Inclusive Language Resource
The University of Chicago is dedicated to creating an environment where scholars can flourish. At the heart of scholarship and rigorous inquiry is an appreciation of diversity. A variety of thought is what contributes to the life of the mind. The more diverse a scholarly community is, the more we can leverage the scholarship that is out there.
The University of Chicago completed a Campus Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). As part of that process, data indicated that scholars in our community, especially our students, desired that the University take a more intentional approach to matters of diversity and inclusion, specifically in the use of language and communication. The CHNA Diversity and Inclusion Action Team developed an Inclusive Language Resource to address this need.
Who should use this and how?
Our approach to ensuring the use of inclusive language necessitates that each of us, in our own roles, commit to exploring the toolkit and embedding it in all areas of our work. If you have come to this online resource, you are on the path to taking on this challenge. Now is the time to roll up your sleeves and dig in.
We use language everywhere and in every interaction. You can apply what you learn from this resource in your:
- Interactions with peers and colleagues
- Creation of a syllabi
- Research and scholarship
- Management of labs and work environments
- Training sessions
- Employment onboarding sessions
- Conversations with students
- Interactions with neighbors and community members
- Conversations with family and friends
This is not an exhaustive list, rather starting points for consideration.
Calling People In
Under each topic area below, there are resources for further exploration, writing guidelines, and suggested recommendations. Select a focus area from the list below or scroll to explore.
- National Center on Disability and Journalism, Disability Language Style Guide.
- Style and Grammar Guidelines – Bias-free Language: Disability, American Psychological Association, 2020.
- Research and Training Center on Independent Living, Guidelines for reporting and writing about people with disabilities (9th Edition), University of Kansas, 2020.
- University of Chicago, Student Disability Services.
- University of Chicago, Human Resources – Employee and Labor Relations.
- University of Chicago, Office for Access and Equity. Pamphlet.
- University of Chicago, Statement on Assistance for Students with Disabilities from the Student Handbook.
Structural ableism assumes that there is an ideal body and mind that is better than all others, and ableists build a world in which this ideal can thrive and others cannot. The disability and mental, behavioral, and emotional health rights movements have fought to demonstrate that the opposite is true – that all bodies have value, that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, and that we can build a world that is beneficial to us all. In a world built to shut people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities out, it is therefore paramount to use people-first language, to reject a purely “medical” framing of disability, to always use disability and mental health terminology accurately, and to use narratives that support people with disabilities in building power, in part by understanding that disability and mental health discrimination is not just interpersonal, but also institutional and cultural.
- Most times there is no need to refer to a person’s disability, but when the need arises, choose acceptable terminology for the specific disability or use the term preferred by the individual.
- Whenever possible, ask the preferred terminology. One person with a visual disability may prefer “blind,” while another person with a similar disability may prefer “person with low or limited loss of vision.” Similarly, one person may prefer “amputee,” while another person with a similar disability may prefer “person with limb difference.”
- Avoid using disability and mental/emotional health terminology to describe a situation metaphorically, especially if the phrasing is meant as an insult or is used flippantly.
- Do not use language that villainizes, sentimentalizes, or heroizes people with disabilities. An example of heroizing people with disabilities would be praising one for accomplishing daily tasks – this often sets them apart from a society that they may already be ostracized from.
- Avoid stereotyping phrasing that equates “thin” or “able-bodied” with health.
- Avoid negative or value-laden terms that overextend the severity of a disability.
- Remember that many chronic conditions and disabilities are non-visible. Do not assume that because you do not know that someone is living with a disability that they are not.
- Center for Economic and Social Justice, Just Third Way Glossary, 2013.
- Chronic Poverty Research Center, Appendix A: Glossary of Terms, 2004–2005.
- David Morris, Words Matter: What the Language We Use Tells Us About Our Current Political Landscape (In politics, definitions change.), 24 August 2015.
Classism is a system of beliefs, attitudes, and actions – fueled by institutional power – that advantages and strengthens the dominant class groups through differential treatment and the assignment of worth and ability based on economic status or perceived social class. Economic justice activists have long advocated that class underpins many other social injustices and that classism is already deeply ingrained in the primacy of a few language systems – including English – over the rest. Not assuming that a document will be produced in only one language may already be anti-classist act. At the same time, because everyone deserves the opportunity to build a material foundation toward dignity, productivity, and creativity, we should assume that all people have hopes and dreams not determined by their assigned social class. As such, wherever possible use language that avoids replicating class stereotypes, that is conscious of how we over-rely on capitalist metaphors to describe human stories and stories about nature, and that embraces the words and names of the people whose causes we are supporting. At the same time, holding an equity stance, as well as a pro-labor stance, can also help combat corporate power and bring consumers, workers, and shareholders onto the same page.
- Include titles, credentials, and positions held only when they are germane to the story.
- If someone’s social circumstances are relevant to the story, be specific: “Homeowners at risk of foreclosure.”
- While people who work in the home may not have a contractual employer, rather than equating employment with work and saying “they don’t work,” reference the work they contribute in the home.
- Understand the difference between historically legal terms, such as “minimum wage” or “basic wage,” and descriptive, advocacy terms, such as “living wage” and “fair wage,” and also how usage can change.
- Understand the difference between “income inequality,” “pay inequality,” and “wealth inequality,” and be precise.
Environment and Science
- Know the science and be precise with terminology.
- Know the audience and consider using language that will bring that audience along.
- Understand that “climate change” and “global warming” have been in the public domain for a long time and it may be hard to avoid using these terms.
- As needed, reframe the discussion in terms of direct impacts on people’s lives, livelihoods, and communities.
- Smita Narula, How to Talk About Food And Why It Matters, 8 April 2015.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020.
- Feeding America, Addressing Food Insecurity Among College Students, 2019.
- Local Food Banks – Northern Illinois Food Bank; Greater Chicago Food Depository; and Feeding America.
- UChicago Center for Identity + Inclusion, Student Support Services, Food Security Resources.
- While much of the language around food is not pejorative, it is important to consider terms carefully for their historical, scientific, and political meanings before using them.
- Focus on the stories of local people and people trying to gain, regain, and retain sovereignty and access to food. There is often an opportunity to tell the stories of people, and we can do a better job of not missing them or letting our focus stay elsewhere on abstractions or concepts.
- Use language that is accurate (“SNAP,” not “food stamps,” in the U.S.), but don’t miss opportunities to also be descriptive (“safety net program”) of the reality.
Gender and Sex
- Barnaby B. Barratt, Why Sexual Freedom is a Fundamental Human Right, 2010.
- Claire Ainsworth, Sex Redefined: The Idea of Two Sexes is Simplistic. Biologists Now Think There Is a Wider Spectrum Than That, 18 February 2015.
- Debby Herbenick, PhD, and Aleta Baldwin, What Each of Facebook’s 51 New Gender Options Means105, 15 February 2014.
- Full Marriage Equality, Glossary.
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender Issues, 2016.
- It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, Comprehensive* List of LGBTQ+ Term Definitions, 2013.
- Multiamory, Poly Glossary.
- Not Your Mother’s Playground, Sexuality Glossary.
- Suzannah Weiss, 5 Ways that Science Supports Feminism – Not Gender Essentialism, 25 August 2015.
Along with the important work of combatting sexism – a system of beliefs, attitudes, and actions, fueled by institutional power, that targets people based on supposed naturalistic categories of biological sex – feminism has simultaneously unearthed myriad new understandings of human experience, including a range of gender identities and expressions; multiple axes of physical, emotional, and spiritual attraction; an alphabet of sexual orientations; and virulent, grassroots demand for sexual freedom. In response, feminists have generated considerable content to answer the question of how we should speak and write in these new contexts – but a few basic approaches can help right away. First, self-identifying is crucial, so whenever possible use language that is preferred by the people being talked about. Second, assume complexity and uniqueness and strive to represent people’s complete lives instead of reducing people to aspects of who they are, a practice that is often sparked by stigma and shame. Finally, use language that avoids replicating gender stereotypes, that resists the hegemony of binaries and strict categories, and that embraces and uplifts human experience over science, law, or cultural norms.
Despite being problematic terms, be aware that binary gender and sex terms are still important descriptors in anti-sexism work.
Biologists may now be striving to describe physiological sex as non-binary, but society is still largely unaware of this trend and may need ongoing reminders.
