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.

Snapshot: Election Day in Longmont

Line moving slowly at the Boulder County Fairgrounds voting location. Copyright 2020 B.J. Smith

Taking Election Day 2020 off seemed like the thing to do a few weeks ago and I had accumulated some paid time off, so here I am. At a keyboard, at home, just like every other day since March.

If I weren’t in what’s considered a high-risk group for COVID-19, I might have signed up to work at the polls, but here I am. Instead, I decided to take a look around. I set off late morning and drove by and/or stopped at four of our local voting locations to see if people were behaving and what the lines might look like.

Each place I visited was so quiet only the signs provided evidence that today was important. There was plenty of free parking near the St. Vrain Community Hub, the Moose Lodge, and at Front Range Community College. As I walked by the Hub, someone offered me coffee and snacks, which I politely declined. The few humans around outside wore masks, like all responsible people.

It was only as I pulled away from the building at the Boulder County Fairgrounds that I spotted a line. That it was just a few geese made me smile.

That’s how easy it is to vote when you get your ballot in the mail well ahead of time. You can mail it right back or drop it in a collection box, like Mrs. Smith and I did a few weeks ago near where those geese showed up today.

It’s still early in the day right now, and things could change, and I’m sure they’ll be quite different in Denver and many other places, but I’m happy with voting in Colorado for now.

It should that easy for everyone.

B.J.

Got my ballot

Got my ballot gonna mail it in

Or drop it off because I can

Because I’m free and it’s my right

And duty to put up a fight

When fools and bigots try to run

This, my country, with their guns

And lies and hate and broken laws

But truth and justice is our cause.