Crash Course in Social Justice Slang

Part Two

By POC Talk

Hey y’all, we are going to be doing a series on terms you should know! Because these terms cover complex issues the explanations given here do not and cannot cover the entirety of the concepts they describe. These are not complete definitions but more like a crash course for an entry into the conversations that surround them. There are many more terms and ideas we should be interrogating, and hopefully this is a good start.


The definition of racism that this writer finds the most useful is prejudice + power. This is why you hear people say things like Black people can’t be racist⎯ it is not to say people of color cannot have prejudices, but in most cases we lack the institutional privilege or power for those prejudices to negatively affect White people outside of hurt feelings. A Black person’s prejudice cannot impede on a white person’s standing in society, whereas racism is institutional and historical, affecting people’s income job opportunities and overall ability to just exist in society without being discriminated against. People of color are inherently disadvantaged by racism, and though that racism is impacted by people’s personal (racist) opinions it is an overall insidious system that functions without most (white) people’s knowledge or conscious encouragement.

Institutional Racism

Sociological resources define institutional racism as “Ia pattern of social institutions — such as governmental organizations, schools, banks, and courts of law — giving negative treatment to a group of people based on their race. Institutional racism leads to inequality; sociologists use the concept to explain why some people face unequal treatment or occupy unequal statuses.”

Examples of this could be the insidious nature of business asking employees to be “tidy”,  prohibiting dreads or other hairstyles attributed to African Americans, which perpetuates upholding of European beauty standards. Another example is generational wealth held by white people that has roots in centuries of economic oppression. Red lining, denial of G.I bill rights to Black military that historically prevented families of color from owning housing in places where there was any possibility of value growth, and other racist tactics left little to be passed onto future generations. Therefore, it is less likely today for students of color to be enrolled in a “good” public school making it less likely that students of color will be able to achieve equal status with their white peers. The wealth gap in this country shows the effects of generations of wealth discrimination, as the average white american family has $134,000 in wealth when the average African american family has $11,000, as reported by the Survey of Consumer Finance Combined Extract Data, 2013. In addition, institutional racism need not include intentional discrimination or personal biases, but can stem from insidious racism that has been built in and normalized through centuries of white supremacy. These issues of injustice are often extremely difficult if not impossible for unaware white people to recognize and were made as such to ensure the continuation of the cycle of discrimination. This is why racism and prejudice are not the same: one involves privilege and institutional power and the other an intentional bias against people which is less likely to actually affect someone’s existence. This Is also why whether or not you specifically do things that are “racist” does not mean that you aren’t upholding and benefiting racist systems in society.

Coded Language

This is language that implies more than what it says directly, often veiling racist or otherwise oppressive intention. Examples of coded language include:

Good hair/school equals European hair/majority white school. It implies curly or textured hair is bad, and in the case of schools it tends to be a comment on the assumed superior economic and/or cultural status of a school that is majority white.

Urban and intercity equated to Black or just overall POC people and culture

Mainstream is to say dominant narratives, usually white/ heteronormative/ patriarchal

Objective really means unemotional, outside, and in most cases white male perspective. This is because male and white tend to be viewed as “neutral”, especially with regard to issues that emotionally and subjectively affect oppressed people.

Civil meaning unemotional, similar to objective, claiming that anger or emotional response invalidates one’s argument. “Civil” debates and discussions benefit those least affected by the issue and often civil is literally meant to mean silent or non existent as is the case with the Kaepernick protest.

Ghetto/Rachet means Black, associating the entirety of Blackness with impoverishment and cheapness.

Thug is code for Black,  associating Black style and culture with criminality, perpetuating over-policing and villainization of black communities.

Target/ Agent Identity

Target and Agent are terms used to differentiate between identities that are catered to by dominant culture and those that are not. A target identity is an identity which makes one a target for discrimination, whereas an agent identity implies power and the ability to reap the benefits of target identities’ marginalization. Groups that make up agent identities have the agency to define reality, i.e. what is normal and accepted by dominant culture.


Being woke means that you are consciously continuing to educate and search for opportunities to educate yourself (and others) on the varying oppressions faced by oppressed peoples. Woke is the 2k17 version of its 90’s equivalent, saying you were “conscious.” This word is an example of AAVE (African American vernacular english), originating in Black communities, then appropriated by mainstream (white) society.


POC is an acronym for People of Color. This is why you look silly when you message POC Talk about how there were Irish slaves (false) or how vikings had dreads (also false) because, like, the operative word here is color of which vikings and Irish people fall under the contemporary definition of the construct of whiteness.