The Uni-Versity to Poly-Versity Series on Anti-Oppression Organization Change








Arnold Minors Arnold Minors & Associates Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Devonshire, Bermuda


February 2013


Copyright © 1993 – 2013 Arnold Minors & AssociatesAll Rights Reserved.


I coined the terms, uni-versity and poly-versity, to describe two ends of a continuum of possibilities in society and its institutions. At one end – ‘uni-versity’ – a dominant group can and does abuse its power to ensure their own health and wealth, as well as a reduction in, or denial of health and wealth to non-members. At the other end – ‘poly-versity’ – all people are able to maximize their own and society’s health and wealth. Poly-versity is, therefore, a desirable state.


This article is the first in a series on anti-oppression organization change. Future articles will focus on sexism, heterosexism and ableism, for example. A key future article will examine the kind of oppression that is the result of intersection of, for example, race, class, gender and sexual orientation.


  1. Racism targets different people in different countries and at different times. This article is intended for people who want to understand today’s Canadian and US context. 




Section I          Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

Section II        The Stages…………………………………………………………………………………………. 5

Section III       Tools for Change……………………………………………………………………………… 14

Section IV       Plugging in to Power………………………………………………………………………… 15

Section V        Elements of Organizations………………………………………………………………… 17

Section VI       Sharing an Understanding of the Language…………………………………………. 19

Section VI       Conclusion………………………………………………………………………………………. 28




Racism, in Canada and the United States of America, is the behaviour of preventing a person of colour (racialized person) or Aboriginal person from having equitable access to society’s resources. The result is a reduction in society’s health and wealth. Racism is, therefore, wasteful and immoral. Anti-racism is an active strategy used to create genuine equity in society for persons of colour (racialized persons) and Aboriginal persons.

Anti-racist organization change is a strategy directed at moving an organization along the path to ‘poly-versity’.


El racismo, en Canadá y los EE.UU., es el comportamiento de la prevención de una persona de color (de racializada) o persona aborígenes tengan acceso equitativo a los recursos de la sociedad. Esta negación de los resultados de la equidad en una reducción de la riqueza de la sociedad, definido en sus términos más amplios. El racismo es, por tanto, inútil e inmoral. Lucha contra el racismo es una estrategia activa para crear verdadera igualdad en la sociedad de las personas de color (personas racializadas) y los aborígenes. El cambio de Lucha contra el racismo de organización es una estrategia dirigida a mover una organización a lo largo de la ruta de acceso a la igualdad real: para poli-versidad.


Le racisme, au Canada et aux Etats-Unis, est le comportement d’empêcher une personne de couleur (personne racialisée) ou une personne autochtone d’avoir un accès équitable aux ressources de la société. Ce déni de l’équité des résultats dans une réduction de la richesse de la société, défini dans son sens le plus large. Le racisme est, par conséquent, inutile et immorale. Anti-racisme est une stratégie active pour créer une véritable équité dans la société pour les personnes de couleur (les personnes racialisées) et les personnes autochtones. Changement d’organisation anti-racisme est une stratégie visant à déplacer une organisation sur le chemin de véritable équité: à poly-versité.


Ubaguzi wa rangi, Canada na Marekani, ni tabia ya kuzuia mtu wa Michezo (racialized mtu) au asili ya mtu kutokana na kuwa na upatikanaji sawa wa rasilimali za jamii.

Matokeo yake ni kupungua kwa afya ya jamii na mali. Ubaguzi wa rangi ni hiyo, fujo na wazinzi. Kupambana na ubaguzi wa rangi ni mkakati kazi kutumika kujenga usawa halisi katika jamii kwa ajili ya watu wa rangi (racialized watu) na watu wa asili. Kupambana na ubaguzi wa rangi shirika mabadiliko ni mkakati wa moja kwa moja kwa kusonga shirika kando ya njia ‘ya aina nyingi-versity’.


SECTION I                                        INTRODUCTION

An organization is like any other living creature: it works hard to preserve its integrity. Organizations treat new and different members – staff (paid or unpaid), clients or customers – in the same way that biological organisms treat foreign bodies like viruses and bacteria: they use their resources to attack and expel or kill the intruders. This happens even when the “intruders” may be advantageous. Diversity usually increases the ability of organisms to respond to environmental changes. It seems that sharks and cockroaches are two of the very few organisms which have been successful over a very long time but which have not incorporated any diversity into themselves.


An organization’s characteristics are based on assumptions about individuals and groups. As the workforce and the population served become more diverse, we need organizations’ members to challenge their long-held assumptions and build new and broader assumptions on which to base their organizational practices: in order to rebuild their organizational engines; to turn diversity to advantage.


An organization’s level of diversity will likely be different throughout the organization. It may show evidence of being in one stage in one section of a division; another stage in a department; and still another in a different division. If an organization moves through the stages, changes are made at deeper and deeper levels and are increasingly difficult to accomplish and sustain.






This model is based on ideas originally developed by Bailey Jackson and Rita Hardiman in 1981 and further developed by Bailey Jackson and Evangelina Holvino in 1988. (Jackson, Bailey W. and Evangelina Holvino. Developing Multicultural Organizations. Creative Change: The Journal of Religion and the Applied Behavioral Sciences; Volume 9, Number 2, Fall 1988.)



SECTION II                                       THE STAGES



excluding passive token symbolic substantial including
organization club acceptance equity equity


1                     2                              3                 4                              5                      6


A description of each stage follows. At the end of the description of each stage, there is a table with examples of statements one might hear in an organization in that stage. It is important to keep in mind that these statements might be made by anyone in the organization. People of colour and Aboriginal people may make racist statements, just as some White people may. Racist behaviour can be conscious and deliberate, or derived from internalised and almost always unanalyzed assumptions.


