skip page navigationOregon State University

Language is Power  April 18th, 2012

Have you ever found yourself using words you don’t completely understand? As a Community Relations Facilitator I have used and heard words really new to me, and although I have looked them up several times, I still don’t really understand their real meaning. I also tend to confuse the meaning of words with other words. For example, I always confuse the words race and ethnicity.  So, you ask yourself, what is the difference? Well, According to a book titled Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (2007):

Race is a social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation or history, ethnic classification, and/or the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time.

Ethnicity is a social construct that divides people into social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical location. Members of an ethnic group are often presumed to be culturally or biologically similar, although this is not in fact necessarily the case (Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 2007).

I always try to separate both by thinking that race is the thing you check off on an application such as the census. On the other hand I like to think of ethnicity as the culture and traditions you belong to.

I know my first year of college I was very confused by all the terms, vocabulary, and acronyms that were thrown at me. So, I have decided to provide a list of vocabulary words that are used a lot and are also commonly misunderstood. I have also included words that I have recently learned that I find very useful. I think this is very important because these words come up in everyday conversations. You might hear it in class or at workshops. By knowing this information you can prevent miscommunication and prevent unintentional prejudice and hurt feelings. Language has power to express your identity and life.  You can also educate others about the definitions. Hope you find these definitions helpful.

Culture: A social system of meaning and custom that is developed by a group of people to assure its adaptation and survival. These groups are distinguished by a set of unspoken rules that shape values, beliefs, habits, patterns of thinking, behaviors, and styles of communication.

Oppression: 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.

Discrimination: (unfairness + power) An action against other people on the grounds of their group membership, particularly the refusal to grant such people opportunities, access, or resources that would be granted to similarly qualified members of one’s own group. There are many forms of discrimination including: racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism etc.

Horizontal hostility: The result of people of targeted groups believing, acting on, or enforcing the dominant system of discrimination and oppression. Horizontal hostility can occur between members of the same group or between members of different, targeted groups.

Internalized oppression: The result of people of targeted groups believing, acting on, or enforcing the dominant system of beliefs about themselves and members of their own group.

Social Constructionism: A perception of an individual, group, or idea that is “constructed” through cultural and social practice, but appears to be “natural,” or “the way things are.” For example, the idea that women “naturally” like to do housework is a social construction because this idea appears “natural” due to its historical repetition, rather than it being “true” in any essential sense.

Social power: Access to resources that enhance one’s chances of getting what one needs or influencing others in order to lead a safe, productive, fulfilling life.

Feminism: The valuing of women, and the belief in and advocacy for social, political, and economic equality and liberation for both women and men.

Ally: A person from a different racial, gender, religious, sexual orientation etc. group that acknowledges the oppression and who will committee and who will commit to working on his/her own part that may contribute to that oppression, continue to increase knowledge and awareness, and who will commit to supporting people who are suppressed through action and stands.

LGBTQ: “LGBTQ” is an acronym that originated in the 1990s and replaced what was formerly known as “the gay community.” The acronym was created to be more inclusive of diverse groups. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (and/or questioning) individuals/identities.

Transgender person: A person whose self-identification challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality. Transgender people include transsexuals and others who do not conform to traditional understandings of labels like male and female or heterosexual and homosexual.

Transvestite: Men and women who enjoy wearing the clothes and appearing as the other sex. Most are heterosexual. Some gay individuals enjoy dressing in “drag” and view it as liberating and sometimes humorous.

Transsexual: A person, whose biological sex does not match their gender identity and who, through gender reassignment surgery and hormone treatments, seeks to change their physical body to match their gender identity. Transsexuals’ sexual orientation can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

Now when you go to workshops or when you are in class and you hear these worlds you will be able to understand. I know there are several words that are still confusing but I challenge you to start including this type of vocabulary in your everyday conversation.

I found Racial Equity, Purchase College, and The Welcoming Project web pages to be very useful while writing this blog, most of the definitions come from these websites and from the book Teachings for Diversity and Social Justice (2007), which is available in the UHDS Multicultural Cultural Resource Coordinator’s Office (UHDS Central Office).

Thank you for reading,

Angelica Perez, Community Relations Facilitator