Used in reference to beliefs and practices that oppress some groups, while advantaging others; ISMs are embedded within systems and institutions throughout society and tend to occur automatically and without being challenged. Below are a few common ISMs:

  • RACIAL PREJUDICE + SOCIAL POWER: A system of advantage and disadvantage based on race involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices, as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals.

    REVERSE RACISM: Controversial term used to refer to perceived prejudice and discrimination against White people in the U.S., while perceiving that underrepresented racial groups are being granted “preferential treatment.” Individuals from underrepresented racial groups can have racial prejudice towards White people. However, they cannot be racist towards White people because there are still systems and institutional practices in place privileging White people as the dominant race.

  • Systemic and institutional practices that oppress women economically, interpersonally, educationally, socially, and politically; results in considering women as inferior to men.

  • Systemic and institutional practices and beliefs that deny, denigrate, and stigmatize oppressed sexual orientations, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer.


MICROAGGRESSIONS: Are defined as subtle insults, indignities and demeaning messages directed towards individuals from oppressed social groups by individuals from privileged groups who tend to be unaware of the hidden messages being sent. It has been suggested that the cumulative impact of microaggressions can decrease mortality, increase morbidity, and limit confidence. There are three forms of microaggressions.

  • Conscious and intentional actions that demean people from oppressed groups through name-calling, avoidance, or discriminatory actions.

  • Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and are intended to hurt a person based on their oppressed social identity group.

  • Communications that subtly exclude or negate the lived experiences of people from oppressed groups.


Which form of microaggression is described in each of the following statements?

Asking Asian Americans where they were born, conveying the message that they are perceived as foreigners in their own country


A man who asks a woman how they got a position in the firm, implying that she may have gotten the position through an affirmative action or quota system.


Serving a heterosexual couple before a lesbian couple at a restaurant



Ask yourself the following questions:
1. How does oppression prevents you from appreciating diversity, expanding your horizons, and being flexible and versatile?
2. How does oppression make it difficult to be empathic of groups different from your own?
3. What are your thoughts about this: "Everyone is diminished when anyone is demeaned."?
4. How does oppression contribute to an inability to live values fully, when there is dissonance between what is professed and how it is lived out?
5. How can trust be created when acknowledging how one contributes to privilege?