Even though I give examples of what you might hear at each stage of organizations (or parts of organizations), the reality is that one might hear almost any of the examples – particularly the negative comments – in any of the stages. A key factor in helping to determine the stage of an organization (or one of its parts) is to look at the organizational response to racist behaviour. In Stage 1 and 2 organizations, racist behaviours are rewarded. In Stage 3 and 4 organizations, the behaviours are largely dealt with by ignoring them or, at best, asserting that the perpetrator is a “bad apple”; as though racist behaviour is only by individuals and not also systemic. In Stage 5 and 6 organizations, racist behaviours are dealt with at the individual level and also used as opportunities for these “learning organizations” to determine whether a systemic response is necessary and, if so, what it would look like. If there is a decision to make a systemic response, it would be implemented and monitored, as a part of the way “we do things around here”.


Finally, I want to repeat that this is a complex issue: An organization may show evidence of being in one stage in one section of a division; another stage in a department; and still another in a different division. Because of legislation and learning, it is likely that most North American organizations are at or between Stages 2 and 5. Because Uni-versity to Poly-versity is a description of a continuum of possibilities, it is also possible for an organization to remain “stuck” – perhaps forever –  at any given Stage or to die never having left some stage.



Stage 1: The Excluding Organization


The Excluding Organization is an inflexible structure designed to maintain dominance of one group over all other groups. Such organizations have exclusionary hiring and service practices. Where such practices are prohibited by law, rules and procedures are unwritten and enforced by peer pressure. For example, in employment, senior managers will see to it that staff responsible for hiring will ensure that procedures are designed to exclude people. Furthermore, colleagues will influence staff responsible for hiring to act in accordance with the procedures through forms of encouragement such as “joking” or isolating people who try to change the rules. Very little (if any) deviation from rules is permitted.


The Excluding Organization is like fate: it cannot change; it can learn nothing. Therefore, there is usually no realistic way of making change from within this type of organization. When there is movement, it is because of pressure from the outside, such as legislation or litigation. The movement is the kind which drags the Excluding Organization’s members, kicking and screaming, into the Passive Club stage.


The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is my prototypical example of a Stage 1 organization.




Stage 2: The Passive Club


In the Passive Club, there is nothing so blatant as explicit advocacy of white supremacy, for example. On the other hand, all the policies, procedures and practices are designed to maintain the privilege of those who have traditionally held power. Here, those who have been traditionally excluded (people of colour and Aboriginal peoples) get very limited support from the system.

Further, only a very limited number of these people are hired and only when they have the “correct” perspective. The language that is consistent with this decision-making is about “fit” – “Lakeisha is very qualified, but is she the right fit for us?”




Services are provided to the organization’s clients as they always have been. “If they need our services, they’d better learn to speak English!”


Very little flexibility in employment is needed to allow the “inferior” people to enter but they are invariably sacrificed. “You see, we knew that blacks [Indians] couldn’t make the grade here.” These few are seen as representative of, and spokespersons for their group, although they are denied participation in decision-making processes.


Again pressure from outside the organization in Stage 2 moves the organization to Stage 3. This pressure comes in the form of additional demands from an increasingly restive client base or from an important funder and/or fear of imposed legislation.





Stage 3: Token Acceptance


There are a number of indicators that organizations in North America are in Stage 3: Token Acceptance. For example, in this stage, the organization begins to design procedures that will provide access to all qualified people, particularly for people of colour and Aboriginal people at the bottom of the organization.


From time to time, a “token” person of colour is promoted into management. On those rare occasions a woman of colour is promoted, she is seen as a team player and is usually 200% competent: a super-heroine. Much mention is made of the fact that the organization is interested in “qualified people.” The organization advertises itself as non discriminatory: “We are an equal opportunity employer.” “We do not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, etc., etc.” In other words, the promise is that anybody can succeed. In practice, however, very little changes.




Another indicator, in larger agencies, that the organization is in Stage 3 is that top managers order middle managers to fix the bottom levels. When the bottom resists, the resistance is used as confirmation that the most serious problems are there. By focussing on the bottom as the problem, managers do not have to change their own management practices that contribute to the maintenance of racism.


Organizations may have one or a few people able to provide services in a language other than the “mainstream” language. Some organizations have also hired “Multicultural” Workers – usually people of colour – who have no authority and are frequently marginalized. This is the beginning of the organization’s recognition of, and response to the need for equity in access to its services. In some organizations, advertising may occasionally reflect other than white clients. However, the advertising shows one or two persons of colour doing the same things in the same ways as the previously all-white advertisements.


Pressures to move the organization to Stage 4 begin to come from staff (usually senior people who have worked in other organizations); from clients and customers; from legislation in equity related areas; and from threats that funders will withdraw/reduce funding if agencies don’t become more reflective of their communities on their boards and in staffing and clients/persons served.







  1. A coworker sees you and several black colleagues at casual lunch. Back at the office she asks, “What was that meeting all about?”


  1. You arrive at work on time as usual. Your boss, making her rounds, peeks in and remarks with surprise, “Oh, you’re here!”


  1. A colleague says with a broad smile, “You know I really like you. When I see you, I don’t see colour. I don’t think of you as ”


  1. After a staff meeting, your boss suggests, “You need to work at making others more comfortable with you. Why don’t you smile more often?”


  1. You tell your manager about a problem you are having and the response you get is “You’ve got to be exaggerating! I find that hard to ”


  1. You are told you are “rough around the edges” despite your completion of many professional development programs and it is suggested you emulate the behaviour of a White


  1. You continually get more responsibility, but no


  1. You are being recognized at a company banquet. As you approach the stage to receive your company’s highest achievement award, your corporation’s top executive exclaims, “Yo homeboy, congratulations!”


  1. You arrive at an offsite business retreat dressed in business casual attire. Your White peers approach you and ask why you are always so dressed


  1. You are told you are decreasing your effectiveness with your aggressive


  1. You are frequently asked why you change your hairstyle so


  1. Your first name is arbitrarily shortened to one or two syllables without your permission or it is Canadianized/Americanized.


