This Glossary is intended as an educational tool for parents, children, teachers, students, and researchers. It is an offering of information, of history, and of possibilities. The definitions are specific to the current usage of the terms in the United States.

A-B

aboriginal | African | African American | African diaspora
Afroasian
| Amerasian | American Indian*
Amerindian* | ancestry | Anglo | Asian | Asian American
bicultural | biracial | Black | blood quantum

C-L

Caucasian* | colored* | culture | Eskimo* | ethnic
ethnicity | Eurasian | European American | First Nations | half*
hapa | heritage | Hispanic | hypodescent | Indian* | indigenous
interracial | Inuit/Inuk | Latino/Latina

M-O

mélange | Mestizo/Mestiza* | Métis | minority* | miscegenation
mixed race | monoracial | mulatto* | multicultural | multiethnic
multiracial | Native American | one-drop rule | Oriental*

P-Z

Pacific Islander | passing | person of color | race | racism
reclaim
| transcultural | transnational | transracial
White
| White privilege


 

* An asterisk designates controversial or offensive terms; please see individual definitions for details.


A-B

aboriginal

First, original, indigenous, or native resident of a land


African

A person with ancestors from the continent of Africa, an area of the world that includes more than 60 countries or territories.


African American

A resident or citizen of the United States with African ancestry.


African diaspora

The indigenous peoples of Africa and their descendents, wherever they currently live.


Afroasian

A person with both African and Asian ancestry.


Amerasian

A resident or citizen of the United States with mixed Asian ancestry. This term includes people who identify as Afroasian, Eurasian, or hapa.


American Indian*

A person with Native American ancestry. Controversial because the label “Indian” is believed to originate with Columbus’ mistaken belief he had landed in the South East Asian islands known to Europeans as the Indies; although this tem is used by some Native Americans.


Amerindian*

A person with Native American ancestry. Abbreviated from “American Indigenous” or “American Indian”. Controversial—see American Indian.


ancestry

Biological family descent, heritage, or lineage.


Anglo

(1) An abbreviation of Anglo American; a derivative of Anglo-Saxon.

(2) In the Southwestern United States, signifies a non-Hispanic European American.


Asian

(1) A person with ancestors from Asia, an area of the world that includes more than 50 countries or regions.

(2) In the United States, the term usually refers to a person with ancestors from Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia, or Southern Asia. Not usually included in the U.S. usage of this term are Central Asia (former Soviet territories), Northern Asia (Russia), and Western Asia (the Middle East). In the United States, the largest Asian populations are Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Pakistani, Laotian, Hmong, and Thai.


Asian American

A resident or citizen of the United States with Asian ancestry.


bicultural

A person who has connections to two different cultures.


biracial

A person whose biological parents are of two different socially-designated races.


Black

A person with ancestors from the African diaspora.


blood quantum

The fraction of Native or Aboriginal heritage a tribe may require for recognition or official membership.


 


C-L

Caucasian*

A person traditionally classified as a member of the Caucasian race, especially a person with light to fair skin. [This definition is no longer in scientific use.] In the United States, this term is often used interchangeably with the term White. There is a growing movement to discontinue the use of Caucasian and Caucasoid as racial terms, and discard them alongside their archaic partners: Australoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid.


colored*

A person with any amount of non-White ancestry, especially ancestry from the African diaspora. An offensive term in the United States.


culture

The customary traditions and values of a social or ethnic group that span generations.


Eskimo*

A person with ancestors from the aboriginal inhabitants of the circumpolar region, excluding Scandinavia and most of Russia. The two main groups are the Inuit and the Yupik. Can be considered offensive.


ethnic

Relating to a large group of people who share common traits such as culture, religion, or language.


ethnicity

Self-identified association with an ethnic group or groups because of shared values and history, related to common traits such as culture or religion. Usually passed down through family or community traditions.


Eurasian

A person with both European and Asian ancestry.


European American

A resident or citizen of the United States with European ancestry.


First Nations

A person with ancestors from the indigenous peoples of the Americas, excluding Inuit. In Canada, this term also excludes constitutionally-recognized Métis. Originally used in Canada, now also used in the United States.


half*

A biracial person. Often considered offensive because of the implication that a biracial person is not complete or whole, and the possible abbreviation from the offensive term “half-breed”.


hapa

A person with mixed Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry. From the Hawaiian for “part” or “half.” Some Asian transracial adoptees also use this term to identify themselves.


heritage

Something that belongs to a person as a result of their birth; birthright.


Hispanic

A resident or citizen of the United States with Latin American, Spanish, or Spanish-speaking ancestry. In the United States, the largest Hispanic populations are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Dominican, Guatemalan, Colombian, and Spanish. The term Hispanic is often used interchangeably with the term Latino.


hypodescent

The system of assigning a multiracial person the monoracial identity of the racial group in their heritage with the lowest social standing.


Indian*

(1) A person with ancestors from the country of India.

