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Digital Glossary

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Term Definition

Racial segregation is the systemic separation of people into racial or other ethnic groups in daily life. It may apply to activities such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a public toilet, attending school, going to the movies, riding on a bus, or in the rental or purchase of a home or of hotel rooms. Segregation is defined by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance as 'the act by which a (natural or legal) person separates other persons on the basis of one of the enumerated grounds without an objective and reasonable justification, in conformity with the proposed definition of discrimination. As a result, the voluntary act of separating oneself from other people on the basis of one of the enumerated grounds does not constitute segregation'. According to the UN Forum on Minority Issues, 'The creation and development of classes and schools providing education in minority languages should not be considered impermissible segregation, if the assignment to such classes and schools is of a voluntary nature'.Racial segregation is generally outlawed, but may exist de facto through social norms, even when there is no strong individual preference for it, as suggested by Thomas Schelling's models of segregation and subsequent work. Segregation may be maintained by means ranging from discrimination in hiring and in the rental and sale of housing to certain races to vigilante violence (such as lynchings). Generally, a situation that arises when members of different races mutually prefer to associate and do business with members of their own race would usually be described as separation or de facto separation of the races rather than segregation. In the United States, segregation was mandated by law in some states and came with anti-miscegenation laws (prohibitions against interracial marriage). Segregation, however, often allowed close contact in hierarchical situations, such as allowing a person of one race to work as a servant for a member of another race. Segregation can involve spatial separation of the races, and mandatory use of different institutions, such as schools and hospitals by people of different races.

skin color
Human skin color ranges in variety from the darkest brown to the lightest hues. An individual's skin pigmentation is the result of genetics, being the product of both of the individual's biological parents' genetic makeup, and exposure to sun. In evolution, skin pigmentation in human beings evolved by a process of natural selection primarily to regulate the amount of ultraviolet radiation penetrating the skin, controlling its biochemical effects.
slave narrative

The slave narrative is a type of literary genre involving the (written) autobiographical accounts of enslaved Africans in Great Britain and its colonies, including the later United States, Canada, and Caribbean nations. Some six thousand such narratives are estimated to exist; about 150 narratives were published as separate books or pamphlets. In the United States during the Great Depression (1930s), more than 2,300 additional oral histories on life during slavery were collected by writers sponsored and published by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. Most of the 26 audio-recorded interviews are held by the Library of Congress.Some of the earliest memoirs of captivity known in England and the British Isles were written by white Europeans and later Americans captured and sometimes enslaved in North Africa, usually by Barbary pirates. These were part of a broad category of 'captivity narratives' by English-speaking Europeans. Beginning in the 18th century, these included accounts by colonists and American settlers in North America and the United States who were captured and held by Native Americans. Several well-known captivity narratives were published before the American Revolution, and they often followed forms established with the narratives of captivity in North Africa. Later North American accounts were by Americans captured by western tribes during 19th-century migrations. For the Europeans and Americans, the division between captivity as slaves and as prisoners of war was not always clear. Given the problem of international contemporary slavery in the 20th and 21st centuries, additional slave narratives are being written and published. It is an ubiquitous issue that still persists and remains largely undocumented.


Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals, as a de jure form of property. A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. Many scholars now use the term chattel slavery to refer to this specific sense of legalised, de jure slavery. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use the more generic terms such as unfree labour or forced labour to refer to such situations. However, and especially under slavery in broader senses of the word, slaves may have some rights and protections according to laws or customs. Slavery existed in many cultures since the time before written history. A person could become enslaved from the time of their birth, capture, or purchase. Slavery was legal in most societies at some time in the past, but is now outlawed in all recognized countries. The last country to officially abolish slavery was Mauritania in 2007. Nevertheless, there are an estimated 40.3 million people worldwide subject to some form of modern slavery. The most common form of modern slave trade is commonly referred to as human trafficking. In other areas, slavery (or unfree labour) continues through practices such as debt bondage, the most widespread form of slavery today, serfdom, domestic servants kept in captivity, certain adoptions in which children are forced to work as slaves, child soldiers, and forced marriage.

Stepin Fetchit

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (May 30, 1902 – November 19, 1985), better known by the stage name Stepin Fetchit, was an American vaudevillian, comedian and film actor of Jamaican and Bahamian descent, considered to be the first black actor to have a successful film career. His highest profile was during the 1930s when in films and on stage, his persona of Stepin Fetchit was billed as 'the Laziest Man in the World'.

Perry parlayed the Fetchit persona into a successful film career, becoming the first black actor to earn a million dollars. He was also the first black actor to receive featured screen credit in a film.

Perry's film career slowed after 1939, and after 1953, nearly stopped altogether. Around that time, the actor and the character began to be seen by African Americans and Americans at large as an embarrassing and harmful anachronism, echoing and perpetuating negative stereotypes.

The Stepin Fetchit character has undergone a re-evaluation by some scholars, who view him as an embodiment of the trickster archetype.