A Multicultural Literature Glossary

“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way.”
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A Multicultural Literature Glossary

Any unattributed definitions are my own, and I bear sole responsbility for them. When necessary, or possible, I provide as many quotations as I can from experts in the field. Note that many times, their definitions may not be equivalent, and may even be at odds with one another.

In the interest of historical research, I also include definitions from commonly available dictionaries and encyclopedias throughout the years, to show how some of these terms have changed meaning in the popular mind over the years.

I also include general literary terms, such as “canon,” which are points of disagreement or conflict as they concern multicultural literature.

American Indian
A term which refers to a person or culture indigenous to the United States. Many people in the United States disparage this term as racist or derogatory, but the proper description of indigenous peoples around the world is open to debate. (Compare with “Native American” and “First Nations.”)
The process whereby a cultural minority adapts to and is eventually absorbed by the dominant culture, save for a few acceptable artifacts. Examples in the United States include the Irish, whose artifacts such as the shamrock and the color green are trotted out every March 17th, and the Germans, who are often celebrated locally with ample supplies of bratwurst, beer, and lederhosen, although both groups have been the victims of racism and prejudice at various points in the history of the United States.
Nearly all multicultural litearture for children and adolescents addresses the issue of assimilation, either directily or indirectly.
“A highly personal and unreasoned distortion of judgment: prejudice” (Webster's Ninth 147).
A person (and less often, a region or culture) fluent in two or more languages.
A person whose parents are of differing races (or of differing ethnicities). There are very few books written about biracial children, and even less research. This needs to change. Two examples of adolescent literature which address biracial individuals are Virginia Hamilton's Arilla Sun Down and Matt de la Peña’s Mexican White Boy.
In the United States, the minstrel show and Vaudeville practice of white actors using makeup to appear as black characters in a derogatory way. (See this Wikipedia article for more information. This term is included here because it has largely become unknown, but young scholars of children's literature may encounter it in historical contexts without being aware of its significance. Compare with “yellowface.”)
cultural appropriation
AThe appropropriation of items of cultural significance by non-members of the culture (often white) for profit. Examples include the sale of “Indian” mocassins and dreamcatchers in areas frequented by tourists, or the advertisement and sales of so-called “Mexican” food by companies such as Ortega and Taco Bell.
cultural conglomerate
An often unintentional grouping of many cultures into one and treating them as if they were identical to one another, such as treating any Spanish-speaking culture as identical to any other, or treating Chinese and Japanese cultures as essentially alike. (For examples, see Reimer 19 and Yokota 158.)
cultural marker
“The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group” (Webster's Ninth 314).
A categorization based on a person's or group's “racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background” (Webster's Ninth 427).
A viewpoint that posits European culture and "whiteness" as the cultural norm.
First Nations
A Canadian term describing the aboriginal peoples of Canada. I prefer it because it is more accurate and less clumsy than “Native American” or “American Indian” (although, admittedly, it is still a term applied from the outside).
five F's
A simplified and simplistic way to view and understand cultures other than the predominant one by focusing on their food, fashion, festivals, folklore, and famous people. (For more information see Begler, along with Meyer and Rhoades.)
“Occurs when information about diverse issues or roles is not integrated into the body of text, but is given in a separate section, conveying the idea that certain issues and contributions are tangential to the mainstream and not important. Example: A history book has a chapter solely on significant people of color” (Meyer and Rhoades 84).
An initialism standing for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning.”
An umbrella category that refers to any person who is ethnically from any of the various Spanish-speaking nations of North, Central, and South America.
“Refers to a situation in which only one aspect or interpretation of an issue or group of people is presented. Example: Socioeconomic issues are characterized by race or gender” (Meyer and Rhoades 84).
independent publisher
A small, often privately-owned or non-profit, publisher, and therefore not responsible to shareholders. Many publishers of multicultural literature for children and adolescents are independent publishers.
A person who writes about the culture of which they are a member. (In this case, “culture” does not necessarily refer to race or ethnicity.)
“A bias by simply omitting or greatly underrepresenting in both text and illustration. Example: Visuals in a book depict children of only one race or gender” (Meyer and Rhoades 84).
Curiously, Webster's Ninth, published in 1986, does not contain the word “Latino.”
linguistic bias
“A bias in which masculine terms or pronouns are used to refer to all people. Example: He, him, and his are used in reference to all people” (Meyer and Rhoades 84).
