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Glossary of Social Justice Terms

Kid-Friendly Terms

Words can have many meanings. Let’s make it easier to talk about these concepts with kids.

Find out how we define terms in our toolkits and book recommendations below.

With you,

April B. & Ashia R.

These resources are free to reprint & republish with attribution to The Student Ignition Society for non-commercial purposes. Please contact us if you’d like to use this resource for profit.

VOCABULARY & DEFINITIONS

Luminary Wordbank

Abolition – Getting rid of rules that hurt people.

Abuse – A pattern of repeated behaviors that cause harm, both on purpose (intentionally) or not on purpose (unintentionally).

Accomplice A person who actively works alongside you to end injustice.

Accountability – The ability to take responsibility for our own actions. We can take accountability, or support others to take accountability.

Activist – Someone who learns about harmful habits in society and takes action to change unfair rules and the way we behave.

Advocacy – Listening and following the directions of people who have been hurt so we can all heal together.

Affirmation – Honest words that help us see through hurtful lies.

Ageism – Actions, rules & ideas that give middle-age adults more power than older adults and children.

Agency – Access to choices and ability to make decisions for ourselves.

Ally – A person who believes you deserve equality.

Ancestors – People in our family, identity group, or cultural community who lived before us and contributed to how we live today.

Anti-Racist – Seeking to end racism. A resource, policy, or practice can be anti-racist. A person cannot identify as anti-racist. To self-identify as ‘anti-racist’ suggests we are above or exempt from racist practices, which we can’t do while living and coordinating in a racist society.

Amplify – Sharing another person’s message with those who trust and listen to us.

Apartheid – Government rules that keep people separated and treated differently based on their race or ethnicity.

Asexual / Ace– A person who may feel little or no sexual attraction for others.

Assigned Sex – An identity (usually intersex, female, or male) that grown ups label a person with at birth, often chosen by looking at their genitals. Sometimes people assume our gender based on this.

Asylum-Seeker – Someone who leaves where they live to escape from being harmed in search of safety.

Bisexual – A person who is attracted to both masculine and feminine people (also see, Pansexual).

Binary – Two choices that can only be distinct from each other, usually as opposites. (Example: ‘Yes’/’No’). A ‘social binary‘ is an human idea that there are only two choices when in reality there are plenty of options in between and beyond these two choices.

#BlackLivesMatter – An affirmation that Black people are as important as non-Black people.

Body Acceptance – the belief that our rights and agency should not depend on what our body looks like, how it works, or whether society sees it as a ‘good‘ body.

Body Positivity – a movement to celebrate all bodies as beautiful and ‘good.’

Boundaries – Rules we create about how we react to other people’s behavior toward us. We decide how we’d like to be treated by others, and choose how we respond when someone treats us in a way that makes us feel unsafe or disrespected.

Brave Spaces – Since creating ‘safe‘ affinity spaces for targeted people is technically impossible within a society where oppression is normal, we aim to create ‘brave‘ spaces where people are willing to stick around and try to heal even when they make mistakes.

Brutality – Avoidable harm that makes those who were hurt feel afraid for a long time.

Child / Minor – a person who is younger than the age of 18 (in the US).

Childism – Actions, rules, and ideas created by adults that suggest that a an adult’s feelings, experiences, and ways of learning are more important or better than those of children.

Circle – People or actions coming together to make everyone feel included, safe and supported.

Citizen – A person who has rights and responsibilities in their roles as members of their community, state, and nation. 

Civil Rights – Protective rules that allow us to live without fear of being hurt just because we’re different than those with power.

Climate Change– The way Earth’s weather patterns change over many years.

Collective – People acting together as a group for a shared goal.

Colonization – When a powerful group invades a land and takes control over people who already live there. Colonialism is the idea that this is good, colonization is the act of making it happen.

Colonist – People who move to another nation in order to occupy and claim ownership of the land and and take the resources there.

Colonizer – A person who invades Indigenous land, stops Indigenous people from from practicing their cultural traditions, and often hurts and kills Indigenous people.

Decolonization – Bringing back independence for Indigenous people who have been harmed by colonization so all people inhabiting an area are free from oppression.

Colorism – A social construct that compels us to give power to people with lighter colored skin at the expense of people with darker colored skin.

Community – A group of people who rely on each other.

Conflict – A disagreement between two people or groups who care about the consequences of what will happen.

Construct – A made-up, often-changing way of sorting ideas based on popular opinions and assumptions – rather than scientific facts. Example: Racial groups and gender identity are constructs and can change.

Consequences – What happens as a result of our actions.

Conspirator – someone you work together with to end unfair rules and behavior that harm both of you.

Culture – The rules and behavior we see as normal in our family and community.

Cultural Fluency – Understanding the differences what different groups consider acceptable behavior, and using that knowledge to treat members of other cultures in a way that feels respectful.

Defunding – Refusing to give money to one group or practice, in order to put that money toward another cause. Defunding the police means taking away some of the money we use to pay for policing so we can use that money to support people with housing, healthcare, and education so that policing isn’t necessary.

Deportation – Forcing an immigrant, refugee, or asylum-seeker to leave their home.

Descendant – People in our family who are born after us.

Dignity – Awareness of our humanity and deserving of respect.

Discomfort – A yucky feeling in our bodies that makes us want to stop what is happening.

Discrimination – Unfair treatment of a person or people based on a person’s identity.

Displaced – People forced to leave their home country due to violence or disaster.

Displanted – African people who were enslaved, forced from their ancestral lands, and not allowed to go home.

Ecosystem – A network of living things and their environment that rely on each other to stay in harmony.

Efficient – Using the least amount of resources possible to finish a task.

Electricity – The power that runs our gadgets (like phones, lights, and robot hedgehogs.)

Energy (electric) – The stuff we use to power gadgets like cars, phones, and lightbulbs.

Endangered – entire groups of animals or plants at risk of going completely extinct.

Environment – The space we live in, including the stuff in it – air, water, animals, soil, other people – and how we depend on each other to live.

Equality – The idea that we should treat everybody the same, regardless of how we each start out. (Example: Giving every kid size 4 shoes, regardless of who needs them).

Equity – The idea that we should give people what they need so we can all end up with a good quality of life. (Example: Giving each kid who has no shoes a pair that fits them).

Escalation – Actions that make conflicts bigger and more harmful. Deescalation is to calm conflicts and make them less harmful.

Ethnicity / Ethnic Group – The group(s) we share a birth connection with through our family history – including language, traditions, genetics, and the places our ancestors cared for.

Ethnic Cleansing – When groups forces an entire ethnic group out by scaring, hurting, and/or killing them.

Exploit – Using something for your own gain, without caring about the harm you’re causing.

Extinct – Entire species who are gone forever, with no way to repopulate with new babies.

False Urgency – A trick to distract you from your goal by convincing you that you must take care of a less important problem right away or else – something bad will happen or you could miss out on a good thing.

Forced Family Separation – Children being taken away from their families at the border, without their families’ permission.

Fossil Fuels – Resources that we can burn (like coal, natural as, and oil), to harness electricity for things like our lights, cars, phones, and airplanes.

Fragility – Having uncomfortable feelings when others are honest about how our behavior has hurt them, and lashing out at others because we cannot cope with our hurt.

Freedom – The ability to think, communicate, and act the way we want.

Futures – Ideas of what could happen next without erasing the hardship of the past, keeping in mind the best possibilities. Spinning off of Futures studies most notably in the speculative fiction genre of Afrofuturism, coined by Alondra Nelson & Mark Dery.

Gay – A man who is attracted to men. Sometimes used regardless of gender for a person who is attracted the same gender.

Gender – An identity on a spectrum of masculine, feminine, both, neither, or something outside of that.

Generation – All of the people born around the same time.

Genitals – The outside (visible) parts of our bodies that some people can use to make babies when we’re grown ups. Most often called a vulva, penis, or scrotum. A person can be born with a mix of all, some, or none of these.

Genocide – Destroying or killing the culture and/or people of an ethnic group.

