A collage of photographs of African American families and children, all smiling for the camera.

Terms and Definitions

“We are not broken. Dominant culture and capitalism want us to believe that if we consume or purchase certain things we will feel whole. We are whole, and part of our work toward collective liberation is remembering our collective wholeness and that we are interconnected with every other living being and the planet.”

– Michelle Cassandra Johnson, “We Heal Together: Rituals and Practices for Building Community and Connection” (Page 15)

In “We Heal Together: Rituals and Practices for Building Community and Connection”, Michelle Cassandra Johnson writes, “I use terminology that may be new or different than what you might be accustomed to or familiar with.  It is important to have a shared understanding of language…Some of the definitions offered here are informed by my work with Dismantling Racism Works, (dRWorks), Skill in Action, Finding Refuge, critical race theory and feminist theory. Others are informed by my own experience and understanding of these concepts.” (Page 7) 

Dominant culture is a system that inherently believes some people are superior and others inferior.” (Page 7) 

Privilege: “Societal benefits are bestowed upon people socially, politically, and economically. Privilege can be based on race, class, age, ability level, mental health status, gender identity, and sex.” (Page 8) 

“White supremacy is an idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas thoughts beliefs and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.  Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantages and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not both at a collective and an individual level to learn more about white supremacy and how it has become institutionalized and influences cultures around the world please visit this website www.whitesupremacyculture.info.”  (Page 8) 

Race is a socially constructed system of classifying humans based on phenotypic characteristics (e.g., skin color, hair texture, bone structure).  There is no such thing as race from a scientific or biological point of view.” (Page 8) 

Social and institutional power: “The power wielded by entities like governments churches and corporations to control people and direct their behavior through access to resources the ability to influence others access to decision makers to get what you want done the ability to define reality for yourself and others. (Page 9) 

Racism is racial prejudice + social and institutional power.   

Racism is advantage based on race. 

Racism is oppression based on race. 

Racism is a white supremacy system. 

(Page 9) 

Cultural appropriation refers to taking or adopting element(s) from one culture without an appreciation for or a relationship with that culture.” (Page 9) 

Social location refers to social group memberships and identities.  It is a tool used to reflect on the groups that people belong to because of their place or position in history and society.” (Page 10) 

Suffering is the experience of pain and distress psychically, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.” (Page 10) 

Harm: “When I reference harm and We Heal Together, dismantling racism, and anti-oppression trainings, or liberatory work, I’m always connecting harm with systems and systemic oppression. Many of the harms caused by oppression haven’t been fully acknowledged or accounted for through reparations or other models of restorative justice.” (Page 11) 

Blood memories: “As I understand it, Indigenous elders often talk about memory being contained in the blood and bones.  To me, this speaks to the ancestral trauma and resilience that can be passed on through blood and bone given we are made manifest because of our ancestors.  These memories and the ancestral patterns that emerge in us from our bloodline may show up unconsciously, and the idea is that we cannot extract memory from the blood and bone.  Our memory is bone deep.” (Page 12) 

Liberation is understanding our humanity and being able to see the humanity and others such that we understand our freedom is dependent upon others’ freedom.” (Page 13) 

Accomplice/comrade: “These two terms are often used in relationship to ally, which is defined as a connection, in relation to and to enter into an alliance together.  Ally isn’t a strong enough word to describe what is required if we are invested in deep transformative work based on mutuality and solidarity. Accomplice/Comrade describes one who has an understanding of systemic power and oppression, their specific social location and their proximity to power, and because of this understanding has claimed the stake in liberatory work for the long haul.  Being an accomplice or comrade means being willing to risk something for our collective liberation, not on behalf of others but in relationship with others.” (Page 13-14) 


In her book, “Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race Based Stress and Trauma”, Dr. Gail Parker defines terms throughout her book as well: 

“Race-based traumatic stress is trauma that is associated with experiences of racial events that are negative and emotionally painful.  An event can be experienced as race-related based on the individual’s perception that a racist act occurred… Racial stress is a cumulative experience that is often magnified by the lack of opportunity to recover before the next experience, causing it to become chronic.” (Page 37) 

Intergenerational Trauma and Ancestral Memory: “The cumulative experience of racial stress and trauma over generations, caused by the historical trauma of genocide, enslavement, colonization, and dislocation, left unaddressed and unhealed have intergenerational impact. Yes, the effects of racial stress and trauma go beyond the individuals who are directly impacted and affect entire communities for generations to come.” (Page 56) 

John Henryism: Researcher and epidemiologist Sherman James suggested that high effort coping is a behavioral phenomenon, going all the way back to the Civil War, that African Americans engaged in after Emancipation, to overcome psychosocial barriers to equality (James 1994).  According to James, high effort coping was an attempt on the part of newly freed men and women to form an American identity by adopting and incorporating the dominant cultural beliefs, values, and behaviors of freedom, hard work, and self-reliance.  In addition, it was an attempt to peacefully resist the new forms of oppression that recently freed people were being subjected to.  He coined the term John Henryism to describe the phenomenon because it reminded him of the legend of John Henry, an American folk hero.  

According to the legend, John Henry was born into slavery, and after Emancipation became a laborer driving steel to the C&O Railroad.  Steel drivers were those workers who hammered steel into rock to make holes for explosives that blasted the rock so that a railroad tunnel could be constructed.  As the story goes, John Henry was a giant of a man with superhuman strength considered to be the strongest, fastest, and hardest worker on the rails.  The legend tells us that in a man-against-machine contest to drill a hole through a mountain to make way for a tunnel, John Henry, with only a nine-pound hammer in his hands, beat the mechanical drill hammer.  But when he hammered his way through the mountain and got to the other side, he collapsed from exhaustion.  His heart gave out and he died with his hammer in his hands (Nelson 2006).  (Page 67-68) 

Sojourner Syndrome: “Leith Mullings coined the term quote “Sojourner Syndrome” to explain a similar, but gender specific, high effort coping behavior strategy that black women employ. She called it this Sojourner Syndrome because the behavior is similar to the extraordinary efforts made by Sojourner Truth to resist and overcome racial and gender oppression.  Sojourner Truth was born into slavery around 1799. After she became a free woman in 1827, she transformed herself from a domestic servant into an abolitionist preacher. In 1851 she gave a speech commonly referred to as “Ain’t I a Woman” at a woman’s convention held in Akron OH. Her speech addressed the responsibilities of African American women that require them to work like men, to constantly ignore the stress of racial and gender discrimination, and to serve others at the expense of their own health (Painter 1996).   

Sojourner Syndrome is characterized by an obligation to be strong no matter what; to suppress displays of emotion; to be stoic in the face of physical and emotional pain; to be fiercely independent, not needing anyone and not asking for help; to succeed no matter what the obstacles are cost to her own health and well-being; and to put others needs before her own (Mullings 2000).” (Page 68-69) 

People of color is a term that is used to describe groups of people who cannot be identified as White, or who do not identify themselves as being White. In short, the term, simply put, means people who are not white.  (Page 133) 

Colorism: The custom of classifying people as colors, based on the lightness or darkness of skin tone, is called colorism. Colorism signifies discrimination based on skin color where people are treated differently or assigned status based on the social meanings attached to the color of their skin.  (Page 133) 

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With families at the center of health care, all children and youth reach their full potential and health disparities are eliminated.

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Family Voices is a national organization and grassroots network of families and friends of children and youth with special health care needs and disabilities that promotes partnership with families—including those of cultural, linguistic and geographic diversity—in order to improve health care services and policies for children.

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