multicultural education
“A world view that rejects the global centrality of any single culture or historical perspective—most immediately, Eurocentrism” (Elizabeth Martinez, as quoted in Madigan 169).
multicultural literature
1) Literature which “emphasizes respect for the different historical perspectives and cultures in human society” (Elizabeth Martinez, as quoted in Madigan 169).
2) “A literature of inclusion: stories from and stories about all our children” (Harriet Rohmer, as quoted in Madigan 169).
Native American
A term created by the United States government to refer to that which is "“of, or relating to, a tribe, people, or culture that is indigenous to the United States” or that which is “of, or relating to, a tribe, people, or culture indigenous to the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.” (These definitions come from the NAGPRA Glossary. It is remarkably difficult to find an “official” United States government defintion of “Native American.”)
A word which refers to the members or the culture of the Puerto Rican diaspora in and around New York City. (See this Wikipedia article, and visit the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.)
A person who writes about a culture of which they are not a member. Eve Bunting, an Irish author, has a penchant for writing about cultures of which she is not a memberis a prime example. (In this case, “culture” does not necessarily refer to race or ethnicity.)
A derogatory term which refers to children of black descent. It was once common in children's literature, including early editions of Mary Poppins. (See this Wikipedia article for more information. This term is included here because it has largely become unknown, but young scholars of children's literature may encounter it in historical contexts without being aware of its significance.)
An initialism referring to “people of color.”
postcolonial literature
“A body of literature written by authors with roots in countries that were once colonies established by European nations” (Murfin and Ray 356). When this literature makes its way to the United Stated (often in translation) it is generally considered a subset of multicultural literature, especially when directed at children and teens.
postcolonial theory
“A field of intellectual inquiry that explores and interrogates the situation of colonized peoples both during and after colonization” (Murfin and Ray 356). Contemporary multicultural books for children that explore these themes include Pam Muñoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising and Sherman Alexie”s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
“An irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics” (Webster's 928).
“The special status accorded to certain persons, works, ideas, images, theories, or form by a given culture” (Murfin and Ray 372). Within the context of multicultural literature, privilege is often assumed to be the provenance of white, and especially, white heterosexual males, who are able to view other culture without actually experiencing any of the difficulties those other cultures have experienced.
queer theory
“A contemporary approach to literature and culture that assumes sexual identities are fluid, not fixed, and that critiques gender and sexuality as they are commonly conceived in Western culture, [maintaining] that masculinity and feminity are patterns of behavior rather than natural or innate” (Murfin and Ray 386).
Bias toward or against a person or group of people based on their perceived race, ethnicity, or religion.
“A traditional bias that depicts gender, roles, race, culture, mores, religion, and other realms of diversity as preconceived throughts not necessarily correlated to fact or realtiy. Example: A type of food or costume as representative of a minority group” (Meyer and Rhoades 84).
“A bias formed by presenting an unrealistic picture. Example: Visuals or content depict certain traditional skills are representative of one race or gender” (Meyer and Rhoades 84).
A term which generally refers to any person or culture derived from European (often northern European) origins. In the context of multicultural literature in the United Sates, it refers to anyone who is not a person of color.
The traditional Hollywood practice of hiring Caucasian actors to portray Asian characters. (See this Wikipedia article for more information. This term is included here because it has largely become unknown, but young scholars of children's literature may encounter it in historical contexts without being aware of its significance. Compare with “blackface.”)

Works Cited

Delete this paragraph if not necessary.

  • Begler, Elsie. "Global Cultures: The First Steps toward Understanding." Social Understanding 62.5 (1998): 272-275. Print.
  • Madigan, Dan. "The Politics of Multicultural Literature for Children and Adolescents: Combining Perspectives and Conversations." Language Arts 70 (1993): 168-176. Print.
  • Meyer, Calvin F., and Elizabeth Kellery Rhoades. "Multiculturalism: Beyond Food, Festival, Folklore, and Fashion." Kappa Delta Pi Record 42.2 (2006): 82-87. Print.
  • Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.
  • Reimer, Kathryn Meyer. "Multiethnic Literature: Holding Fast to Dreams." Language Arts 69 (1992): 14-21. Print.
  • Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 1986.
  • Yokota, Junko. "Issues in Selecting Multicultural Children's Literature." Language Arts 70 (1993): 156-167. Print.

How to Cite this Page:

  • Odle, Kenneth John. "A Multicultural Literature Glossary." kjodle.net. 12 June 2016. Web. 25 March 2017. <>