  1. You are asked every summer if black people tan or


  1. After a coworker returns from a weekend in the sun, they run to you on Monday morning and extend their arms to touch yours and say, “Hey, I’m darker than ”


  1. Walking through the hall with colleagues, you exchange greetings with two other Blacks you pass along the way. Your colleague says in amazement, “My, you know so many ”


  1. You are told your attitude is affecting others. You are asked to “lighten up, not be so serious about the work. Smile and laugh more often, to make others more




comfortable working with you.”


  1. You realize that at times you must “dumb down” appearing to be dependent and unaware, so that your manager and peers feel they are helping


  1. You have to perform at 250% just to stay


  1. You have to document everything. You’ve learned the hard


  1. You assumed that all that was required of you was to work hard and get the job


  1. No matter what your role is in the organization, you are expected to be the expert on



Stage 4: Symbolic Equity


The Symbolic Equity organization is committed to eliminating discriminatory practices by actively recruiting and promoting members of groups typically denied access to its organization. Yet, all members of the organization are still required to conform to the norms of the traditionally dominant group. Thus, one hears that “she got ahead but that’s only because she really knows how to play the game like a white man.”


The leaders of the organization may still try to avoid real equity. One way of doing this is to hire and assign accountability for employment equity to a staff person who has no real power. In such cases, the Employment Equity staff person is programmed to fail, because of the person’s lack of power to make real change happen. By the same token, no manager is held accountable for achieving results: either in employment equity or in service equity. In Stages 3 and 4, equality of opportunity is the watchword; not equity in outcomes.


This stage is called Symbolic Equity because changes are more in the symbols of the organization rather than the substance. It is becoming apparent that many people in organizations assume that equity will be achieved if an organization is effective at eliminating those barriers caused by the organization’s employment practices, such as recruitment, promotion and discipline. This assumption is false. Much more work needs to be done to change the organization’s culture so that people of colour feel welcomed as clients or customers; as volunteers (especially at senior management and Board level); and as staff.


In this stage, organizations begin to ask how they can be responsive to their clients’ needs. Typically, the responsiveness is in reshaping existing programs to fit emerging needs of new clients/customers. The “problem” is described as a marketing one: given a new market, how can we best serve that market. As is true in the earlier stages, there is still little understanding or recognition of the need to change power relations within the organization and with the organization’s communities.


Multiculturalism, cross/inter cultural communication, and race relations programs are prevalent




at Stages 3 and 4. Similarly, agencies at Stage 4 may have a person of colour as President or member of the Executive Committee. However, one often hears that the person was chosen only to be a “token” or that the person “doesn’t represent the community”. This assertion about representation is not an implicit acceptance that South Asian community members, for example, are all alike. Instead, it is a statement that the person seems to have markedly similar views to the most powerful persons in the dominant culture.


The pressures for movement to Stage 5 come from a sufficiently large number of women and men in the organization who are demanding equity at all staff levels, and particularly at Executive and Board levels. The momentum that has been developing in these organizations is another force for continuing change.


Stage 5: Substantial Equity


The organization in the stage of Substantial Equity is a flexible, responsive structure designed to reflect a new mission. The organization’s leaders review their policies and may revise some previously sacred mission statements. The new structure ensures that input is obtained from all levels – from women of colour, from men with disabilities, from Aboriginal women, e.g., – to help shape and reshape the organization’s mission. It is possible that some organizations in Stage 5 will decide that hierarchies – with their implicit assumption of “power over,” which is different from “powerful with” – are no longer appropriate; that hierarchies were designed to exclude.


Task groups might be set up to find out what communities need and want and how services might equitably be delivered. Monitoring processes are instituted to ensure that services are

delivered in ways which employees and clients of colour describe as equitable.

At this stage, multiracial teams of women and men will be working together (at all levels), thinking strategically and developing short and long term action plans.

Given the nature of North American society, it is likely that no major organization is completely in Stage 5. Our understanding of other kinds of transformational changes – and from evidence in some major organizations, such as some HBCU’s*, which were created because of racism – leads us to conclude that the major pressure for a move to Stage 6 comes from three sources:

  • momentum of the change;
  • leadership from senior management, staff and clients/communities served; policy-

making activists and client/community activists; and

  • increasingly widely shared, understood and accepted evidence that equity contributes to organizational and societal health and


(* HBCU – Historically Black Colleges and Universities. A term used in the United States)  


Stage 6: The Including Organization


The Including Organization reflects the contributions and interests of various groups in its mission and operations. All people in the organization are encouraged to ensure eradication of any kind of social oppression. The Including Organization has members of its larger community as full participants in the organization, especially in decisions which shape the organization and influence its direction.

The Including Organization sees itself as part of the world and its members support efforts to

eliminate all forms of social oppression and to enhance the worth of all. Organizations actively seek the views of various communities and design and refine their structures to ensure responsiveness to those communities.

The key difference between the organization in the stage of Substantial Equity and the Including Organization is that the former is in the process of becoming Including; it is a transitional organization. The Substantial Equity organization does not yet utilize the skills and talents of each person to the fullest; its structure has the capacity to make that happen but it hasn’t happened yet.

Another reality is that not everyone in a Stage 6 organization will be actively anti-racist in all behaviours, all the time. A Stage 6 organization still operates in the real world and draws its people from that real world. However, racist behaviour is recognized and dealt with, as happens with any other behaviour that does not contribute to the mission of the organization.




  • We are pleased to announce that Deputy Chief [of Police] Brenda Larson has accepted an assignment as full time President of the United Way for a 2-year term. She’ll be seconded there, because of her outstanding experience in our various communities. We are delighted at the support received for this secondment from Government, the African-Canadian Coalition, the Chamber of Commerce and the United


  • It certainly is a treat to be able to work directly in the Somali communities. We learn so much about how we need to And we’re able to help ensure that our company is actively anti-racist. I’ve been here – off and on – for 15 years and this is definitely a new place. Of course, the City is constantly changing, too.


