Why inclusive language matters

Some people roll their eyes when the topic of inclusive language comes up. Others scoff quite openly or even worse. Occasionally someone asks what it’s all about because they’re curious and, I like to think, open-minded.

A friend asked me about it Friday night. I explained one aspect of it in words similar to these:

Let’s say I’m talking to a group of citizens here in Longmont, maybe making a presentation at a city council meeting about the need for safer streets. I start out by saying, “We all ride bicycles in this town…”

I would immediately lose the attention of every non-cyclist in the room and wreck any credibility I might have had just a minute earlier. My message would be lost on the non-cyclists and maybe even some cyclists.

Or let’s say I’m listening to someone in a virtual town hall meeting at work, and she says at one point, “Look, we’re all scientists here, so…”

The speaker would (and actually did) leave me wondering why she didn’t know that a good many of us in the room weren’t scientists. Why wasn’t she talking to the rest of us even though we’d all made an effort to attend? The speaker addressing the scientists lost my attention for at least the next several minutes of her presentation.

You can’t communicate effectively if you don’t know your audience. By using language that actually offends or alienates other people, you lose their attention and their respect.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“That makes sense,” my friend said. “It’s about communication.”

Exactly.

Too many people use offensive and exclusionary rhetoric to hurt others and even incite violence. Few of them will have read this far.

If your goal is to include and welcome people into your community, learn about and use inclusive language. More people will hear you.

If your message matters, all of your words matter. Choose them with care.

You’ll find links to a few of the many available resources below. Others are a simple search away. Do you know of other good ones? Let me know!

B.J.


Some resources about inclusive language

Ableism and Language https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/dasblog/2012/01/31/ableism-and-language/

ACM – Writing About Accessibility http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/november-december-2015/writing-about-accessibility

An end to “Blind Review” https://blog.apaonline.org/2020/02/20/an-end-to-blind-review/

An Incomplete Guide to Inclusive Language for Startups and Tech https://buffer.com/resources/inclusive-language-tech/

Anti-Racism in Academia (ARiA) initiative https://aria.uga.edu/inclusive-language/

Conscious Style Guide https://consciousstyleguide.com/

Google – Writing inclusive documentation https://developers.google.com/style/inclusive-documentation

How to Minimize Gender Bias in Your Writing https://www.bouldereditors.org/2020/08/12/how-to-minimize-gender-bias-in-your-writing/

IETF – Terminology, Power, and Inclusive Language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-knodel-terminology

NASA to Reexamine Nicknames for Cosmic Objects https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-to-reexamine-nicknames-for-cosmic-objects

National Center on Disability and Journalism https://ncdj.org/style-guide/

Remember your oath? Did it expire?

Some things are hard to forget.

As I was reminded this morning while watching CBS Sunday Morning, Archie Bunker berated his “meathead” son-in-law for putting on his socks and shoes in the wrong order. I remember that show and often think of it when I put my socks on (not always followed by shoes, by the way).

Something else from early in the All in the Family years has also been on my mind: the oath I took when I enlisted in the Navy. I don’t recall anything in it about an expiration date.

My two+ years on active duty and a few more as a reserve don’t define me. I identify as a husband, father, brother and writer, and sometimes as a veteran when the subject comes up because it’s part of my history. That said, I recognize that serving my country during the Cold War affected virtually everything that has followed in my life.

Had I not been separated from active duty and returned to college when I did, I may never have met the woman who married me more than 40 years ago. She’s having her lunch a few feet away from me as I write this.

Who knows what children I would have had, if any? Would I have spent some wonderful time just last night watching my four-year-old granddaughter dance for us all in a Zoom show of her own creation? I’m not sure I would even be alive.

I’m proud to say I was discharged honorably from the U.S. Navy. I am grateful for the benefits available to me as a veteran. I remember the oath I took on a cold December night, then reporting to boot camp a few weeks later, and going on to play my small role to the best of my ability.

I am sickened now as I watch so many of our elected officials forget their own oaths, spread Trump’s lies, and reinforce his incitement to violence and insurrection. Whether they are simply cowards or actually bent on destroying our democracy, we need to remind every one of them about the oath they took when they were sworn in, and we need to bring them to justice.

B.J.

Remember who brought thugs to the Capitol: Trump, GOP, voters

The U.S. Capitol is no more or less holy a place than anything else constructed by human beings, yet I heard repeated references to it today as something sacred. The implication was that the Trumpist mob violating the space had committed an act of desecration by breaking and entering it, disrespecting the statues, and vandalizing the House and Senate chambers.

If the place had ever been remotely sacred, that ended the day Donald J. Trump was inaugurated and the GOP fell in line behind him and enthusiastically backed his every move to dismantle our democracy.

It took a breaching of the poorly secured Capitol walls by thugs and domestic terrorists for some GOP senators and representatives to finally begin to separate themselves from Trump and his disaster of a regime, rats fleeing the sinking ship of state.

Some of them left a day or two ago, recognizing that it might be their only hope of having a political future post-Trump. Republican U.S. Representative Ken Buck, who I’m sorry to say “represents” my little chunk of Boulder County in Colorado, is a prime example. In the past few days he declared that he would not contest the presidential election results. He joined Governor Jared Polis in a statement decrying today’s ugly doings in the District of Columbia, as if some of us might forget his unswerving loyalty to Trump when the time comes for him to run for governor of this state.

We can never forget what Trump, now ex-senator Cory Gardner, Ken Buck and others have done to bring us to this point. For my part, I struggle to contain my anger – fury is a better word today – at the disgrace they have been, at how grievously they and those who elected them have harmed our families and friends through their utter selfishness, incompetence, cowardice and lack of character.

I take some comfort in knowing that Trump will soon be just an ugly part of history. Do not let him or his accomplices and enablers back in government, ever. Do not forget.

B.J.

My tweet about #cycling was paranoia?

On the eve of Christmas Eve, yours truly took exception to some Twitter mini-screeds in which people who ride bicycles were slandered as paranoid #BikeZealot whiners who think every driver on the road is out to kill them.

This was fun.

Pixabay image

I said, “Assuming that motorists are often careless, drunk or otherwise dangerous and deadly isn’t cyclist paranoia. It is a basic survival skill for anyone on the road.”

My favorite response to that:

Your whole tweet is paranoia.

I was also labeled nervous, scared and more:

Bikers who are that scared of drivers and have preconceived notions like that don’t belong on the road.

Obviously a guy can’t let that go unanswered, so I politely observed that the difference between situational awareness and paranoia is difficult for many to grasp.

“Let me put it this way,” I added. “Don’t trust anyone driving a motor vehicle (me included), and also assume any nearby cyclist is about to do something stupid. IOW: Pay attention.”

The guys (an assumption, maybe a preconceived notion) liked that. They saw the light. They agreed with me and appreciated that I had called out “bike twitter,” who surely wouldn’t appreciate that. Clearly some preconceived notioning was going on.

The problem with bikers that whine on here is that they don’t believe in co-existence, they want cars gone for good.

Horrified as I was that someone might think I was on their side against people who ride bicycles, I tore myself away, turned out the lights, and got a decent night’s sleep.

If I’d thought it would make any difference to anyone, I might have gone on my own rant – not calling it that, of course – about motorists who whine when they have to share the road, about how our society is hopelessly addicted to driving, and about the enormous harm we do ourselves and others because of that addiction.

Driving a car has its place. I drive sometimes. Until working from home became a requirement rather than a choice nine or so months ago, I occasionally drove from Longmont to Boulder and back. More than 95% of the time, I rode the bus. I bicycled part or all of that nearly 40-mile, round-trip commute many more times each year than I drove.

I don’t want all cars gone for good. Just most of them.

Pedal on,

B.J.

Who can you live without?

Think about which of your loved ones you can do without before you deny the reality of a deadly virus and flaunt your selfish freedom.

Think about who will miss you when you’re dead and gone.