Talking Diversity

In our internal and external communication at the Schauspielhaus Zurich, we use inclusive language that is both sensitive to and critical of all forms of discrimination. To help you understand what we are talking about when we use certain words, we have compiled a glossary of basic terms. The glossary is also available online on our website and is continually being expanded.

Language is a fluid tool. It reflects social processes and can sometimes even drive change. Speaking in a way that is sensitive to discrimination helps to overcome centuries-old systems of power and violence that impact society as a whole, as well as to avoid the dismissive treatment of vulnerable people and to give visibility to marginalised groups. These groups are underrepresented not only linguistically but also in the media, politics and culture and receive no stage or little consideration for their voices.

Using inclusive language helps to promote difference, while acting against stereotyping and violent acts of othering. Instead, it allows all individuals with their personal affiliations to speak for themselves and in a self-determined way.

The terms presented here are explicitly not definitions and are not set in stone for all eternity. Some come from the US and are still lacking a German equivalent. Likewise, some of the terms are more common in German usage. The terms are often contingent on local social contexts in which they are used, with their meanings often shifting accordingly. They provide a temporary image of our time, in the knowledge of how quickly social conditions change. They are meant to encourage us to see language not as a constraint but as a creative tool that enables us to shape the world in a self-determined way.



In our German-language communication we always use the Gendersternchen (gender asterisk), as a way of addressing and giving visibility to people of all genders (cf. trans, intersex, non-binary, pronouns), not merely to those who identify as male or female. In spoken German, the gender asterisk is expressed as a short pause: Arbeiter-[pause for breath]-innen. Today, the colon is often used with the same meaning as the gender asterisk: Arbeiter:innen.


is a term originating from the American disability rights movement. It refers to discrimination against people with disabilities who do not conform to normative ideas of what people can and should be able to do—for example, walk, see, hear, speak or interact socially. In German, the phrase behindert werden (to be hindered/disabled by…) aims to make it clear that people are not disabled because of their individual bodies, but rather by architecture, barriers and societal exclusions.


describes the marginalisation and disadvantaging of people of a certain age, especially older people. Ageism refers to the social, occupational and/or economic discrimination of groups or individuals on the basis of age.


refers to people who use their privileges to actively advocate for people who experience discrimination. For people who have experienced discrimination, it is important that allies do not see themselves as ‘saviors’ (e.g. white savior or male savior) of marginalised individuals. Rather, allies must stand with and alongside marginalised people against discrimination, in a shared spirit of empowerment.

anti-Black racism

A form of racism against Black people and those racially profiled as such. Other forms of racism are anti-Asian racism, anti-Muslim racism (Islamophobia), anti-Semitism (against people of the Jewish religion) or antiziganism (against Romani people).


This term expresses a negative to hostile posittion or attitude towards people who describe themselves as Jewish or are perceived as such.
Anti-Semitism manifests itself in hostile beliefs, prejudices or stereotypes that are expressed in society or in individual actions. These have the effect that Jewish people are insulted, belittled, marginalized, disadvantaged or regarded as fundamentally "different". Such violence is not only experienced by people, but also by Jewish organizations.


Acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.


with a capital B does not denote a colour or a shade of skin, but is a political self-designation of people with a shared ethnic identity. In order to differentiate between the skin colour and the self-designation, ‘Black’ is written with a capital B.

Black Lives Matter

(abbreviated: BLM) is the slogan of the eponymous transnational movement that uses protests, memorial events and global mobilisation on social media to fight violence against Black people and People of Colour due to racism, racial profiling and police violence. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter went viral in 2013 after the acquittal of the man who shot and killed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. It gained international notoriety with the demonstrations that followed the racially motivated killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York in 2014.

body shaming

means insulting or discriminating against someone on the basis of their physical appearance. This can affect any body, but it is female, trans, intersex and/or fat bodies (‘fat shaming’) that are most often the target of condescending and judgmental comments. Thin (‘skinny shaming’), old or disabled bodies may also be targeted. Body shaming can generally refer to any body-related shame that is the result of environmental influences, especially when a body does not correspond to social norms or the barely attainable images of beauty and body that are propagated in the media and advertising.