  • We ensure that all curricula in all programs are actively anti-racist. We understand that universities are, fundamentally, about learning. It is our mission to contribute to sustaining an equitable


  • Our latest Task Team will disband. We want to thank the team members – paid staff and volunteer staff – for their outstanding contributions in helping us to achieve the goal of sustaining services to new


  • We acknowledge that our company’s success results, in part, from benefiting from the genocide of Aboriginal peoples, from unpaid labour of enslaved Africans, from expropriation of property of Japanese people and from other racist acts. We will take leadership in engaging in consultations about reparations. As Chair of the Council on Business, I have asked President Obama to make reparations a national




SECTION III                                     TOOLS FOR CHANGE

Stage 1 or 2 organizations change largely as a result of forces outside the organization. Stage 3 and 4 organizations have their most effective changes begun and/or focussed on the middle and bottom of their organizations. Stage 5 and 6 organizations have leadership from the top; have changes that are strategic and systemic; and consciously and deliberately behave in ways that have an anti-racism impact on the wider community/society.


Stage 1 and 2 Organizations

  • Class action lawsuit, even against another similar but less well-resourced
  • Order from administrative tribunal following investigation of a discrimination
  • Embarrassing stories in respected mainstream media; i.e stories that “have legs”.
  • Sponsorship by CEO who has had a ‘conversion’ and no longer believes in White supremacy.
  • Competition that drastically reduces profits or threatens the continued existence of the organization, especially from a newcomer to the “business”.
  • Loss of key staff to other organizations because of their embarrassment of being associated with the organization; especially if the organization has become
  • Credible threats that funders will withdraw funding if employment practices do not change.


Stage 3 and 4 Organizations

  • Diversity and cultural competency
  • Affinity groups given a mandate to report suggestions for change to a senior HR
  • Requirement from funders that the organization creates a multiculturalism or anti-racism policy.
  • Community activists targeting the organization and getting “media play”.
  • Pilot project in a part of the organization that is successful but known to take
  • Sponsorship by a middle manager willing to try something new in her
  • Stories featuring the organization as organization of choice for persons of
  • Successful line manager appointed as Manager of


Stage 5 and 6 Organizations

  • Comprehensive anti-racism change strategy championed and monitored by the Chairman and/or CEO.
  • Rewards tied to significant achievements in achieving employment equity particularly for Aboriginal women and men, and men and women of colour (racialized men and women).
  • Equity change effort tied to other strategic change efforts, such as continuous improvement.
  • CEO and/or CFO speak at prestigious conferences about the achievements in anti-racism.
  • Rewards built into the organization for substantive volunteering in the community with Aboriginal people or persons of
  • Anti-racism promoted actively as a norm – “the way we do things around here”.
  • Public statements of support for, and action on genuine



SECTION IV                                     PLUGGING IN TO POWER

Power is simply the ability to get something done. As already mentioned, I group power into three categories: ideological/societal; institutional; and individual/interpersonal.


Power can be used or abused. Abuse of the mutually reinforcing forms of power sustains racist behaviour.


By the same token, various forms of power are necessary to facilitate anti-racist organizational change, to move organizations from wherever they are to higher levels. Figure 3 is a graphical illustration of the forms of power available to be used by change agents, whether inside or outside the organization.


Audre Lorde observed that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She was, I think, reminding change agents of the necessity of using forms of power that recognize what ‘the master’ used; and to see difference as a source of strength, rather than of division. Ms Lorde’s reminder is crucial for change agents; they must critically examine ideas in common currency – ideological power. They must recognize the falsity of what may be taken for granted; what may be common sense or universal truth. As was once observed, “Common sense is what told people the world is flat.” Change agents must critically examine institutional forms of power which, when abused, preserve the status quo, and prevent a move to poly-versity. Change agents must examine their own forms of personal and interpersonal power and use them to press for change.


The Tools for Change in the previous section give only a few more detailed examples of ways to plug in to power.




Figure 2: The Power Bar







  • morality
  • spirituality
  • unburdening oneself
  • charismatic
  • whistle-blowing
  • expertise/information
  • access to information
  • image making
  • ability to cope
  • nuisance (PITA)
  • willingness to manipulate
  • friends
  • credible threat of violence



    • network/coalition
    • referent
    • control of boundaries


    • hierarchy/authority
    • reward/punishment
    • policy support
    • control of decision-making
    • control of resources


./          IDEOLOGICAL/Societal

  • ascribed (e.g., tradition, gender)
  • connection
  • language
  • history
  • legislation
  • social memory
  • science
  • culture



Copyright ©1990, 1998, 2001 Arnold Minors & Associates. All rights reserved.






By the time an organization is in Stage 6, all of its elements will reflect Stage 6 characteristics.


As mentioned in the Introduction, as an organization moves to higher stages, changes are made at increasingly deeper levels.


To illustrate, every organization has some people to do its work. They may be paid or unpaid (so- called volunteers). If we take a Ku Klux Klan cell as an example of a Stage 1 organization, all its staff are White Protestant men. If it were somehow to be forced to move to Stage 2, the staff would become increasingly diverse – the demographics would change. As the demographics changed, the intrapersonal and interpersonal characteristics also become more and more diverse. People – Staff – are the first element of an organization. See Figure 3 below.


What happens is that as an organization moves from lower stages to higher stages with respect to Staff, changes are made in the sub-sets of Staff, from left to right.


That is, as our prototypical Stage 1 organization (the KKK Cell in ABC County, Ontario, Canada or Louisiana, USA) moves through the stages, it may add White men from less-traditional Protestant denominations; then maybe White women but only women who are otherwise indistinguishable from the White men; then more diverse members whose personal style is considerably different from the traditional members. Note that this analysis suggests that, if the mission of an organization is to preserve and promote dominance, any successful change in such an organization from Stage 1 to 2 – and most certainly 3 – will result in a fundamental shift in the organization’s mission, or, much more likely, its death.


Similarly, changes occur from left to right as an organization moves through the stages at each of the six elements of an organization.


In summary, changes in Stage 1 and 2 organizations occur largely on the left side in each of the elements of organizations. Changes in Stage 5 and 6 organizations have already occurred on the left and middle elements; the right hand side sub-sets are changing. Stage 3 and 4 organization change in the middle subsets.


