Why I try my hardest to use “people first” (inclusive) language . . .

27 Sep

I wanted to address an issue that may initially sound strange coming from a 53-year-old conservative.  You have probably heard of this issue before, but it probably came from a much younger or more liberal person than me.

I have come to the conviction that it is right to try my hardest to use inclusive, “people first” language when referring to others, and even to myself.

The way it goes is that I don’t allow an adjective to get in front of the person’s name unless I consider that to be the defining characteristic of that person.  Because I am convinced that putting that adjective before someone’s name does become the defining characteristic of that person, whether we mean to have that happen or not.

With someone with disabilities, it works like this.  Instead of saying “that autistic child” I will say “Johnny, who has autism.”  See, he is Johnny, first and foremost.  The fact that he has autism may or may not be relevant to the conversation at hand, but it is only one of his traits, like blue eyes or blonde hair.

We all struggle with something.  And think how it sounds when people use our struggles as adjectives about us (“disorganized Jim” instead of “Jim, who has trouble staying organized” or “overweight Mary” instead of  “Mary, who has fought weight issues for years”).  Really brings it home that way, doesn’t it?

Some will say that takes too many words.  I won’t argue.  In fact, I used to say that myself.  I changed my mind.  Maybe you will, too.

And, most of the time, we don’t need the modifier at all.  Why do we say “the black kid” in conversations where race isn’t relevant?  How about just saying “Gary” instead of “that Hispanic kid Gary”?

We are all people first.  And it doesn’t take away from the fact that we all have individual challenges when we say that!

So, to sum this up using myself as an example, I would love to be known as “Christian Mary” or “that Christian woman” (defining characteristic) but not by “breast cancer survivor Mary” (that could be stated as “Mary, who survived breast cancer” when it is relevant to the conversation).  I am not overly sensitive or prickly about this, but merely issue it as a challenge, or food for thought.

Would love to hear your responses, especially the things you consider defining characteristics about yourself.  What are  other characteristics that you prefer not be used as adjectives in front of your name?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: