A - Z Activism Vocab

Not everyone is familiar with some terms used in the social justice sector and activism work so, in this section, those terms frequently used by Canada Confesses and much more are defined. Links to sources and further information for learning are also provided. The A-Z Activism Vocabulary is here to keep you informed and educated on everything activism & social justice-related.

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  • Ableism - Discrimination in favour of the able-bodied.

  • Activism - Activism is working or campaigning for political or social change. There are many different kinds of activism — advocating for environmental regulations is one type of activism, and marching in the streets to protest the closing of your town's library is another kind.

  • Ageism - discrimination against middle-aged and elderly people.

  • Ally - A person who is a member of an advantaged social group who takes a stand against oppression works to eliminate oppressive attitudes and beliefs in themselves and their communities and works to interrogate and understand their privilege. Ally(ship) is a verb to describe the actions taken by a person in a privileged position who supports and seeks to uplift those who are less privileged than them. While many people may think of or use the term “ally” as a noun, it is in fact a constant decision-making process undertaken by people in privileged positions to act in a way that is representative of their allyship with racialized and marginalized peoples.


  • BIPOC - Black, Indigenous, People of Color. People are using the term to acknowledge that not all people of colour face equal levels of injustice. They say BIPOC is significant in recognizing that Black and Indigenous people are severely impacted by systemic racial injustices.

  • Bullying - Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.



  • Classism - The systemic oppression of the lower class and middle class to the advantage of the upper class.

  • Confession - A confession is an admission of guilt, fault, or a mistake. Canada Confesses implies that Canada has a dark underbelly that needs to be exposed so accountability, restorative justice, and action can occur.



  • Discrimination - Unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice.

  • Discourse - A mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts (such as history or institutions). Verbal interchange of ideas.

  • Diversity - In North America, the word “diversity” is strongly associated with racial diversity. However, that is just one dimension of human reality. We also differ in gender, language, manners and culture, social roles, sexual orientation, education, skills, income, and countless other domains.



  • Equality - The state of being equal. It's one of the ideals of a democratic society, and so the fight to attain different kinds of equality, like racial equality, gender equality, or equality of opportunity between rich and poor, is often associated with progress toward that ideal of everyone being truly equal.

  • Equity - Equity is a solution for addressing imbalanced social systems. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.



  • Feminism - Feminism is a movement that advocates equal rights and opportunities for women.

  • Freedom - Freedom is the state of being entirely free. Many governments claim to guarantee freedom, but often people do not, in fact, have the absolute freedom to act or speak without restraint.



  • Government - Your government is the system of people, laws, and officials that define and control the country that you live in.



  • Homeless - If you're homeless, you don't have any place to live — you might be without a roof over your head, or even without a country to call your own. Refugees living in temporary camps because of civil war are homeless. There are different types of homelessness.

  • Heterosexism - Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favour of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior.



  • Inclusion - The practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other marginalized groups.

  • Indigenous - Indigenous Canadians (also known as Aboriginal Canadians or First Peoples) are the indigenous peoples within the boundaries of Canada. They comprise the First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

  • Intersectionality - Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person's social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. Intersectionality identifies multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage.

  • Islamophobia - An irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam.



  • Justice - Justice, in its broadest sense, is the principle that people receive that which they deserve, with the interpretation of what then constitutes "deserving" being impacted upon by numerous fields, with many differing viewpoints and perspectives, including the concepts of moral correctness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness.



  • LGBTQ2S+ - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning and Two-Spirit. Although all of the different identities within “LGBT” are often lumped together, there are specific needs and concerns related to each individual identity. Here is a toolkit for more LGBTQ2S+ related terms.



  • Marginalized - Marginalized populations are groups and communities that experience discrimination and exclusion (social, political and economic) because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social and cultural dimensions. When you push people to the edge of society by not allowing them a place within it, you marginalize them.

  • Microaggressions - Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour.



  • NGO - Organizations that are independent of government involvement. NGOs are a subgroup of organizations founded by citizens, which include clubs and associations that provide services to their members and others.

  • Neurodivergent - Neurodiversity is a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits. The idea of neurodiversity can have benefits for kids with learning and thinking differences. This concept can help reduce stigma around learning and thinking differences.



  • Oppression - Malicious or unjust treatment or exercise of power, often under the guise of governmental authority. Oppression refers to discrimination when the injustice does not target and may not directly afflict everyone in society but instead targets specific groups of people.



  • Prejudice - If you have a negative attitude towards someone based on race or ethnicity rather than personal experience, you might be accused of prejudice. Racial prejudice is a negative attitude towards a group of people based on race — not on direct knowledge or experience.

  • Privilege - The unearned and mostly unacknowledged societal advantage that a restricted group of people has over another group: white privilege based on skin color; male privilege; children of privilege.



  • Queerphobia - An umbrella term concerning fear and hatred of things not heterosexual and cisgender (homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, transgenderism, asexuality, genderqueer). General animosity towards anything that does not meet a culture's heteronormative standards.



  • Racism - Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioural traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity.

  • Racialization - The ongoing process by which we all are shaped by racial grouping or “racialized” by structural policies/practices, institutional/organizational cultures, and interpersonal interactions.



  • Sexism - Sexism means discrimination against people because of their sex.

  • Sexual Harassment - Uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate.

  • Social Justice - Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.

  • Stereotype - A preconceived notion, especially about a group of people. Many stereotypes are rooted in prejudice.

  • Stigma - The disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of society. Social stigmas are commonly related to culture, gender, race, age, intelligence, and health.

  • Systemic Racism - Also known as Institutional racism, it is a form of racism that is embedded as a normal practice within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power, and education, among other issues.

  • Womanism - Womanism is a social theory based on the history and everyday experiences of women of colour, especially black women.



  • Xenophobia - The fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. It is an expression of the perceived conflict between an ingroup and an outgroup and may manifest in suspicion by one of the other's activities, a desire to eliminate their presence, and fear of losing national, ethnic or racial identity.



  • Zero Waste - Zero Waste is a set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean.