In part 2 we continue learning about inclusive language by diving into some commonly misused terms.
In our first inclusive language guide, we talked about how the language people use in equity and inclusion spaces can either hinder or help our solutions. In this next piece, we’d like to dive even deeper into some commonly confused inclusion terms, so that we can feel more confident in our change-making, and be super accurate in our communication.
The key aim with inclusive language is to move away from tokenistic language, get on the same page (so we can accelerate for inclusion!), and show our commitment to marginalised communities by prioritising their safety and belonging.
And remember, we can and will mess up language, particularly when it’s new to us, and we all need to give each other grace and support with this in a non-punitive way. It can sometimes feel scary that you’ll get it “wrong”, but the best thing to do is ask people what language they prefer, and be ready to course correct if you need to.
Phrases we should definitely be using:
- Pregnant people: Often referenced in conversations about reproductive rights, people refer simply to Cisgender Womens’ experiences, when in fact some Women cannot get pregnant while some people of other genders (such as Trans Men and Non-binary people) can. If we are to be anticissexist, we will be inclusive of the experiences of all people who can get or are pregnant, to ensure that they are included in policies and initiatives that advocate for reproductive rights.
- Latine: In the U.S., it has become common practice to use ‘Latinx’ when referring to people from Hispanic/Spanish origins in a gender neutral form. The intention behind this is to be more gender inclusive – which is a positive thing. However, very few people who identify this way actually use the term, because it is not pronounceable in Spanish. But a gender neutral term already exists in Latin America, with young activists self-identifying as Latine (pronounced “lah-teen-eh”), and using the “e” sound to de-gender other Spanish words. If we are to be antiracist, we will follow the leadership of people in these communities when referring to them.
Phrases we need to be more accurate about:
- Identity politics: This term was coined by the Combahee River Collective in the 70s to assert Black Womens’ right to create their own agendas based on their experiences with racism, classism, and sexism. While the term is often attacked for being politically divisive or anti-liberal, this ignores how all politics speak to certain people’s identities, but have historically served White wealthy people. Identity politics also doesn’t just mean representation, rather it acknowledges that giving everyone “equal opportunity” does not disrupt the deep, historically rooted oppressive outcomes for marginalised groups. It provides a framework to elevate the specific needs of these groups.
- Decolonisation: While some people believe decolonisation happened when previously colonised nations became ‘independent’, the harm inflicted on colonised people’s wealth and cultures has continued after ‘independence’. Over the last 20 years, this term has morphed into a synonym for “inclusion”, such as through initiatives to “decolonise our minds” or schools, that involve reading books by People of Colour or studying the history of colonisation. While these endevours are valuable, this more generalised meaning can prevent necessary conversation about returning stolen land and resources, and is often used to appease settler guilt and complicity in benefitting from that stolen land. If we are to be anticolonialist, we will focus on giving resources and rights to Indigenous and Colonised communities directly.
Phrases we don’t recommend using:
- Bodies: When people talk or write about the experiences of marginalised communities, we often hear references to “Black bodies” or “Disabled bodies.” We need to be careful with this language as it can dehumanise these groups, stripping their humanity down to images of victimised countable bodies without complex thoughts and emotions. If we are to be anti-oppressive we will refer to Black people, Disabled people, and others using accurate and dignified language.
Use this mini-quiz to test your understanding of these concepts, and check your answers at the bottom!
1)Which is the best use of the term decolonise?
a. In order to prioritise the voices of Indiginous people throughout history, we must decolonise the curriculums in our schools.
b. In order to decolonise the U.S., the government will need to return unceded Indigenous reservation land and transfer decision-making power over that land to Indigenous communities.
2) True or False? Identity politics make coming together from different communities impossible.
3) Which sentence is most accurate?
a. Globally, people who can get pregnant are at risk of losing access to safe abortions.
b. Globally, Women are at risk of losing access to safe abortions.
4) Fill in the blank: Disabled ____ are often ignored in the fight for Covid safety precautions.
5) Why is the term Latinx problematic?
a. Because it is not actually pronounceable in Spanish.
b. Because it is not approved as inclusive by academic institutions.
- How will you introduce this language simply to colleagues? (a meeting take-over? an intranet post?)
- How will you support your team to help each other use this language – without it feeling like policing? (Could you share some tips like: when people are talking, wait until they’ve finished, correct and move on, try to correct people 1:1 as it is less exposing, etc.)
- What other terms do you not understand or may misuse? When will you commit time to researching these?
1) B 2) B 3) A 4) B 5)A