Where subsets are shown as single items not on a continuum – Services/Products, e.g. – changes are made superficially or not at all in Stage 1 and 2 organizations in those items; incrementally in Stage 3 and 4 organizations; and transformationally in Stage 5 and 6 organizations.


All of this means that any person who wants to be an effective anti-racism change agent must be able to determine the stage of the organization and then choose stage-appropriate strategies for change.




Figure 3: Six Ss for Success ©: Elements of Organizations








 •  Money•  Working Conditions

•  Capital Assets

•  Technology

 •  Communication•  Reward

•  Measurement

•  Personnel

•  Procurement

•  Resource Allocation

•  Control

•  Accountability

 •  Operating•  Communication

•  Learning

•  Management

•  Decision-Making

 •  Traditions•  Rituals

•  Norms

•  Values

•  Ways of Knowing

•  Ethos

•  Essence

•  Meaning


mediated by



to deliver the organization’s



within a





The language related to cultural competence, diversity, inclusion and anti-oppression, in general and anti-racism, in particular is evolving. This is my best understanding of the terms in use today. In order to promote – and also perhaps provoke – a deeper understanding of the language, I have added commentary to most of the definitions. I thank Alok Mukherjee and the late Fran Endicott for their work on beginning this glossary.


Aboriginal Peoples: The descendants of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island – as North America was called (in translation) by many of its residents long before the Europeans invaded. Many Aboriginal peoples have never subscribed to the European notion that they were conquered by Europeans. Others negotiated agreements with Europeans, most of which were dishonoured by European Americans. The modern history of Aboriginal Peoples is characterised by their resistance to the attempted conquest and subordination by Europeans.


Aboriginal People includes persons who choose to describe themselves as “Status” or “Registered” or “Non-Status” Indians, as well as Metis (also Métis) and Inuit.


Other terms used are Natives or Native people, particularly in the United States of America. Less often preferred – and even considered offensive by some – is “Indian”.


Anti-oppression: Oppression is the name given to abuse of power by one group of people to exclude, subordinate or marginalize non-members of the group. Anti-oppression work is intended to actively redress power imbalances in society. Power imbalances are usually denoted by an “ —ism”; such as sexism, or racism or heterosexism.


Anti-racism: Work done to eliminate racism.


Black: a social colour. In the UK, all people of colour (racialized persons) are called Black. In North America, people whose heritage is Black African are called Black. The term has evolved over the last half century or so from Coloured (Colored) to Negro to Black. More recently, there is a further evolution to African-Canadian (American). A smaller number of ‘Black’ people are beginning to describe themselves as Afrikan.


Biracial: See Race.


Cultural Competence: is being used increasingly to describe equity work. Although the intent of cultural competence is to ensure, ultimately, that privilege and abuse of power are eliminated from organizations, the reality is that, in most organizations, attention is focussed on ensuring that people in organizations respect the differences in people from cultures different from theirs and can work effectively with them. Race relations is an earlier term used for the newer cultural competence, when the work was focussed on work across ‘races’. Cultural competence is particularly used in the education, health and social services sectors. See also Service Equity.


Culture: The aspects of individual and group identities which include: language, religion, race, gender, experience of migration/immigration, social class, political affiliations, family influences, age, sexual orientation, geographic origin, ethnicity, experience or absence of experience with discrimination, experience of fighting discrimination and other injustices. This list is not exhaustive. Culture and race (skin colour) are not synonymous terms.




Diverse: Means a variety. Is used commonly, and inaccurately, as a synonym for people of colour, as in “She’s a diverse person”. It does not make sense to refer to any particular individual as a “diverse” person. It is similarly inaccurate to refer to people of colour as being people from diverse groups, if the intent is to exclude White people from being members of diverse groups.

This use is commonly seen in job advertisements – “We encourage applications from members of diverse groups”. The effect of this use of “diverse” is to perpetuate the myth that White people are individuals and everyone else is a member of a group (often seen as homogeneous).


Diversity: Has become a term used as a smoke screen to hide the variety of differences in our society. An important difference that the word “diversity” hides is difference in power and privilege held by some, relative to others.


‘Managing diversity’ is often coded language to mean ‘putting in place whatever will look as though we’re dealing with difference, just as long as the status quo is preserved’. Further, the term ‘diversity management’ implies that it is a function of management only; that management has sole responsibility for anti-racism work. The reality is that everyone in society and in organizations can play a role. It is common to see a Manager of Diversity and Inclusion appointed and made responsible for diversity. Such an appointment in most organizations lets everyone else off the hook, since the perception is that it is the Manager’s job to create diversity.


Dominant Culture: The more powerful cultural grouping in Canada: White, heterosexual, able- bodied, Christian, English-speaking, middle-to-upper income men.


Employment Equity: a process designed to result in fair representation of historically disadvantaged group members throughout all levels of an organization; elimination of discriminatory barriers to employment; and remedying the effects of past discrimination through positive measures.


In the United States, Affirmative Action is the equivalent. In Canada, Affirmative Action is often used as a pejorative term, to put down work on the creation of employment equity. In such usage, it is common to hear affirmative action and reverse discrimination used together.


Employment Equity work includes, in theory although often not in practice, anti-racism processes.


In Canada, the Federal Government enacted employment equity legislation. A very regressive Conservative government was elected in Ontario and made one of its first acts the repeal of that province’s Employment Equity legislation. It is a measure of its misrepresentation and misdirection that the government named its repealing legislation: Job Quotas Repeal Act, even though the legislation it repealed contained no mention of quotas. The US Equal Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, including discrimination against job applicants, on the basis of race and [skin] colour, and other social identity characteristics.


Equal Opportunity: Work to ensure that a level playing field, especially in employment. As laudable as this goal is, in practice, the focus of the work is about ensuring that everyone is treated equally; that is, the same. The focus is on process; not outcome. As it should be clear by now, if equal treatment does not address and remove underlying systemic barriers reinforced by abuse of societal power, equal treatment will continue to produce an unequal playing field.