(lat. for ‘on this side of’) is an abbreviation of cisgender, which describes people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. (cf. trans(gender))


refers to discrimination on the basis of social background and/or social and economic position. Classism is mainly directed against people with low social and economic capital.


refers to a European policy of imperial expansion between the 15th and 20th centuries consisting of the conquest, control and economic exploitation of non-European territories and their forced integration into a global capitalist economic and social system. Even after the official withdrawal of the colonial powers in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonial legacy continues to structure international trade circuits and social value systems as a regime of knowledge, rule and violence. Colonialist rule is mainly responsible for the eradication of non-European, non-white knowledge and persistent structural racism. As current research shows, although Switzerland did not have any colonial territories, it was lucratively involved in the global trade in colonial goods and enslaved people through numerous economic connections, which contributed significantly to the country’s current prosperity.

cultural appropriation

is when people from the dominant society adopt hairstyles, clothing or other elements of a marginalised culture for their own benefit, without respecting the value of the culture in question. An example of this is when white children dress up with the headdresses of indigenous cultures for carnival or H&M commercially markets traditional textile patterns from the African continent. Often, cultural appropriation benefits white people. For example, white people with African hairstyles are seen as cosmopolitan and open-minded, while black people who wear braids or locs can be marked as unprofessional in job interviews, for example.


refers to how difference is represented in terms of different lived experiences and realities. These differences encompass a range of factors: race/ethnicity, nationality, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background/social status, age, physical/mental ability, religious faith/worldview, etc. Promoting diversity in institutions such as the Schauspielhaus Zurich is about developing spaces that are free of discrimination (cf. safer space) in order to create connections and a sense of belonging. In order to ensure diversity in the long term and to resolve conflicts, inclusion practices are necessary, which break down barriers, increase equal opportunities, shape participation and reduce discrimination. This requires an engagement with power relations, with how privilege and discrimination are reproduced, and an understanding of the relationship between individuals and their social environment.


Gender identity, sexual orientation, social or ethnic origin, language, religion, political conviction, age, disability, body weight are examples of group categories according to which people are discriminated against. It is the norms constructed by society and the deviation from them that lead to discrimination. Racial discrimination is a specific form of unequal treatment based on actual or ascribed physiognomic characteristics, ethnic origin, cultural attributes and/or religious affiliation.

dominant culture

The dominant culture defines the prevailing societal value system and thus creates social inclusions and exclusions, privileges and structural discrimination. In German, the term Dominanzgesellschaft (dominant society), is preferred over the more common term Mehrheitsgesellschaft (majority society). This is because it highlights the various hierarchical power structures that permeate a society, showing that the question of who shapes which norms and values is not about population shares, i.e. countable majorities and minorities.


involves people or groups who are socially disadvantaged acquiring the tools to shape their lives in a more self-determined way through targeted strategies and qualification opportunities. Here, the focus is on recognising one’s own strengths, deriving (new) possibilities for action from them and gaining access to areas that are otherwise difficult to access because of discrimination.


is a term used to describe the judgement of non-European cultures through the lens of European values and norms. In this process, Europe forms the unreflective centre of thought and action and Europe’s historical development is seen as the yardstick for any comparisons with other countries and cultures.


is a form of Eurocentrism. It describes a fundamental attitude that evaluates foreign things such as ‘foreign cultures’ as thoroughly positive, ascribing a special fascination to them. The foreign is perceived solely on the basis of ‘exotic’ aspects. This biased perspective is given little or no critical thought.


refers to the targeted murder of a woman, girl or a person read as female, in which gender was presumed to be the motive or decisive factor for the perpetration of the act. Targeted lethal violence against women and girls in wars, as well as deadly misogynist hate crimes with possible additional racist, homophobic, transphobic and ableist motives also fall under this term.

