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It's important to set definitions so we can have conversations starting from an intentionally built foundation. Below are some working definitions that I've used to think about my work. They have been heavily influenced by the Swearer Center at Brown University, the Brown Advocates for Social Change & Equity Fellows Program from Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, and more. These are always evolving; don't hesitate to reach out with thoughts.


A socially invented way of grouping people based on skin color and other apparent physical differences (which has no genetic or scientific basis), which can give power to some over others and can justify social and economic oppression.

Race is not only interpreted according to invented rules, but, more importantly, race itself is a constructed political grouping. 

Race is not a biological category that is politically charged. It is a political category that has been disguised as a biological one.


A system of oppressive social structures based on the socially constructed concept of race exercised by the dominant racial group (whites) over non-dominant racial groups. Racism is different from discrimination or racial prejudice; it is race discrimination plus power. Racism provides or denies access, safety, resources, and power based on race. Its complexity and structural nature has allowed racism to recreate itself generation after generation, such that systems that perpetuate racial inequity no longer need racist actors or to explicitly promote racial differences in opportunities, outcomes, and consequences to maintain those differences.

Structural Racism

the totality of ways in which societies foster racial discrimination through mutually reinforcing systems of housing, education, employment, earnings, benefits, credit, media, health care, and criminal justice. These patterns and practices in turn reinforce discriminatory beliefs, values, and distribution of resources.


Access to social, political, cultural, financial systemic power. In the US, white people have held the majority of dominance and power. White people control political and institutional power, cultural and social norms and the vast majority of financial resources.


Exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.

Structural Competency

Emphasizes recognition of the economic and political conditions that produce health inequalities. Structural competency calls on healthcare providers and students to recognize how institutions, markets, or healthcare delivery systems shape symptom presentations and to mobilize for correction of health and wealth inequalities in society (Hansen and Metzl, 2016).

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