(2) A person with Native American ancestry. Has been expanded to “American Indian”. Controversial when used to refer to Native Americans because the label “Indian” is believed to originate with Columbus’ mistaken belief he had landed in the South East Asian islands known to Europeans as the Indies; although this term is used by some Native Americans.


indigenous

Native to a land or region, especially before an invasion.


interracial

A relationship involving two adults or peers of different socially-designated races. (Examples: interracial marriage, interracial friendship, interracial couple.)


Inuit (plural) / Inuk (singular)

A member of one of the indigenous peoples from the Arctic. A native inhabitant of northernmost North America from Northern Alaska to Eastern Canada and Greenland.


Latino/Latina

A resident or citizen of the United Stated with Latin American, Spanish, or Spanish-speaking ancestry. In the United States, the largest Latino populations are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Dominican, Guatemalan, Colombian, and Spanish. The term Latino is often used interchangeably with the term Hispanic.


 


M-O

mélange

A newer term used by some people with both Black and White ancestry. From a French term for mixture or medley.


Mestizo/Mestiza*

A multiracial person, especially in Latin America, with mixed Native American and Spanish (or European) ancestry. Can be considered offensive because the term originated as a preference for lighter skin.


Métis

(1) A person whose biological parents are of two different socially-designated races; biracial.

(2) In Canada, a multiracial person of Aboriginal and European ancestry.


minority*

A group differing from the majority of the population, especially in race, religion, or ethnic background. Can be considered offensive in the United States because of the assumed White, Christian, English-speaking majority.


miscegenation

The marriage, cohabitation, or sexual relationship between a woman and a man of different socially-designated races.


mixed race

A person with ancestry from two or more different socially-designated races.


monoracial

(1) A person who claims ancestry from a single racial group.

(2) A system of racial classification that allows only one race per person.


mulatto*

A multiracial person with Black and White ancestry; usually a biracial person with one Black biological parent and one White biological parent. The word is believed to be derived from the Spanish “mulato” for mule, the infertile crossbreed of a horse and a donkey. Usually considered offensive, although the term has been reclaimed by some biracial people.


multicultural

Representing or including two or more different cultures.


multiethnic

Representing or including two or more different ethnic groups.


multiracial

(1) Representing or including two or more different socially-designated races. (Example: multiracial family)

(2) A person with ancestry from two or more different socially-designated races. This term includes all racially mixed people. (Example: multiracial child)


Native American

A person with ancestry from the tribes indigenous to the 48 contiguous United States. The largest tribes in the United States today are Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Lumbee, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo.


one-drop rule

An historical law, now primarily a social practice, declaring that a person with any amount of ancestry from the African diaspora is Black—and non-White. Originated to keep the White race “pure”.


Oriental*

A term that applies to objects from Asian cultures or countries, such as rugs or furniture. This word does not properly apply to people, and is considered offensive when used to refer to a person with Asian ancestry.


 


P-Z

Pacific Islander

A person with ancestry from any of the three regions of Oceania (Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia), including a person with Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamoru, Samoan, Tahitian, or Mariana Islander ancestry.


passing

(1) A person who is perceived to be a member of a racial or ethnic group other than their own.

(2) Historically, a person perceived by White society as a White person though they had Black ancestry.

(3) This term is also applicable to the experience of members of multiracial families.


person of color

A person with ancestry from the racial or ethnic groups in the United States that historically were or currently are targeted by racism, including people with African, Native American, Asian, or Latino ancestry.


race

(1) A subjective social classification of humans based on one or a combination of physical characteristics such as skin color, facial form, eye shape, eye color, hair color, or hair texture.

(2) Scientifically, there is only one human race; however, the social construct of different races affects all people.


racism

(1) Hatred or intolerance of a group of people based on that group’s race (usually a race different from one’s own). Based on ignorance and prejudice.

(2) A belief that inherent differences between the socially-designated races determine collective or individual achievement.

(3) A system of government based upon or promoting this type of belief or intolerance.

4) Race-based prejudice plus power. By this definition of racism, People of Color cannot be racist because they do not possess institutionalized power.


reclaim

When a group of people re-appropriate offensive or oppressive terms that are (or historically have been) used in a way disparaging of that group. Offensive terms come to acquire positive meaning for some of the group, while keeping their original negative meaning outside of the group. The use of a reclaimed term by people who are not members of that group is almost always considered offensive.


transcultural

Connecting or across two or more different cultures.


transnational

(1) Connecting or across national boundaries.

(2) Including people of different nationalities.


transracial

Connecting or across two or more different socially-designated races. Most often used in the compound term “transracial adoption” to signify adoption across racial lines.


White

(1) A person with European ancestry, often with slight skin pigmentation.

(2) As a group, the people who currently have a dominant societal position in the United States.


White privilege

A system of societal advantages and benefits a person receives because they are—or are perceived to be—White. A person may not have asked for such privileges, nor realize they have them.