Equity-seeking Groups: Members of groups of people who experience discrimination, sustained by abuse of societal power. Examples are women, people of colour, and Aboriginal people. The term is, at best, unfortunate since it implies that the responsibility for seeking equity lies only with people who experience oppressive discrimination. This problem with the term is the other side of the coin of the problem with ‘diversity management’, where the implication is that only management has responsibility for the change.


Ethnic: Often used to mean non-dominant or less powerful cultural identities in Canada. According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the term originally meant “of or relating to Gentiles or to nations not converted to Christianity” and now refers to “community of physical and mental traits possessed by the members of a group as a product of their common heredity and cultural tradition” and, thus, “originating from racial, linguistic and cultural ties with a specific group”. Every person, therefore, has at least one ethnic identity. Ethnic should       not be used to refer to only those people with non-dominant or less powerful cultural identities.


Ethnoracial: Pertaining to ethnicity and race. The term is often used as a synonym for “people of colour.” This is not a correct usage; see “ethnic,” above.


Eurocentrism: belief and practice that promote Western European culture as pre-eminent and the norm against which everything else is judged and measured. See White Supremacy.


First Nations: a legal term in Canada to include only those persons who have “Status”, as defined by the Canadian federal government. What makes the term confusing, however, is that some people, including some Aboriginal people, use First Nations people as a synonym for all Aboriginal people.


First Peoples: Descendants of the people who first inhabited Turtle Island (see Aboriginal Peoples). It is a truism that people ought to be allowed to name themselves. If the real natives of this continent want to be called First Peoples, then that’s what they should be called. This name is coming into greater use.


Indigenous Peoples: See Aboriginal Peoples, First Peoples, Original Peoples.


Immigrant: Technically, people who have moved to a country or region with the intention of settling; not synonymous with refugees. In Canada, the word is often used as a synonym – implicitly and explicitly – for people of colour. That kind of exclusive use is wrong.


Inclusion: A term that is coming into more common usage to describe work to create healthy, effective organizations in which each person is treated as an individual. This term seems to be replacing ‘Diversity’ as the preferred term to describe the work.


Institutional Racism: Exercise of notions of racial superiority by social institutions through their policies, practices, procedures, and organizational culture and values, either consciously or unconsciously. Institutional racism results in the unequal treatment of, and discrimination against, Aboriginal people and people of colour.


Multicultural: This word, at least in Canada’s largest cities, is coming increasingly – and wrongly – to mean “non-white.” When used correctly, “multicultural” is never a synonym for Black, in particular, or for people of colour, in general.



v’ Toronto’s population is multicultural. This sentence has a correct usage of ‘multicultural’ because Toronto’s population includes people from various cultures: Mohawk, English, French, Somali, Trinidadian, Jamaican, German, Polish, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese; rich, middle class and poor; women and men; gays, lesbians, bisexuals andheterosexuals; Muslims, Christians, Wiccans and Jews; and on and on and on.


K The multicultural [meaning people of colour] population lives in all communities of the Greater Toronto Area. Similarly incorrect: The “diverse” population lives . . .


Multiculturalism: A state policy announced by the federal government of Canada in 1971. Acknowledging that many Canadians with non-dominant ethnicities experienced unequal access to resources and opportunities, it urged more recognition of the contributions of such Canadians, the preservation of certain expressions of their ethnicities, and more equity in the treatment of all Canadians.


Since 1971, there has been increasing recognition of the limitations of this concept: first because it does not explicitly acknowledge the critical role that racism plays in preventing this vision from materializing; second, because it promotes a static and limited notion of culture as fragmented and confined to ethnicity; and finally, because it does not promote the real-life struggles and experiences of those whose ethnicities are non-dominant and who suffer the daily harm inflicted on them by abuse of power.


Non-white: The term ‘Non-white’ explicitly and implicitly uses ‘White’ as the standard. It is offensive to many people of colour.


Offensive Terms: When describing people, banana, camel jockey, chink, coolie, dirty indian, flipper or flip-flops, jap, nigger, nip, oreo, paki, redskin, spic, squaw etc. are all offensive. If you do not know to whom they refer, it does not matter. You do not need to know. If you hear someone use one of them, tell that person very politely that it is offensive. DO NOT USE THEM. It is no justification to assert that some members of the group themselves use the term.

Similarly, it is offensive to refer to people of colour or Aboriginal people as “these people” or “those people,” as in “what’s the matter with these people” or “what do those people want?” It is also offensive to talk about Aboriginal people as “our Aboriginal people”, regardless of intent.


Original Peoples: Descendants of the people who first inhabited Turtle Island (see Aboriginal Peoples). This name is coming into greater use.


People (Persons) of Colour: People of colour is the term many people of colour want to call themselves. This term includes people who are Black, Latin American, Asian and Pacific Islanders. The term does not include Aboriginal People. Aboriginal People are Aboriginal People. I prefer Persons of Colour rather than People of Colour, because the former term has more potential for reminding everyone that each individual is a separate and unique person. Generally, I use the term ‘people of colour’ throughout this article because it is the term that is still most widely used and/or understood. See also Racialized People.


The following list shows the geographic origins of the majority of people of colour in Canada. Asians (East Asians – People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea, South Korea; South Asians – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (via the Caribbean and East Africa, for many); Southeast Asians – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (or Burma), the Philippines,




Thailand, Vietnam; West Asians – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Saudi Arabia). Blacks – the African continent and the Afrikan Diaspora, particularly the Caribbean and the United States.

Latin Americans – Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru.


West Asian peoples were – and still commonly are – described as living in or coming from the Middle East. West Asia is preferred because the ‘Middle East’ uses Western Europe as its marker. Middle East, therefore, is seen as Eurocentric.


Note that using the grouping ‘South Asian’ or ‘African’ is a convenience. Do not think that it means that all the people who come from that region are the same.


Pluralism: Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines pluralism as “A state or condition of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.”


Politically Correct: Frederick Douglass once wrote, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. This struggle may be moral… or physical … or both; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand.”