Femicides are not isolated cases, but a result of structural violence, the starting point of which lies in the patriarchal power relations of our society. Violence against women is still often treated as a private matter, which is reflected in the way society deals with it. The term femicide is still not an established political term in Switzerland: its use was again rejected by the Council of States (Ständerat) in the summer of 2020.


is a German acronym for women, lesbian, intersex, non-binary, trans and agender persons and is used to refer to people who are subject to patriarchal discrimination on the basis of their gender identity. The asterisk points to persons not explicitly mentioned who do not fit into one of the sexual orientations or gender identities mentioned but who are included.


refers to a worldview and a societal value system that recognises only two genders (‘male’ and ‘female’), considering only heterosexual relationships between them to be normal. In a heteronormative society, social expectations are directed at all people as to how they should live together as men and women. In this conception, people are either born as men or women (and brought up accordingly) and only enter into sexual relationships with the other gender. People who do not fit into this two-gender order, perhaps because they identify as non-binary, trans or intersex and/or do not have heterosexual relationships, are perceived and described as ‘different’ and ‘not normal’.


(from the Latin inter for ‘between’) refers to people whose physical sex (for example, their genitals or chromosomes) cannot be classified according to the medical norm of clearly ‘male’ or ‘female’ bodies, but rather lies on a spectrum between the two. To this day, intersex children are reassigned to one gender (usually the female gender) after diagnosis, which sometimes leads to considerable health restrictions and psychological problems.


describes the intersection and interaction of different forms of discrimination. People are made up of many different characteristics and identities. Intersectionality takes into account that people are often disadvantaged because of multiple characteristics/identities. For example, a lesbian deaf Black woman can be discriminated against simultaneously and in different ways because of her gender, her sexual orientation, her race and her disability (ableism).


refers to the discrimination and exclusion of Muslims (and people who are thought to be Muslims), their culture and their public-political and religious activities. The hostility is based on a perception of ‘Islam’ as regressive, anti-democratic and violent. Whether or not those affected are actually practising Muslims is often of secondary importance.


is an initialism for the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, and more (+). Depending on the context, various forms of the abbreviation are in use (cf. LGBT, LGBTQI*, etc.).


refers to the displacement of individuals or groups to the margins of society. Marginalisation can take place on many levels, for example geographically, economically, socially or culturally; it usually takes place on several levels.


is a German term (literally meaning ‘migranticization’) referring to the process whereby certain people—whether they have a history of migration or it is merely attributed to them—are reduced the status of ‘migrants’ by the dominant society. It is a form of stereotyping and othering (cf. ‘othering’).


are statements or actions, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or derogatory attitudes towards a person because of their assumed identity. For example, when a person abruptly switches to the other side of the street because a Person of Colour is coming towards them, or when a person is praised for their knowledge of the official language of their country of residence, even though they were born there.


is a term used to describe the gender identity of people who do not identify, or only partially identify, with the male or female gender. Non-binary people may avoid using pronouns (‘he’/‘she’) altogether or use pronouns of their own choosing. In lieu of a binary pronoun, ‘they’ is frequently used. Alternatively, the first name may simply be repeated: ‘When Noa collapsed into bed yesterday, Noa immediately fell deeply asleep.’ Nowadays, the English pronouns they/them are commonly used in German as well.


is a process in which some individuals or groups are defined as not fitting in within the norms of a dominant social group. This usually happens as part of a power imbalance: those described as ‘different’ are affected by discrimination and have little opportunity to defend themselves against the labelling.


refers to a social relationship of dominance based on heteronormative bisexuality and stereotypical binary concepts of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ that positions men and women differently in social, economic, sexual and interpersonal relationships. Patriarchal ways of thinking provide the framework and the conditions for sexist inequalities and perpetuate them.

People of Colour (POC)

(or: Person of Colour) is a term that people who experience racism use to describe themselves. The term has been used this way since the US civil rights movement in the 1960s. As a reappropriation and positive reinterpretation of the pejorative label ‘coloured’, People of Colour describes an alliance of solidarity between different communities that experience structural exclusion due to racism. Referencing this shared identity, marginalised communities in Switzerland and other countries of the Global North have increasingly adopted the self-designation People of Colour in recent decades as a way of referring to their shared experiences of racism. With this term, they consciously distinguish themselves from terms such as ‘migrant’ or the German Migrationshintergrund (migration background), which place the linguistic focus on the experience of migration without addressing the racism experienced. Since not all people with a history of migration experience racism (for example, white migrants from certain EU countries) and many people experience racism who statistically do not have a migration background (in statistical terms, a migration background only applies to immigrants and their first and second generation descendants), the term is not very meaningful in relation to the issue of discrimination.

