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Onondaga County/Syracuse Commission on Human Rights

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Syracuse, NY 13202
(315) 435-3565

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Definitions For Better Understanding

Names We Are Called: Names We Call Ourselves

If you have ever questioned what to call a racial or ethnic group or individual, the viewpoints included here may be helpful in broadening your understanding.
Most often it is best to refer to individuals by their given names. However if a group identity is necessary, racial and ethnic group names used by the national news media, census reports, civil rights organizations and leaders are usually widely acceptable.

Two major rules should NOT be overlooked.

Never use racial or ethnic slurs.
Always honor and repect the request of the individual or group whom you are addressing.

Names and labels are often a communication barrier. Work to eliminate this barrier. Local viewpoints about name changes for some American peoples are presented below:


The term Hispanic was bureaucratized in 1968 by President Johnson when he formally delcared the week of September 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Week. Prior to this time, people from the Spanish-speaking world were identified as Spanish, because of the language or by country of origin. The U.S. government, for economic and political reasons, found it necessary to use one term to describe a group of people whose commonality across the group was language. Most of us picked up the use of the term Hispanic when, in English, we were referring to the whole group. However, in Spanish, we referred to ourselves as Latinos. The terms translated became interchangeable.
Some individuals of the Spanish-speaking group origin found an opportunity to politicize on the basis of what they wished to be called. My personal reasons for choosing to be identified as Latina are as follows:

  1. The correct translation of the term Latino is Latin, not Hispanic.
  2. The term Hispanic identifies origin from the peninsula Hispanola, which is Spain and Portugal, as opposed to South and Central America and the islands where the majority of the Latinos come from. Although we have roots in Spain, we have other roots that cannot be denied, rejected or forgotten.
  3. The term Latino more descriptively portrays us as opposed to Caucasian European which Hispanic denotes.
  4. Hispanic is a bureaucratic term, imposed on a group of people, by a government that is not sensitive to our issues, concerns or needs.
Although the term Latino is not used by all people of Spanish-speaking origin, it is more frequently being used by many.
Ampara Ocasio


American people of African descent have labeled themselves with various names. Negro and Colored, although initially given to them by others, later became what they called themselves. Negro, from a Spanish word, meant black, and Colored originated in the southern United States with Jim Crow.

Negro and Colored were discarded with the arrival of the Black Power period of the late 1960s. Black people decided that they wanted to be called Afro-Americans. Afro-American eventually became Black.

Black has been the accepted label for almost two decades. Now American black people appear to be moving toward a new label, African-American, emphasizing culture and geographical origins rather than physical characteristics. African-American is also consistent with other references to race and ethnic identity in America, as for example, Italian American and Asian American.
Elbert English


Since recorded time by the Europeans in our (the New) World, the ORIGINAL PEOPLE were called "savage Red Skins" for defending our Mother Earth and the People. We always refer to ourselves by our family, clan and tribe. Was it our fault Christopher Columbus got lost, thinking he was on the shores of India, and labeled us INDIANS?

The Federal government has kept track of the Indians through the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the past one hundred and fifty years.

Now, since the 1960s, the ORIGINAL PEOPLE are conscientiously known as NATIVE AMERICANS. For seventy times seven generations, we have been, and still are, the PEOPLE.
Marcia Steele

Perspectives for the 21st Century

Definitions for Better Understanding

Often people will interchange the words "prejudice," "discrimination," "stereotyping," and "racism" as though they all mean about the same. Knowing the difference among these words can result in understanding where each of us fits into the broader picture of cultural diversity in our nation and will assist us in respecting and treating with human dignity all peoples.

An attitude, opinion or feeling formed without adequate knowledge, thought or reason. Prejudice can be prejudgment for or against.

An oversimplified, generalized image describing all individuals in a group as having the same characteristics, i.e., appearance, behavior, beliefs.

Differential treatment of persons according to the particular group to which they belong. Discrimination generally functions to restrict people's access to, or opportunities for, such things as housing, employment and education. These social, political and economic limitations are carried out by conscious and unconscious, formal and informal methods.

The oppression of one race by another (i.e. the oppression of blacks by whites). The critical element differentiating racism from prejudice is the back-up of institutional power.

Institutional arrangements of a society used to benefit one race. Institutional racism can be intentional or unintentional.

When one race controls the major institutions of a society, that race has the power to impose its prejudice to the detriment of other races. Because institutions have always been--and still are--controlled by whites, racism in the United States is white racism.

The systematic, institutionalized one-way mistreatment of one group pitted against another in an oppressive society.

Turning the hurts one receives from being a victim of oppression onto oneself or to the members of one's oppressed group (i.e. women refusing to see female doctors and calling members of one's group stereotypical names that if used by an outside group member would be offensive).

Access and availability to resources needed to get what you want and influence others.

By Millicent Collins




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