People who seek justice in society often make recommendations about changes to language, because language itself is a powerful too that often reinforces the power of the privileged members of society.


When those who are relatively less privileged begin to assert their rights – especially their right to define themselves – the privileged use every means at their disposal to retain their power. One strategy they employ is to trivialize the struggle for justice through their control of most forms of media. The rise of resistance to equity-seeking can be seen especially at US campuses of higher education, where there are attempts to delegitimize the demand for respectful discussion by turning “political correctness” into a negative.


Do not use the terms “politically correct” and “political correctness” and their kind, except when you react negatively against them. When you stop using them, you aid the struggle for justice. I admit to some ambivalence about this recommendation. It used to be a positive thing to try to get it correct.


Prejudice: Prejudging a person or group negatively, usually without adequate evidence or information. Frequently, prejudices are not recognized as false or unsound assumptions.

However, through repetition they come to be accepted as “common sense notions” and when backed up with power, result in acts of discrimination and oppression based on class, disability, ethnicity, race and/or sexual orientation, for example.


Race: Race, when applied to people, is NOT a scientific construct, except to the extent that all people are members of the Human Race. Recently, there have been attempts at “Race Science” in California and Ontario, for example, to classify people using physical features like skull size and thus create a hierarchy. At base, however, race is a social and political invention used to categorize people. In Canada, the basis of categorization is biological, particularly skin colour. Its purpose is to categorize some as superior and others as inferior. In Canada and the US, the initial use of race was to designate Africans as an inferior race in order to justify slavery; and




Aboriginal people as an inferior race (in fact, savages) in order to justify theft of the land they stewarded.


Biracial is a term applied to and/or used by persons whose parentage is mixed. The term is most often used when one parent is White and the other a person of colour. The difficulty with this naming is that it serves to reinforce the incorrect notion that race is a scientific construct, when applied to people. This assertion is not meant to deny the very real internal struggles that ‘biracial’ persons may have. In reality, however, when a biracial person is determined to be a person of colour, that person has the experiences of a person of colour in Canadian and US society. To put this in context, Barack Hussein Obama is almost never described as the first biracial President of the United States.


Racial Minorities: A term which applies to all people(s) who are not seen as White by the dominant culture, such as Aboriginal, Black, Chinese, South Asian, South East Asian and Latin American Canadians. Many people who are members of these groups (except Aboriginal) prefer to identify themselves as “people of colour.” It represents an attempt by them to name themselves as people with a positive identity, and not as “non-whites,” “minorities,” “racially visible people,” “visible minorities,” or “ethnics”.


Racialized Group: This term refers to a group of people that has been defined by a dominant group as members of an inferior group of people. It is similar to the terms ‘racial group’ and ‘race’. Its advantage is that it alerts users of the term to the fact that racism is an invention and a process and not a state. The weakness of this term is that it implicitly puts all the people into a group and subtly reinforces the notion that all members in the group are the same and can be treated as such. A more precise term, notwithstanding that it is awkward, is Individuals or Persons who are members of a Racialized Group or Groups.


Racialized People: Recently, some people are using this as a new term for people of colour. It has the distinct advantage of being a constant reminder that racialization is the process that influences the lives of those who are the targets of racism. As described above, I would prefer Racialized Persons, to remind of the uniqueness of each individual.


Racism: is based on an assumption that psychocultural traits are determined by race and that races differ decisively from one another, coupled with a belief in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its right to domination over others, resulting in systematic discrimination against the “inferior” group. Racism targets different people in different countries and at different times.


This article is intended for people who want to understand today’s Canadian and US context. Racism, in Canada and the US, is that particular form of racial discrimination or (oppression) directed at people of colour and Aboriginal people. This form of oppression, as with all the ‘isms’, is sustained by abuse of (institutional, ideological/societal and individual) power. Note that this definition does not imply intention on the part of the person engaging in the racist behaviour. It is settled law in Canada and the US that impact on the victim (target) and not intention of the perpetrator determines whether behaviour is racist.


This definition of racist behaviour does not require the perpetrator to be a White person. Any

person can engage in racist behaviour.




Further, this definition means that White people in Canada cannot be victims of racism. White people in Canada can and do experience discrimination against them on the basis of being White; i.e., racial discrimination. Elimination of that form of discrimination is also important. But its elimination does not require addressing abuse of power, particularly societal and institutional.

Therefore, distinguishing between racism and discrimination against a White person is important. Racism is the term that addresses both discrimination and the powerful forces that sustain it.


Many Canadians believe that there is no racism in Canada. Or they assert that Canada is not as bad as the United States. Many Canadians are still unaware of legal enslavement of Africans in Canada. Many Americans are similarly unaware and, in fact, know of Canada only as the end of the “Underground Railroad”; i.e., the place where American slaves ran to freedom. Much education still has to be done to have Canadians understand what racism is; that it still exists in Canada; and that much work is required to eliminate racism from Canada.


The following excerpt is from a recording of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers. Their conversation occurred during a confrontation between OPP officers and Aboriginal defenders of indigenous title to land that had been expropriated (stolen) by Canada. The conversation is a dramatic example of the continued existence of racism in Canada, even in people whose legislated mandate is to help in elimination of racism.


“Is there still a lot of press down there?”

“No, there’s no one down there. Just a great big fat fuck Indian.” “The camera’s rolling, eh?”


“We had this plan, you know. We thought if we could get five or six cases of Labatt’s 50 [beer], we could bait them.”


“Then we’d have this big net at a pit.” “Creative thinking.”

“Works in the [US] South with watermelon.”


Racial profiling by police officers – acknowledged in Courts and by some senior police officials as a reality – is a particularly egregious example of racist behaviour. It is, according to several research studies and huge numbers of anecdotal reports, extraordinarily common. It has given rise to a (still ironic) proposal that a new offence – driving while Black – be added to the Criminal Code of Canada. It is not commonly known that police officers are the only people who can, on their own initiative, take someone’s life without direction from a supervisor. Because of the extraordinary powers that police officers are able to exercise as individuals, it is crucial that strong steps be taken to end acts of racist behaviour by police officers immediately.