The term POC, like black or white, does not describe skin shades. It is about marginalisation due to racism. In Europe, people from the African, Asian or Latin American diaspora are therefore included. Eurocentric views play a role here, which are a result of Europe’s unresolved colonial past.
‘Of colour’ can be used as a genitive attributive or as an adjective, for example: ‘She is an actress of colour’; ‘My best friend is of colour’.


The masculine pronoun ‘he’ and the feminine ‘she’ can be used in place of a person’s name. People who do not feel they belong to either the male or female gender may choose to not use a pronoun at all or to use a pronoun of their own choosing. It is a sign of anti-discrimination awareness to ask people for their pronouns, rather than automatically ascribig one on the basis of an assumption with which the person may not identify (known and ‘misgendering’).


is a self-designation used by people who live and advocate for a diversity of sexual and romantic orientations and gender identities beyond the cis-hetero norm. Queerness stands for a political mindset that has emerged from decades of activist resistance and theorising and fundamentally questions binaries as such.


In German, Rasse and race do not mean the same thing. Instead of the outdated term Rasse the English term ‘race’ is used in anti-discrimination language to make it clear that categorisations based on different phenotypes are a construct. While the term Rasse risks giving the impression that there are actually biological races, the term race reminds us that we are dealing with man-made categorisations.

(structural or institutional) racism

is a historically developed system of domination and violence that establishes and maintains a pseudo-scientifically constructed hierarchy between people of different skin shades and ethnic and/or religious affiliations. Racism was the ideological basis that legitimised the transatlantic slave trade within European colonial process, which began with the occupation of non-European territories in the 15th century and are still responsible for a worldwide structural unequal treatment of non-white racialised people.

The terms ‘structural’ or ‘institutional’ racism therefore do not refer to racist interactions between individuals, but rather to discrimination that is anchored in societal structures, institutions, routines and processes and is legally legitimised, creating exclusions and disadvantages for BIPOC in the labour and housing market, in education and health care, and leading to a lack of representation in the media, art and politics.

safer space

refers to spaces that are carefully designed so that people with experience of discrimination can feel as safe as possible and are not exposed to marginalisation, insults or harassment. The prerequisites for establishing such spaces are attentive behaviour that is critical of discrimination, a culture of conversation that is equally critical of discrimination, and shared experiences of discrimination. We use the term ‘safer’ instead of ‘safe spaces’ to indicate that there can be no spaces that are completely free of power and domination, but only the desire to design places that are as free of discrimination as possible.


is a German-term used in the German-speaking area that a marginalised group chooses for itself as opposed to ones ascribed to it by a dominant social group. Self-designation is empowering and communicates a positive sense of shared identity. When identities are attributed, on the other hand, often marks a group or person as ‘different’ or ‘foreign’ (othering). It often takes a long time for self-designations to become established. An example of a self-designation is Person of Colour or Black with a capital B.


refers to discrimination on the basis of gender. In a male-dominated patriarchal society, however, sexism manifests itself primarily in the degradation and marginalisation of women, trans people and femininity in general. (Cis-)masculinity is considered the norm against which everything is measured. The term sexism comes from English. In the German context, there is often a misunderstanding that sexism refers primarily to discriminatory acts related to sexuality, such as sexual harassment. Although these forms of sexualised violence are also expressions of sexism, the term refers to a much broader spectrum of gender-based discrimination, such as the fact that women earn less on average.

social model of disability

This model describes an understanding that people are not disabled because of their individual bodies or "impairments", but rather by architecture, barriers and societal exclusions and prejudices. It is not individual bodies or abilities that constitute disability, but rather structural barriers and lack of access. Raising awareness of this understanding, makes the structural and social limitations people with disabilities are confronted with in everyday life more visible.