There are more than two genders, as gender lies on a spectrum, and it is always ok to note this.
“They” is a good alternative if you aren’t sure of the person’s preferred pronouns.
Always use a person’s chosen name. It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a trans person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity. It is usually best to report on people’s stories from the present day instead of narrating them from some point or multiple points in the past.
Be wary of scientific nomenclature, which is also influenced by culture and often perpetuates stereotyped thinking. At the same time, scientific studies can also be baked with prejudice at a structural level, and so even a study written according to inclusive guidelines can still reproduce biased language and biased frames.
Be wary of language that suggests “innateness” of characteristics, especially language that pulls for essentialism of gender or sex.
Be aware that using language that is motivated by trying to make others “fit in”, can and will backfire, leaving folks feeling like they must conform.
Do not repeat fear stories related to sex that promotes a culture of stigma.
If a gender-neutral term is available and does not change the meaning, consider using it. Often this means just pluralizing the antecedent to avoid use of singular pronouns: “Employees should read their packets carefully,” not “Each employee should read his packet carefully.”; “Invite your spouse or partner,” not “Invite your boyfriend or husband.”
Generally, it is not necessary to specify the gender of a person in a particular role, as most occupations are not gender defined. Avoid terms that show gender biases in the profession: cleaner, police officer, chair, not cleaning lady, policeman, chairman. Adding “male” before “nurse” or “lady” before “doctor” is almost always unnecessary.
Use parallel terms or terms of equal status and avoid terms that denote gender inferiority: “husband and wife, staff in the office,” not “man and wife, girls in the office.” Do not gratuitously describe a woman as a “mother of three.”
Family details and marital status are only relevant in stories about families or marriage.
When reporting on women and men who work in the sex industry, identify them as individuals first, not by the way they earn money.
Do not assume heterosexual orientation. Where appropriate, use examples of same-sex partners and families, and LGBQQTIA2-S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, transgender, intersex, asexual, two-spirit) people’s lives and experiences.
Avoid defaulting to umbrella terms like gay or homosexual.
Use LGBTQ to refer to a broad community or be specific when relevant: lesbian, gay man, bisexual woman, etc.
Be mindful of appropriate and respectful in-group versus outgroup naming. Queer is an acceptable in-group term but it is often better to refer to queer communities rather than calling an individual queer unless they have already told you this is how they identify.
When referring to the broader community, queer (as in queer people) or LGBTQ (as in LGBTQ people) is appropriate – gay, however, is not. LGBTQ is only appropriate when referring to the broader community or groups of people, not when referring to individuals.
Same-sex marriage is shorthand that should be used only when needed for clarity or for space purposes (such as, in headlines).
Generally, in text, it is more accurate to refer to “same-sex couples’ marriage rights” or something similar.
Don’t use slut-shaming language; note that slut is not automatically a negative word.
Adultism is a system of beliefs, attitudes, and actions – fueled by institutional power – so pervasive that nearly everyone experiences this form of oppression. Children’s rights movements early on centered around reforming unhealthy and destructive child labor practices but have come to encompass all forms of oppression that devalue and dehumanize young people. To include young people in society it is vital to use language that views youth as contributors, that does not denigrate youth experiences, and that does not dismiss their ideas. It is appropriate to consider developmental stages, but do not use a lack of knowledge about human development to avoid involving young people. Perhaps the greatest injustice young people face is being silenced, overlooked, and left out of progressive social justice work all together.
Generational diversity has great potential. People across generations can grow and learn from one another as they are exposed to one another’s ideas and experiences. Allowing for new perspectives, values and working/learning styles can create atmospheres of respect and growth.
Ageism is a system of beliefs, attitudes, and actions, fueled by institutional power, that oppresses all people at all ages, but is considered most detrimental for the physical health of our oldest citizens. Ageists view a person’s age number or chronological age as a marker of essential characteristics or type, leading to stereotyping and suppressing the experience and true nature of individuals. To ensure that people of all ages have a voice in society it is vital to reject a purely “age-number” framing of life stage, to always use medical terminology accurately, and to use narratives that support people of all ages building power.
- Most times there is no need to refer to a person’s age. When the need arises, list the specific age number, rather than assigning a category that may be vague and create negative connotations.