Government – The group of people who control and make decisions for a nation, country, state, or town.

Government Border – An imaginary line separating one government’s land from another.

Greenhouse Gasses – Air pollution acts like a blanket around the earth, trapping heat from the sun, making Earth too hot. The Earth has ways to absorb these pollutants, but we’re making too much, too fast, for the planet to keep up.

Guardian – an adult who has permission to make legal decisions that impact or control a specific minor’s experiences, including their money, private information, where the minor goes, and who the minor spends time with.

Habitat – A place where animals and plants have the right food, water, and space they need to live.

Harm – Hurting someone’s body or feelings, or taking away their power (even accidentally)

Harness – To collect and use.

Heal – Working to feel better after we have been harmed

Heritage – The family history and cultural practices given to us by our Ancestors. Many people have more than one heritage.

Hypocrisy – Saying we care about something but doing things that show we don’t actually care about it.

Identity (Social) – The group membership that we use to define who we are. The words you’d use to finish this sentence : “I am a…” that you can’t easily change.

Incarcerated – Locked in prison.

Inclusion – Adjusting our rules and the way we behave to make sure people who didn’t feel safe or welcome in our group before feel safe and welcome now.

Immigrant – People who move to another country make this new place home.

Impunity – Ability to avoid the consequences of our actions.

Incarceration – Punishment that separates a person from their friends and family in a place where they have very little power and feel unsafe. 

Indigenous – The first people to live in an area and care for the land and resources there.

Inhumane – Cruel and unkind.

Injustice – An act or event of unfairness that causes harm.

Interracial – A group of people who have different racial identities.

Intersectionality – The idea that we can have social privilege because of some parts of our identity, but lack privilege because of other parts of our identity. Coined by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Intersex – People whose bodies have a mix male and female anatomy, DNA, or hormones. About 1-2 people out of every 100 are intersex.

Intimidation – Actions and words that suggest (but don’t say out loud) ‘If you don’t do what I want, I will hurt you’ so the person being threatened has no proof of the threat.

Justice – Actions to prevent, or recover from, an unfair action.

Justice (Environmental): Actions we take to stop climate change and create a healthy environment in a way that is fair and right for all living things.

Juvenile Detention / Juvenile Hall / Juvie – Prison for children.

Kyriarchy – A connected set of systems that support each other, all relying on the idea that some groups of people are better and more deserving of freedom and justice than others. Coined by feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.

Land Acknowledgement – Naming and honoring the Indigenous people who have original and special relationships with the land you are on, with a promise to take steps toward their freedom and safety.

Laws – Official rules of how we all work together in our nation.

Lesbian – A woman who is attracted to women.

LGBTQiA2S – Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex (some intersex don’t want to fall under this umbrella, so we use a lower-case ‘i’ to respect that), asexual, and Indigenous two-spirit.

Liberation – Becoming free after being oppressed.

Listening – Not just hearing, but paying attention to the idea someone is trying to share.

Lynching – When a group of people with power gathers together to kill a person with less power, with the goal of scaring others away from demanding equality. Lynching in the US is most often used by groups of White people to target Black people.

Marginalized (People) – Groups of people who are pushed out of opportunities, silenced, or treated as unimportant. The term ‘marginalized people’ makes it sound like this treatment is just happening by accident – so when possible, use ‘Targeted people‘ to draw attention to the fact that someone with power is doing the pushing.

Members of Congress (USA) – The people who write and decide on the laws of our nation. 

Monoracial – A person who identifies as only one race.

Movement – A group of people who want to change the rules and work together to do it

Multiracial – A person who identifies as more than one race.

NakbaMeans ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic – an event in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war when Israeli colonists killed many Palestinians and permanently forced them from their homes.

Nationality – The social group we belong to based on the nation we were born, raised, or immigrated to.

Nature – Resources created by the Earth, without human meddling.

Neighbor – A person who shares something important with us, such as the homes on the block where we live.

Neighborhood – Nearby people who share space with us, such as classrooms and cities.

