Black History Month: CityU’s Social Justice Coalition

Black History Month: CityU’s Social Justice Coalition


As we begin the journey toward understanding Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI)there may be words and phrases that are unfamiliar or not well understood. We want to take this opportunity to provide definitions of some commonly used phrases within the field of EDI work. Each issue will highlight a new word or phrase to strengthen our understanding of the work. In this issue, we begin with the term “Social Justice”.

Justice is the concept of fairness. Social justice is fairness as it manifests in society. In general, social justice refers to a political and philosophical theory that focuses on the concept of fairness in relations between individuals in society and equal access to wealth, opportunities, and social privileges. The main principles of social justice include access to resources, equity, participation, diversity, and human rights. As we work through this series of learning together and creating community, we will further define the principles mentioned here. 

As you think about these fundamental principles of social justice, can you identify how access, opportunity, and privilege may have an impact on creating and sustaining a more diverse and inclusive community? When you read the words resources, equity, and participation, think about how a lack of access has an impact on human rights. As you digest this information, how can we have a positive impact on equity and diversity in our community? 



Many metaphors and sayings embedded in the English language have an origin that a person may not know because they are used so frequently. They can reinforce stereotypes or biases that are marginalizing. Some examples of inappropriate phrases/terms include: 

“welshing on a bet,” or “being gypped” promote negative stereotypes about identifiable groups. 

“low man on the totem pole” to indicate hierarchy, or the term “pow-wow” to mean talk, are cultural metaphors and comparisons that misrepresent cultural practices/may be considered cultural misappropriation. Similar inappropriate terms include: ‘Indian giver’, ‘Circle the wagons’, ‘Rain dance’, ‘Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians’, ‘Indian Summer’. 



“Gypped” was derived from “Gypsy” which is commonly used to describe the Romani people. “gypsy” itself is an “exonym” — a term imposed upon an ethnic group by outsiders. The term and its derivative carry many negative connotations. According to Merriam-Webster when somebody is “gypped,” they are, “defrauded, swindled, cheated”.

In some cultures, the pow-wow itself was a religious event, when families held naming and honoring ceremonies. 

Totem poles are monumental carvings created by First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. 



Being curious about the history of terms and phrases whose origin we do not know.  

Educating ourselves; what words, phrases, or perspectives may offend your audience? 

Practicing being audience-centered and exercising caution about using prejudiced language or remarks. 

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

~Audre Lorde



Black History Month began during an exhibition held in Chicago in 1915, the fiftiethanniversary of emancipation. During this three week celebration Carter G. Woodson and hiscolleagues came together to create the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History(ASNLH),now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History(ASALH®). As it was then, this organization is dedicated to promoting, researching, preserving,interpreting and disseminating information about Black life, history and culture to the globalcommunity. Through this organization the Journal of Negro History was created to collect andpublish the works of scholars who were discovering the many achievements of the Blackcommunities throughout history. It was in 1924 that the idea of an annual celebration wasconceived and Negro History and literature Week was created. In 1926 Negro History Weekwent national.

Schools and civic organizations across the country were eager to teach Black history and anannual tradition was born. Book clubs, history clubs, classroom materials, stage and musicalperformances, food and art were all part of the celebrations. By the 1940s Negro History Weekbecame a movement focused on incorporating Black history in to education, “an intellectualinsurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations” ( ,2020). In the 1960s a major shift toward a dedicated month of learning Black history, honoringBlack achievement, and celebrating music and art produced by Black people starting takingshape. And, every year since 1976 every American president has issued proclamationsendorsing the theme of Black History Month. 



Learn more about the life of Carter G. Woodson and the origins of Black History Month by visiting theAssociation for the Study of African American Life and History at 

Explore African American History with workshops and events sponsored by the Library of Congress at

Honor Black lives and Black History by listening to and learning from Black artists, educators, chefs,dancers, story tellers, and more at

Want to learn more about CityU’s Social Justice Coalition? Email us at

Published February 10, 2021



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