Decolonising glossary

A working document attempting to identify and understand the different ways and places in which decolonising work is taking place. Not exhaustive and still learning.

Last updated: 21 January 2020.

Please contact us to suggest amendments or additions.

We also find the Anti-Racist Educator’s Glossary very useful.

How people most affected by colonialism’s legacies are described

AAME. African, Asian and Minority Ethnic.

BAME. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (UK only) sometimes BME Black AND Minority Ethnic. Common in media and policy making. Contested usefulness as promotes binary with ‘White’. Often used as a word without expansion.

BIPOC. Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (North America)

Culturally diverse/ethnically diverse. Gaining popularity as a short-hand for people with non-European ancestry/self-identity. See Inc Arts for others.

Indigenous people. Those who lived and live in lands that were later colonised, in North America also known as First Nations.

Immigrants and migrants (black and brown) vs. colonial settlers and ex-pats (white).

POC. People of colour.

Racialised. People who experience or are disadvantaged by systemic racism.

Refugees and asylum seekers.

Source communities. People whose direct cultural and ancestral heritage resides in museums outside their country and those in diaspora communities with a connection to that heritage.

Other ways and places decolonising practice is talked about

Afriphobia. Anti-African hate and racism. Explained by TAOBQ (The African or Black Question).

Anti-Blackness and #BlackLivesMatter. Including anti-black sentiment in non-White cultural groups.

Anti-colonial. Actively against colonial actions, structures and institutions, often calling for their dismantling.

Antisemitism/anti-Semitic. Hatred and distrust of Jews and Jewishness.

Christonormativity. Prevailing Western starting point based in culturally Christian dogma (not an attack on Christianity as religious belief and practice).

Colonial, colonialism. Subjugation of one people by another particularly used to denote the period of British and European empires of colonies from 17th to 20th centuries. Political and economic control of a state over remote colonies. Also imperialism.

Dismantle. To deconstruct or displace colonial structures including concepts like White Supremacy.

Diversity and inclusion.

Equity [viz. equality].

Ethnocentrism. Making assumptions about another culture or group based on preconceptions originating in one’s own culture or cultural understanding; or assuming your race or nationality is superior to those of other cultures.

Eurocentrism. Assuming the preeminence or importance of people and things originating in European countries e.g. Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy.

Exceptionalism, supremacy. Belief in the superiority of one cultural group or race over another e.g. White supremacy, English exceptionalism.

Exclusion and inequality.

Global South. Countries previously described as ‘third-world’ or ‘developing’. A shifting meaning, used in economics and post-colonial studies.

Historical ignorance. Selective telling, remembering of partial histories that suppress stories of wrong-doing, oppression of and violence against other people.

Identity politics. Employing the discourse of marginalisation and oppression to further the cause of raising awareness of your people, a community, or those who hold similar beliefs to you or have a similar socio-cultural background and experience.

Imperialism, Empire and Anti-imperialism.

Intersectionality. How identities combine. How racism is experienced when combined with other prejudices e.g. those based on disability, class culture, age, gender, sexuality, migration, language.

Islamophobia. Hatred and distrust of Muslims and Islam. Also Anti-Muslim racism.

Post-colonial. Work on regions of the world and their people after the end of empire.

  • Institutional and systemic racism = racist policy and practice e.g. recruitment, decision-making, interpretation, collections development and management.

Privilege. Usually, not always, associated with White privilege. Systemic and institutional racism can benefit those with privilege, as well as disadvantage those without privilege.

Marginalised groups.

Minority rights.

Race, Racism and Anti-racism.

Restitution. Often used interchangeably with repatriation, specifically to a clearly identified owner, but may also refer to restorative practices such as compensation.

Repatriation. Of cultural artefacts taken, looted (spoliated) during war or colonial occupation.

Slavery and enslaved peoples.

Whiteness, White gaze, White fragility, Conditional whiteness. Facets of cultural and historic attitudes to and by people of White British and European heritage.

Expression of colonial and power relations

Being ‘colour-blind’. Proclamation of not seeing or not choosing to notice dimensions of race in another, also called ‘oppression blindness’.

Culture wars. Emerging from opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement and its influence on raising the profile of systemic racism throughout our institutions. Attempting to discredit efforts to raise awareness and research on racism and other social injustices. Usually includes derogatory use of the term woke.

Dismantling. Used with reference to dominant structures including belief structures that are based on oppression of another people.

Emotional labour. Psychological burdens experienced mainly by people of colour to do all the work, in the same category as “diversity hires.”

Free speech vs hate speech and abuse. 

Gaslighting. Manipulation of other people’s reality. Trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory or perceptions.

Microaggressions. Less obvious racism in everyday life, e.g. “where are you from? No, where are you really from?”

Othering. Being pejorative about people different to you, or viewing all people who are different, e.g. those with a different appearance or voice as one homogeneous group e.g. migrants 

Performative allyship. Statements not backed up by actions and core practice.

Power (wealth, funding, networks, decision-making). Speaking truth to power, a way of expressing the challenges inherent in decolonial work.

Prejudice and discrimination. Words commonly associated with oppressive power play.

Re-writing history. Accusation commonly made against those who campaign for tangible decolonial acts, e.g. taking down statues of slave owners and proponents of Colonial and post-colonial racist policy; changing the names of galleries, rooms and museums; changing the school curriculum to more truthfully reflect Colonial racism, violence and oppression. 

Reverse racism. Accusation made by those from privileged groups (e.g. people of White European heritage) who experience prejudice from others based on their looks, colour of their skin or perceived life advantage.

Silence. On racism and racist practices, on prejudices, on policies that will exclude.

Trust and trustworthy. Particularly important in museums as, in general, society believes museums to be trustworthy.

Violence and oppression. Oppressive practices. Deeply rooted normalised practices and power play e.g. questions on diversity monitoring forms, procedures, the experience of confronting displays, language used in description, marketing and labelling, many others….

Virtue signalling. Associating yourself or organisation with a cause to make yourself look good by aligning yourself with others e.g. anti-racism or decolonisation, for example, by making statements, but not living by them or actioning them in practice.

Woke. Having sensitivity towards injustice, particularly racism, homophobia and ableism. Also used under the guise of culture wars as a derogatory term towards those raising awareness of injustice, especially racial injustice.