- Whenever possible, ask the preferred terminology. One person may prefer “senior,” while another person with the same age number may prefer “older adult.”
- Avoid using age-related terminology to describe a situation metaphorically, especially if the phrasing is meant as an insult or is used flippantly.
- Do not use language that patronizes, sentimentalizes, distorts, or ignores people based on their age number.
- Avoid negative, value-laden terms that overextend the limitations of a young person’s developmental stage or the severity of an older person’s health.
- Do not assume that someone who is older is living with a disability.
- Jack David Eller, Student resources: Glossary150, Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives, 2009.
- Transnational Institute, Mission: Values 151, 2015.
- University of Chicago Center for Identity and Inclusion: Office of Multicultural Student Affairs:
- UCGlobal: Resources and support for UChicago’s vast international community
- University of Chicago Wellness, Resilience in Diversity: International Student Therapy Group
- University of Chicago Wellness, Kaleidoscope: Therapy Group for Students of Color
Mutuality and respect, as well as curiosity and cultural exchange, are the hallmarks of a vibrant global community in this framework. Language that seeks to understand, share goodwill, and fight global injustice will be from the perspective of local people with thoughtfulness about transnational networks fighting international, interconnected issues that harm people broadly.
- Style for foreign placenames evolves with common usage. Leghorn has become Livorno, and maybe one day München will supplant Munich, but not yet. Many names have become part of the English language: Geneva is the English name for the city that Switzerland’s French speakers refer to as Genève and its German speakers call Genf. Accordingly, opt for locally used names, with some main exceptions (this list is not exhaustive; apply common sense): Andalusia, Archangel, Basel, Berne, Brittany, Catalonia, Cologne, Dunkirk, Florence, Fribourg, Genoa, Gothenburg, Hanover, Kiev, Lombardy, Milan, Munich, Naples, Normandy, Nuremberg, Padua, Piedmont, Rome, Sardinia, Seville, Sicily, Syracuse, Turin, Tuscany, Venice, Zurich.
- But bear in mind that Colonel Gaddafi renamed Libya “The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya” and so there are some exceptions that should not follow the previous guideline
- Recognize the intersection of economic and geopolitical inclusivity. Avoid using language that identifies a region and its entire population by its financial status and generalizes the diverse experiences of existing communities (ex. first world vs. third world countries). Such labels arise from a history of exclusionary practices by privileged groups and disallows for the advancement of geopolitical regions beyond categorical labels. If needed, use terms such as “developing” and “developed” nations, that allow for progress and mobility. Try to identify specific narratives within communities to acknowledge the diversity in experiences within a geopolitical region and avoid language that perpetuates hierarchical divisions in geopolitics.
- Understand the historical geopolitics of place and impact of colonial power on placename. The city of Mumbai, India was converted to be called Bombay when colonized by the British but has since reclaimed its original name. Research and self-educate to acknowledge the geopolitical histories of place and ensure accuracy of preferred placename to respect the progress of native or marginalized populations.
- UChicago Student Wellness, UChicago
Human rights framework
The World Health Organization defines “the highest attainable standard of health” as a “fundamental right of every human being.” This approach to health centers people and access, not status and cost, and demands a public discourse that speaks to the universal, interdependent, and personal experience of health and healthcare systems. Peoples first language, as well as language that supports dignity and a broad understanding of health factors – food, housing, a healthy environment, etc. – are needed. Because “vulnerable and marginalized groups in society tend to bear undue proportion of health problems” (and health injustices), careful attention should be paid to ensuring that all people have an active voice in how they define their own healthcare and health outcomes.
- Consider whether terms and phrasing are crass, inaccurate, or may reinforce stigma, implying helplessness or inviting pity (AIDS victim) and take the time to re-word or frame the issue with adequate context to go against those patterns.
- Keep in mind that the medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries are biased and that bias from professionals and organizations in these fields impact the language of institutionally defined “health outcomes.” Careful consideration of these biases can be supported by even minimal consultation with people who actually experience a given health issue.
- Avoid stereotyping phrasing that equates “thin” or “ablebodied” with health.
Housing and Space
- Here to Help, Housing glossary 164, 2007.
- Housing Development Consortium, Glossary 15.
- Institute of Global Homelessness, A global framework for understanding homelessness 166, September 2015.
- Susie Cagle, Homes for the homeless August 2015. , Aeon Magazine, 28
- National Economic & Social Rights Institute, What is the human right to housing?
- University of Chicago Center for Identity and Inclusion: FLI Network
- University of Chicago Center for College Student Success
- Jennifer Rich, People experience homelessness, they aren’t defined by it, June 2017.
- United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines housing as part of “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family.” This approach centers people and access, not status and cost, and demands a public discourse that speaks to the universal, interdependent, and personal experience of housing. Peoplefirst language, as well as language that supports dignity and a broad understanding of housing and spatial injustice – housing discrimination, unaffordability, foreclosure and eviction, homelessness, etc. – are needed. Careful attention should be paid to ensuring that all people have an active voice in how they define their own housing situation.
- Consider whether terms and phrasing are crass, inaccurate, or may reinforce stigma, implying criminalization or invoking fear (bum, indigent, vagrant, beggar) and take the time to re-word or frame the issue with adequate context to go against those patterns.
- Practice people-first language and respect the personhood of every individual. The word “homeless” comes with a whole armful of negative stereotypes, assumptions, and accusations. Homelessness is an experience, not an identifier; Reflect this in inclusive language by describing an individual as “experiencing homelessness” rather than “homeless.”
- Avoid stereotyping phrasing that equates “sin” or “sickness” with homelessness, and at the same time, don’t shy away from respectful language around mental or physical health if it is germane to a story about housing.
Immigration and Refugees
Inclusive society framework
By definition state borders mark which people are in and which people are out. All too often, our current global system of nations enforces immigration and asylum laws based on those borders and an us-verses-them ethos when determining who will have access to civil rights. While immigration and refugee issues have been tied to civil rights in this way, there are compelling arguments182 for why crossing a border should also be framed as a human rights issue. Not only are immigrants and refugees vulnerable to increased human rights abuses, additionally, the language of international human rights law may be a powerful tool for diagnosing such abuses. However, taking the immigration and refugee frame a step beyond, by aiming for an inclusive society183 frame, may describe the antidote to state-driven mistreatment. Language that raises visibility of personal stories, creates empathy and recognizes diverse assets, promotes cross-cultural interactions, fights discrimination, and offers respect and an invitation to participate breaks down usversus- them thinking and avoids succumbing to the quagmire of individual sovereignties’ policy debates.
- Avoid focusing on groups of immigrants or refugees in a way that misses the individuals that make up those groups.
- By definition, a person is never illegal; an “illegal immigrant” makes as much a sense as saying an “illegal accountant,” were they accused of tax fraud.
- An asylum seeker can become an undocumented immigrant only if he or she remains after having failed to respond to a removal notice.
- Undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children are referred to as DREAMers (retaining capitalization of the DREAM Act).
- Use the word “immigrant” with great care, not only because it is often incorrectly used to describe people who were born in the reported country, but also because it has been used negatively for so many years.
Indigeneity and Ancestry
To this day, centuries-old global colonization continues to destroy Indigenous homelands, cultures, and communities. Decolonization and resurgence movements, however, have demonstrated the power to create “everyday practices of renewal and responsibility” for Indigenous peoples, reclaiming personal and group histories, as well as opening the door to self-determined futures. Therefore, language that recognizes a history of pillage and violence by centering the experiences and stories of those whose families have been most affected by colonization for generations and supports all Indigenous peoples in building power is vital.
- “Indigenous” is internationally inclusive for all Indigenous peoples.
- Whenever possible, use a specific name (e.g., Cherokee and Inuit). If you are not aware of the preferred name, whenever possible, ask.
- Capitalize the proper names of tribes, nationalities, and peoples (Full list of tribes and languages in USA and full list of tribes and languages in Canada)
- The term “Indian” is outdated and should be replaced by the term “First Nation” except in the following cases: in direct quotations; when citing titles of books, works of art, etc.; in discussions of history where necessary for clarity and accuracy; in discussions of some legal/constitutional matters requiring precision in terminology; in discussions of rights and benefits provided on the basis of “Indian” status; and in statistical information collected using these categories (e.g., the Census).
- The term “Eskimo” is outdated and has been replaced by “Inuit.”
- Terms that distinguish “racial purity” come from a colonized and government-invented caste system. For example, the sort of blood quantum system apparent in South America and imposed by the Spanish Conquistadors, with terms like “Mestizo” from the Casta system, was used explicitly to separate people into classes.
- Avoid vocabulary and usage that carries hierarchical valuation, describes Indigenous peoples as “belonging” to Canada, the United States, or Australia, etc., and other usages that may denote inferiority. Use neutral terms instead. For example: “Indigenous peoples in Canada have traditions and cultures that go back thousands of years,” not “Canada’s Indigenous people have traditions and cultures that go back thousands of years.” Similarly, do not say “Canadian First Nations” as Canada is the colonial power and many Indigenous people do not identify as Canadian.
- Expressions such as “myth,” “folklore,” “magic,” “sorcery,” and “superstition(s)” used in relation to Indigenous beliefs, as well as words that imply that all Indigenous creation and religious beliefs are less valid than other religious beliefs, should be avoided.
- “Aboriginal People” can be used to refer to more than one Aboriginal person. The use of “Aboriginal Peoples” is preferred as it emphasizes the diversity of people within the group known as Aboriginal people. “Native” is a word similar in meaning to “Aboriginal.” It should always be given a capital “A” and never abbreviate.
Police and Incarceration
Restorative justice, unlike retributive justice, holds as true that oppression underpins all other forms of harm, abuse, and assault. A restorative justice framework not only acknowledges individual experiences and identities of all people, it also offers a process and language for actively resisting institutional and political systems of criminal injustice. To apply a restorative justice frame, use language that supports accountability and healing, that promotes agency for survivors and transformation for people who harm, and that works to disassemble oppression at every level and in all forms. It is also important to keep in mind how we wield our own power and privilege when writing about police violence and state crime by paying attention to how we can foster liberation, shift power, accountability, safety, and collective action, and respect cultural difference.
- Use decriminalizing language.
- Be careful when using “justice system,” as it implies that the existing institutions of policing and courts represent a form of justice. Using “carceral system” may be more appropriate.
- “Felons, not families” presents a false dichotomy.
- Under the veil of protecting national and public safety, “homeland security” rhetoric increasingly draws on the ideologies and practices, such as hyperpolicing and criminalization, of the decades-long War on Crime.
- Separate the act or crime from the person. Do not define people entirely based off their criminal act (or accused criminal act).
- In the United States, prisons are different than jails. Jails are where people are held awaiting trial and often run by the county. Prisons are often run by the state (or federal) and are where people are serving sentences after being convicted.
Race and Ethnicity
Structural and cultural anti-racism framework
Racism, in order to be dismantled, must be uprooted at everylevel, from the foundations of institutions that dictate thepractices and policies enacted by personnel to the attitudes andbeliefs that we reinforce through repeated social interactionsand deeply internalized messages. Reclaiming power from racistsystems takes a willingness to come to the conversation withcuriosity and openness and a willingness to get it wrong withoutletting that stop us from continuing to try to understand and dobetter. Language that suggests a capacity to step outside defaultroles to hear and support folks who have been hurt and limitedby racism is needed. Stories and terms that are meaningfulto folks in developing their identities and building power willchange what is possible in fights to end racism, and will help win.
- A main goal should be to tell stories from the perspective of the community being represented, rather than telling the story through the lens of the dominant power brokers. Centering the perspective of marginalized groups will often Race/Ethnicity R/E take getting educated on common underlying assumptions – actively seek out this information.
- Understand what race, racism, racial identity, ethnicity, ethnic oppression, and ethnic identity are.
- Avoid references that draw undue attention to ethnic backgrounds or racial identities. When references are valid, learn the most appropriate specific terminology or use the term preferred by the person or group concerned. Also, remember to mention the race or color of white people as well.
- Capitalize the proper names of ancestral, national, place, and religious identities: Indigenous Peoples, Arab, French-Canadian, Inuit, Jew, Latin, Asian, Cree, etc.