Nonbinary – ‘Binary’ means just THIS option or THAT option. Non-binary is in-between, a mix of both, including more than, or something outside just those two options.

#NothingAboutUsWithoutUs – The idea that oppressed people should have the ability to decide and be a part of stories and rules about them. Coined by disability rights activists James Charlton, Michael Masutha & William Rowland.

Occupation – Invading someone’s land and home without the permission of the people who already live there.

Opportunity – Chances to work for the things that we want.

Opportunity Gap – People in charge usually look at an ‘achievement gap’ where kids with targeted identities fail to succeed in the same ways as kids with privilege and power. This tells us to look at targeted people as deficient (not as good, lacking), instead of helping us focus on  how people in power fail to provide opportunities for all kids to succeed. This term helps us focus on the real problem – what blocks kids from succeeding?

Opposition – People who want to stop or slow the changes we are making to end unfair rules who create setbacks and obstacles to our activism work.

Oppression – Cruelty and abuse towards people with less power, caused by unfair rules made by people who abuse and take advantage of their power.

#OwnVoices – Stories about oppression or featuring characters with targeted identities written by people with those same identities and lived experiences. Coined by disability rights advocate Corinne Duyvis.

Pan(sexual) – A person who is attracted to people of any gender.

Patience – Staying focused on what really matters to us when we’re faced with frustration and difficulty.

Perpetrator / Abuser – A common label for someone who has caused harm. This label makes it hard for people to grow, change, or heal as a community, so we replace these words with ‘Person who has done harm’ or ‘Harm-doer’ instead.

Persistence – Choosing to keep working toward our goal when we face setbacks and obstacles.

Plausible Deniability – When people with power deny they did something wrong because people without power can’t prove it happened.

Poetry/poem – Art using patterns of words, and other ways of telling to show what we feel.

Police – Workers chosen by, protecting, and serving people with power.

Pollution – When we use resources (like fossil fuels, or plastic bags), any leftover parts that don’t help the environment enter our air, water, and soil and hurt plants, animals, and people. 

Power – The ability to control what happens to ourselves and others.

Prison Industrial Complex – A set of businesses and government agencies designed to give tax money to wealthy people who own prisons.

[Social] Privilege – Extra advantages that identity groups with power have access to at the expense of groups with less power. These advantages give chances to avoid harm or get special favors.

Punitive Justice – Punishing people who do harm so others will be afraid to copy them

Questioning – a person who is exploring, just learning, or unsure about how they feel or identify.

Race – The social group we are associated with based on our skin color, location, and ethnicity. Who gets lumped into which racial group changes based on how people with power decide to define them.

Racism – Actions, rules, and ideas created by people with more racial power that harm people with less racial power – both accidentally or on purpose.

Racist – A person, idea, or practice who participates in, benefits from, or is complicit in racism, whether intentionally or unknowingly. (We are all racist. That doesn’t make us bad people. But we can take responsibility for building an anti-racist society.)

Radical – The beginning or basic supports of an idea. Radical thinking means understanding problems all the way through, down to the tiny reasons the problem started and the things that allow it to keep happening.

Reconciliation – Listening to people who we are harming and doing what they ask of us, so we can all heal together.

Refugee -Someone who has been granted permission to stay in a new country because it’s no longer safe for them to stay their home country.

Relationship – The type of connection we have with another person.

Renewable Energy: We transform resources (like sunlight, wind, and running water) to generate electricity – and using them does little or no harm to the planet.

Resilience – Choosing to try again even after we have failed.

Resist – Working against something that is trying to take away our power.

Respect – Being considerate of another person’s thoughts and feelings.

Resources: Stuff we take from the planet and sun (like water, air, plants, and coal) to eat, create energy, or build with.

Restorative Justice – Listening to people who have been harmed, those who harmed them, and anyone else affected – and taking action to help everyone feel safe again.

Rights – opportunities and resources that everyone should have, no matter who they are or what they do.

Riot – when a crowd of people show anger, pain or fear in a way that forces people with power to pay attention.

Saviorism – Doing something for a person who has less power in order to
make ourselves feel good; this often takes even more power from the person.