(lat. for beyond, across, outdated: ‘trans- sexual’) refers to gender identities that do not or only partially identify with the sex assigned to them at birth. Trans people can identify as male or female, but also outside the binary gender system, for example as non-binary, agender or genderfluid.

trigger warnings

are used in the context of performances to warn the audience of potentially disturbing and/or hurtful themes in advance. Triggers are stimuli that can trigger a traumatic response in people who have had traumatic experiences. In order to prevent this, explicit warnings about the content are given without revealing the complete content or plot of the performance.


denotes a social position and the privileges attributed to white people on the basis of their skin colour, and has nothing to do with the actual colour of the skin. Depending on the social context, it varies who counts as white. For example, a person of Turkish origin may be perceived as a Person of Colour in Switzerland and have xenophobic experiences, while in Turkey they are considered white and have social privileges. To emphasise the construction of the term, white is often written in italics and lower case.

white privileges

The less discrimination a person experiences, the more privileged they are. White privilege describes the advantages that white people have in a society, for example easier access to the labour and housing markets, to education and health care, as well greater representation in politics, culture and the media (structural or institutional racism).

white fragility

refers to the defensive and sometimes aggressive reactions of white people when confronted with their own racism by a non-white or white counterpart.

white saviour

refers to behaviour by white people who want to financially or symbolically ‘help’ supposedly ‘less civilised’, less educated, economically weaker or discriminated people, but in doing so do not overcome the ongoing patterns of colonialsystems of rule, but allow them to live on. Often, such actions serve to soothe the consciences of privileged people, while at the same time confirming existing prejudices, stereotypical images and white supremacy.


is a negative attitude and behaviour towards people and groups perceived as ‘foreign’ (for example because of their origin, culture, language or religion). Xenophobia is primarily directed at people with foreign nationalities, but over time this attitude becomes entrenched in the form of ascribed negative characteristics that can be felt by those affected for generations.

While racism is based on narrower, supposedly biological and invariable characteristics, xenophobia may change over time. People and groups formerly perceived as foreign may lose their stigma and be perceived as ‘integrated’ and ‘settled’.

Our top 11 reading list

  • Ahmed, Sara, Living a Feminist Life (Durham, NC, 2017).
  • Aydemir, Fatma, and Yaghoobifarah, Hengameh, eds, Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum (Berlin 2019).
  • Barker, Meg-John, and Scheele, Jules, Queer – A Graphic History (London, 2018).
  • Callender, Kacen, Felix Ever After (New York, 2020).
  • Hasters, Alice, Was weisse Menschen nicht über Rassismus hören wollen, aber wissen sollten (Munich, 2019).
  • Liepsch, Elisa, and Warner, Julian, eds, Allianzen. Kritische Praxen an weissen Institutionen (Bielefeld, 2018).
  • Ogette, Tupoka, Exit Racism. Rassismuskritisch denken lernen, (Münster, 2018).
  • Purtschert, Patricia, Lüthi, Barbara and Falk, Francesca, eds, Postkoloniale Schweiz. Formen und Folgen eines Kolonialismus ohne Kolonien (Bielefeld, 2012).
  • Roig:, Emilia, Why we matter. Das Ende der Unterdrückung (Berlin, 2021).
  • Sanyal, Mithu, Identitti, (Munich 2021).
  • Schutzbach, Franziska, Die Erschöpfung der Frauen. Wider die weibliche Verfügbarkeit, (Munich, 2021).


The definitions in this glossary are taken from various sources, which we would like to name and thank: Diversity Arts Culture,; Diversum – Verein für rassismuskritisches Denken, and the glossary in Obulor, Evein, and Rosamag, eds, Schwarz wird großgeschrieben (Munich, 2021).
Some of the texts are original contributions to this publication.

The glossary was made possible as part of an M2Act-funded project.

Fadrina Arpagaus, Yuvviki Dioh, Miriam Ibrahim, Laura Kaufmann, Laiya Sievi


Publisher: Schauspielhaus Zürich AG Zeltweg 5
8032 Zürich