Racist stereo­typ­ing, despite efforts span­ning decades to change it, still exists, and it’s per­va­sive in how we com­mu­ni­cate. Racist stereo­typ­ing — well, stereo­typ­ing in gen­er­al — is a poor way to com­mu­ni­cate because it relies on assump­tions and gen­er­al­iza­tions that often don’t apply to the sit­u­a­tion at hand.

Here are 5 ways to avoid racism in your own writ­ing, but this is by no means an exhaus­tive list.

1. Avoid racial and ethnic stereotypes

Avoid using expres­sions that make peo­ple think that cer­tain attrib­ut­es are found among one group of peo­ple rather than in all groups.

  • Scots are cheap.
  • Asians are math whizzes.
  • Mex­i­cans are lazy.
  • French peo­ple are snobs.

In every instance, this is gen­er­al­iz­ing. While it may be true that you can find a cheap Scot­tish per­son, you can also find a spend­thrift Scot­tish per­son or a cheap Boli­vian per­son. While it may be true that an Asian per­son is a math whiz, there are Asian peo­ple who fail hor­ri­bly at math and there are math whizzes who are Sene­galese.

2. Avoid presenting facts as exceptions

Cer­tain mod­i­fiers per­pet­u­ate racial and eth­nic stereo­types because they present infor­ma­tion in a way that sug­gests a fact is an excep­tion to the stereo­type.

  • We received appli­ca­tions from sev­er­al well-dressed native appli­cants.

This lan­guage implies that well-dressed indige­nous peo­ple are an anom­aly. This, of course, isn’t true. There are well-dressed indige­nous peo­ple and poor­ly-dressed non-indige­nous peo­ple.

Also, see sec­tion 4 about terms of self iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

3. Avoid insulting adjectives

Close­ly relat­ed to the pre­vi­ous two sec­tions, using adjec­tives that have ques­tion­able racial or eth­nic con­no­ta­tions or have racist over­tones is prob­lem­at­ic. For exam­ple,

  • Prim­i­tive
  • Sav­age
  • Lazy
  • Back­ward
  • Cul­tur­al­ly deprived
  • Sim­ple

Using adjec­tives like these when refer­ring to an eth­nic group can per­pet­u­ate stereo­types and inter­feres with the abil­i­ty to present facts objec­tive­ly.

4. Be aware of self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion

How we pre­fer to refer to an eth­nic group is less impor­tant than how they refer to them­selves.

  • Black(s), not Negro(es)
  • Indige­nous people(s) in Cana­da, not Indige­nous Cana­di­ans
  • Inuk/Inuit, not Eski­mo

Use their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pref­er­ences as a way to show cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty.

Also, keep in mind that some cul­tures may use lan­guage to refer to each oth­er, but such lan­guage is unac­cept­able for a per­son out­side of the com­mu­ni­ty to use. For exam­ple, black peo­ple might call one anoth­er nig­ger or indige­nous peo­ple might call one anoth­er indi­an. Inter-com­mu­ni­ty word usage is not nec­es­sar­i­ly free license for any­one to use such lan­guage.

Edu­cate your­self on self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion before using terms to refer to groups of peo­ple.

5. Avoid dog whistling

Relat­ed to sec­tion 3, some lan­guage can be used as a sort of neu­tral code to refer to an eth­nic group with­out sound­ing overt­ly racist.

As author Ian Haney López says, “You can’t pub­licly say black peo­ple don’t like to work, but you can say there’s an inner-city cul­ture in which gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple don’t val­ue work.” In this case, inner-city (and sim­i­lar phras­es, like urban) becomes syn­ony­mous for black, and the solu­tion to “inner-city prob­lems”, of course, is “law and order”, imply­ing that com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple of colour are law­less.

As I men­tioned pre­vi­ous­ly, this is by no means an exhaus­tive list, but I hope you’ve found it use­ful. If you have tips you want to add, let me know in the com­ments below.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness. Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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