Settler – Immigrants and their descendants who may continue the harm of colonization, but by learning and taking action, can assist Indigenous people in decolonization.

Sex – The label adults assigned us birth based on the reproductive organs we were born with.

Scaffolding – Simple ideas that we need to understand in order to learn more complicated ideas.

School to Prison Pipeline – Rules in our schools that give some kids harsh punishment for regular kid behavior, leading to arrest and imprisonment instead of giving them the support they need. This leads to kids getting pushed out of schools and into prisons and mostly impacts Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and kids with disabilities.

Slavery – A system where people are kidnapped and kept as property, without freedom.

Society – people living and working together under directions in a large community.

Solidarity – Uniting with someone who is facing a hard challenge and showing you care.

Sovereignty – The ability to choose for ourselves, instead of being controlled by others.

Species – Groups of animals and plants, like polar bears or tomatoes.

Speciesism – an idea that humans are more important than living creatures, so it’s okay to be unkind to our animal and plant relations.

Stand – Using our words, actions, and art to tell others about why we need to resist

Steward – To take care of a system that you use (such as an ecosystem), keeping it in good condition for the next person who comes to care for it.

Strike – Refusing to participate in regular activities to draw attention to injustice, or to make life harder for those who refuse to help.

Supremacy – A lie that tells us some people are better and more deserving of power, dignity and privileges than others.

Survivor – Someone who was targeted by or experienced violence and lived through it.

Sustainability: Using resources in a way that helps our environment and each other, while doing the least possible harm – so we can all live healthy.

Systemic Oppression – A set of rules or habits that maintain unfairness by preventing those who have less power from gaining power.

Target(ed people) – Choosing particular people to hurt or put at risk of getting harmed.

Tenacity – working hard even when we face challenges and our project isn’t fun anymore.

Threat – When someone talks or behaves in a way that suggests they plan to harm others.

Transformation – A complete change in how things look or work.

Transformative Justice – Restorative Justice, plus finding out what caused the conflict, and removing the causes so unfairness is unlikely to happen again.

Trans(gender) – A person who identifies as a different gender than the one grown-ups assumed they were at birth.

Transportation – Ways we move around the planet, such as walking, biking, driving cars, or flying in planes. Some ways we move around create more pollution than others.

Transracial (adoption) – When a child is adopted by people with a different racial identity.

Tribe, Nation, or Band – An official group of people who share cultural traditions, beliefs, family, and/or language. DO: refer to individual Indigenous people by their official group. DON’T: Use the word ‘tribe’ unless you’re talking about an official Indigenous group.

Trickster – Story characters who reveal unspoken rules of their culture and disobey the culture’s power structure.

Trigger – Stimulus we see, hear, feel, or experience that brings back memories, emotions, sensations, or thoughts. These can be welcome or unwelcome experiences.

Two-Spirit – Some Indigenous people have a special gender identity. Indigenous nations who have two-spirit members each define it in a unique way.

Unapologetic – Refusing to feel ashamed of our beliefs or identities, originating from the 13 Guiding Principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Unity – Gathering and working together around something we care about.

Values – The behaviors within our culture that we care about, actions we see as right and good.

Victim – People who, due to being targeted by violence, are dead or no longer with us. (See also: survivor).

Violence – Actions that cause harm to people, both to bodies and feelings.

Voice – Statements of our beliefs, values, and experiences so others can listen to them.

Whiteness – A cultural and racial identity created by wealthy people of European descent to make people of European descent seem like the standard, best kind of human, in order to justify harm against non-European people.

White Supremacist – A person who considers white people and cultural norms created to empower white people at the expense of others to be the normal, only, or best, way of being.

Zero-Tolerance Policies – An inhumane policy that places immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in detention camps until they have a trial in court or can pay a certain amount of money.

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@2023 Ashia Ray of Raising Luminaries & The Student Ignition Society. All rights reserved. Text & images may not be re-posted in whole or in part, without written permission. 

Images used by the following creators, with permission via Unsplash: Kristin Brown.

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