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.

Please contact us to suggest amendments or additions.

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 expanded as Black AND Minority Ethnic. Contested usefulness. Separatist.

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

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.

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.


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).

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.

Imperialism, Empire and Anti-imperialism.

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

Race, Racism and Anti-racism.

  • 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).

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.

Marginalised groups.

Minority rights.

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.

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’.

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. 

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. 

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