- Combining names of continents is a common way of identifying someone’s ancestry: African American, Afro-Cuban, Eurasian. These should be capitalized. These are also sometimes used to indicate race, however there are problems with using these descriptors as analogues for racial identities. Describing a person who is black and lives in Canada as African American may create inaccuracies if they don’t self-identify culturally as African, if they do self-identify as Canadian, or if they are white, born in Africa, and recently moved to Canada.
- Instead of saying “an African American” or “a black” try “a black person” or “a person of color.” At the same time, some groups will prefer the former terminology, and it will still be important to use language used by the people being represented. At the same time, note: “person of color” and “Black” are not synonymous. Also, “person of color” and “immigrant” are not synonymous.
- Black/White are sometimes capitalized and sometimes lowercase. Consider your audience; again, follow the lead of your constituencies; and set a consistent house style and follow it.
- Avoid vocabulary that extends negative racial, ethnic, or cultural connotations and avoid usage that carriers hierarchical valuation; portrays groups of people as inferior, bad, criminal, or less valued than others; or centers whiteness that is not helpful. At times, such language may be difficult to perceive from the point of view of an oppressor group. Don’t assume you know all the ways that a phrasing may land; take the time to check it out with others.
- Using “minority” may imply inferior social position and is often relative to geographic location. When needed, the use of “minority ethnic group,” “minoritized,” and/or “underrepresented” may be preferred over “minority group.” Note, “minorities” are actually 85% of the world population and make up the global majority.
- Also commonly used, “racial minority” or “visible minority” typically describe people who are not white; “ethnic minority” refers to people whose ancestry is not English or Anglo-Saxon and “linguistic minority” refers to people whose first language is not English (or not French in Quebec).
- Avoid generalizations based in race or ethnicity, including common expressions with a history rooted in oppression.
- Do not define a person’s appearance based primarily on their nationality or cultural background.
Sexual and Domestic Violence
- University of Chicago, Office for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Support.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- World Health Organization, Violence Against Women: Key Facts, 2017.
- United Nations, What is Domestic Abuse, 2020.
Rape culture –through pervasive, implicit and explicit, social conditioning that tells us it’s ok to joke about, threaten, and condone rape –incubates sexual and domestic violence. We need to call out sexual and domestic violence everywhere we see it, including when it is being alluded to in social interactions and when it is unconsciously present in laws and court rulings. To end rape culture,we need to create something to take its place –global consent culture. At its core, consent culture relies on spoken language to ensure complete, timely, and informed consent. To root out a culture that fosters sexual and domestic violence, use language that promotes enthusiastic, verbal consent, that respects individuals’ personal boundaries, that fosters vocal anti-rape discussions instead of shutting them down, and that acknowledges and supports vulnerable sharing of personal stories.
- Rape or sexual assault is in no way associated with normal sexual activity. Rape or assault is not “sex.” A pattern of abuse is not an “affair.”
- Trafficking in women is not the same as prostitution.
- People who have suffered sexual violence may not wish to be described as a victim, unless they choose the word themselves. Many prefer the word survivor.
- Do not assume that rape happens in only one way, and avoid language that reinforces a dominant narrative that rape is only being attacked by a stranger leaping from the bushes.
- Be wary of taking words verbatim from press releases and/or police reports. Keep language as neutral as possible.
- During conflict, rape by combatants is a war crime. Describing it as an unfortunate but predictable aspect of war is not acceptable.
- When describing an assault, try to strike a balance when deciding how much graphic detail to include. Too much can be gratuitous; too little can weaken the survivor’s case.
- Content warnings should be used whenever you’re including an explicit description of the motivation for, events during, or immediate impact on the survivor after an attack.
- Understand that covering a story about someone who killed or abused their partner is a domestic violence story.
- Do not report from the lens of the abuser. Reporting from the lens of the abuser is the same as victim blaming.
- Resist the narrative that sexual and domestic violence is a “women’s issue.” It’s a human issue.
- Whenever possible, mention where survivors of sexual and domestic violence can get help.
- “Domestic violence” has also been used interchangeably to talk about violence from a survivor’s partner when that term could erroneously imply that they’re in a domestic (family or marriage) setting. “Intimate partner violence” is suggested as more accurate and inclusive.
- Intimate partner violence occurs within a spectrum of relationships (not just family, home, or marriage) and different aspects of a relationship.
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