Reparations: is a very old concept that recognizes that a criminal should not benefit from his crime but, instead, should be required to return the victim to his condition before the crime.


Canada and the USA are founded on racism; on White Supremacy. Their citizens continue to benefit from behaviour that is recognized as criminal in international law. Elimination of racism from Canada and the USA requires reparations as an acknowledgement of that fundamental reality. The intended outcome should be that Aboriginal Peoples are returned to pre-invasion status, with respect to stewardship of Turtle Island. Aboriginal Peoples have the primary claim. All other interests, including those of other racialized peoples, are secondary. In other words,




racialized persons in Canada and the USA must not make claims for reparations that have the effect of pitting themselves against Aboriginal Peoples. Because of its impact, that behaviour, too, is racist.


Canada and the USA have also benefited from acts against other racialized peoples, motivated by White supremacy. Some of these acts include enslavement of, and legally-enforced free labour required by African peoples; expropriation of land of Japanese-heritage citizens; discriminatory and punitive legislation directed at Chinese-heritage citizens. Reparations for all of these acts, too, are necessary for the elimination of racism.


Reverse Racism: a term that, at least, recognizes the existence of racism. It is a term often used to put down (i.e., reverse) efforts to create equity in service and employment for people of colour and Aboriginal people, through positive action. Reverse racism is sometimes used by White people to describe the discrimination they experience against themselves. Because racism is seen as so serious and the term has been ‘captured’ by people of colour to describe discrimination against them, it is likely that White people who describe their experience as ‘reverse racism’ are – perhaps unconsciously – reacting to someone other than themselves naming an experience that they cannot experience. See White Supremacy and Politically Correct.


Service Equity: Service Equity processes are designed to result in consistent and fair quality of service to people who have been historically excluded from receiving equitable service; and elimination of barriers to access in service. An intended outcome of Cultural Competence work is service equity.


Stereotyping: Attribution of the supposed characteristics of a whole group of people to all of its individual members. It results in exaggerating the uniformity within a group and its distinctness from other groups. Stereotyping is stereotyping whether or not the stereotype is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. When acted on, stereotyping results in discrimination against individuals.


Systemic Racism: Discrimination resulting from systemic policies, practices and procedures which have an exclusionary impact on people of colour.


Visible Minority: A misleading term for people of colour. A useful, although probably unintended, feature of this term is that it acknowledges the inferior (i.e., minority) status assigned to these people. The original intention of the use of visible was to differentiate it from non- visible, whatever that meant. It is a term best avoided. ‘Racially Visible’ is a term also used in place of ‘Visible Minority’, to get around the difficulties of the latter term. Nonetheless, this term is also problematic because of the confusing interpretation of ‘visible’ Its value is that it names ‘race’ as a part of its construction. This term, too, is best avoided. It is worth noting that the UN recommended that Statistics Canada engage in consultations to find a replacement for the term ‘Visible Minority’.


White: A social colour. The term is used to refer to people belonging to the dominant group in Canada. It is recognized that there are many different people who are “White” but who have faced and may continue to face discrimination because of their class, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, language, and geographic origin. Grouping all these people as “White” is not to deny the very real forms of discrimination that people of certain ancestry, such as Italian, Portuguese and Greek, etc., face. Nevertheless, in terms of physical appearance they may appear “White” in this society where this is the dominant social colour, and may, therefore, get admitted to the “White”




race, with the attendant unearned privileges that go with that admittance. When I was seven years old, my Godmother explicitly introduced me to this concept of unearned privilege – i.e., conferred solely by virtue of being born. She called it Nature’s Passport.


White Supremacy: Is an active belief that White people are superior to all people of other ‘races’. Although usually seen as a more benign term, Eurocentrism has the same impact as White supremacy and can be considered synonymous. Fundamentally, anti-racism work is intended to dismantle White supremacy. Some people argue that the term racism diverts attention from the real origin of that social malignancy. This argument continues that White supremacy should be the term that is substituted for racism to focus attention on the real social justice challenge.


Similarly, to focus attention on the impact of White supremacy (racism), racialized persons (people of colour) should rename themselves Persons At Whom White Supremacy is Targeted.


World Majority People: People of colour continually are described – even by themselves, sometimes – as minorities. Relative to the world’s population, people of colour are a huge majority.



SECTION VII                                                CONCLUSION

Anti-racist organizational change is a challenging but worthwhile task; not only does it promote equity in organizations and in society, it also demonstrably improves organizational and societal effectiveness and health.


Successful anti-racist change requires:


  • deciding on what behaviours, practices, or structures need to be and can

realistically be changed;

  • determining what supports – including training/education, but not necessarily only training/education – and sanctions are necessary;
  • planning for and implementing the changes appropriate to the particular stage; and
  • reviewing, monitoring and institutionalizing the


Increasingly, there is help available to make these changes. Basically, Stage 1 and 2 organizations have to be forced to change. Help for Stage 3 to 6 organizations can come from books, trainers, public reports of promising practices, consultants, and/or advisors from other organizations who have had or are undergoing similar changes.


We hope this model provokes you to make an assessment of your organization and take whatever action you can to move your organization beyond poly-versity.




The Uni-Versity to Poly-Versity Series on Anti-Oppression Organization Change





This article is dedicated to my Godmother (“Godma Edie”), the late Edith Viola Gumbs of Bermuda and New York. I am profoundly grateful to her for beginning my critical race analysis education when I was very young.




This article substantially updates and combines material that has been used by many academics and change agents over almost three decades. I am grateful for their feedback over the years. I am particularly grateful to S. Bell, P-G. DeHal-Ramson, D. Ginn, V. Karagiannis, I. Minors, A. Mukherjee, N. Schroter, B. Taylor and M. YoungChief. Their thoughtful comments and analysis have made an enormous and invaluable contribution to this continuing work in progress.


Arnold Minors Arnold Minors & Associates Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Devonshire, Bermuda Skype: aminorsedie



February 2013


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