

The ide­ol­o­gy of race has become embed­ded in our iden­ti­ties, insti­tu­tions and cul­ture and is used as a basis for dis­crim­i­na­tion and dom­i­na­tion. It can even be dif­fi­cult for those in sup­port of racial jus­tice to start sin­cere, authen­tic con­ver­sa­tions about race.


The con­cept of racism is wide­ly thought of as sim­ply per­son­al prej­u­dice, but in fact, it is a com­plex sys­tem of racial hier­ar­chies and inequities. At the micro lev­el of racism, or indi­vid­ual lev­el, are inter­nal­ized and inter­per­son­al racism. At the macro lev­el of racism, we look beyond the indi­vid­u­als to the broad­er dynam­ics, includ­ing insti­tu­tion­al and struc­tur­al racism.

Inter­nal­ized Racism

Inter­nal­ized racism describes the pri­vate racial beliefs held by and with­in indi­vid­u­als. The way we absorb social mes­sages about race and adopt them as per­son­al beliefs, bias­es and prej­u­dices are all with­in the realm of inter­nal­ized racism.

For peo­ple of col­or, inter­nal­ized oppres­sion can involve believ­ing in neg­a­tive mes­sages about one­self or one’s racial group. For white peo­ple, inter­nal­ized priv­i­lege can involve feel­ing a sense of supe­ri­or­i­ty and enti­tle­ment, or hold­ing neg­a­tive beliefs about peo­ple of color.

Inter­per­son­al Racism

Inter­per­son­al racism is how our pri­vate beliefs about race become pub­lic when we inter­act with oth­ers. When we act upon our prej­u­dices or uncon­scious bias — whether inten­tion­al­ly, vis­i­bly, ver­bal­ly or not — we engage in inter­per­son­al racism. Inter­per­son­al racism also can be will­ful and overt, tak­ing the form of big­otry, hate speech or racial violence.

Insti­tu­tion­al Racism

Insti­tu­tion­al racism is racial inequity with­in insti­tu­tions and sys­tems of pow­er, such as places of employ­ment, gov­ern­ment agen­cies and social ser­vices. It can take the form of unfair poli­cies and prac­tices, dis­crim­i­na­to­ry treat­ment and inequitable oppor­tu­ni­ties and outcomes.

A school sys­tem that con­cen­trates peo­ple of col­or in the most over­crowd­ed and under-resourced schools with the least qual­i­fied teach­ers com­pared to the edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties of white stu­dents is an exam­ple of insti­tu­tion­al racism.

Struc­tur­al Racism

Struc­tur­al racism (or struc­tur­al racial­iza­tion) is the racial bias across insti­tu­tions and soci­ety. It describes the cumu­la­tive and com­pound­ing effects of an array of fac­tors that sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly priv­i­lege white peo­ple and dis­ad­van­tage peo­ple of color.

Since the word racism” often is under­stood as a con­scious belief, racial­iza­tion” may be a bet­ter way to describe a process that does not require inten­tion­al­i­ty. Race equi­ty expert John A. Pow­ell writes:

‘Racial­iza­tion’ con­notes a process rather than a sta­t­ic event. It under­scores the flu­id and dynam­ic nature of race…‘Structural racial­iza­tion’ is a set of process­es that may gen­er­ate dis­par­i­ties or depress life out­comes with­out any racist actors.”

Learn more about struc­tur­al racism and what it means for com­mu­ni­ty build­ing and youth devel­op­ment. You can also sub­scribe to our newslet­ters on Com­mu­ni­ty Change and Thrive by 25® for the lat­est data, reports and news on these topics.

Sys­temic Racialization

Sys­temic racial­iza­tion describes a dynam­ic sys­tem that pro­duces and repli­cates racial ide­olo­gies, iden­ti­ties and inequities. Sys­temic racial­iza­tion is the well-insti­tu­tion­al­ized pat­tern of dis­crim­i­na­tion that cuts across major polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and social orga­ni­za­tions in a society.

Pub­lic atten­tion to racism is gen­er­al­ly focused on the symp­toms (such as a racist slur or the adul­ti­fi­ca­tion of Black women and girls by an indi­vid­ual or group) rather than the sys­tem of racial inequity.

Racial Priv­i­lege and Racial Oppression

Like two sides of the same coin, racial priv­i­lege describes race-based advan­tages and pref­er­en­tial treat­ment based on skin col­or, while racial oppres­sion refers to race-based dis­ad­van­tages, dis­crim­i­na­tion and exploita­tion based on skin color.

Con­tin­ue learn­ing about racial equi­ty and inclusion

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion offers a vari­ety of reports and resources to help pro­mote racial equi­ty and inclu­sion in Amer­i­ca. Explore the resources below and sign up for our newslet­ters to learn more and help pro­mote equi­ty and inclu­sion in your life:

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