INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE By Eric Grayvold, Final Year M.Div.

Inclusive language itself is a broad topic. When we start talking about global inclusive language, it opens us up to another grand amount of issues with our use of language. At times it can be even overwhelming to think of how to say something, especially when in another country and one is trying to be mindful of the multitude of culture intricacies that are present in the context. Overall, being mindful of global inclusive language means learning more about the contexts and self-identities of the people we encounter across the world and in our own backyards.

One should use geographically generalizing terms. Avoiding general terms such as “African” or “Asian” and instead using specific terms such Tanzanian or Hmong can help give voice to a particular group of people with a particular national or cultural identity. Even in this example we need to be careful because sometimes using only “nationality” as an identifier can be hurtful in places where people are suffering from political oppression. In the same way, using nationality can be affirming in places where people are by the rest of the world denied having a specific national identity. What is often useful is having an open and honest conversation with the people one meets, and being open to the possibility that such people may completely disagree with oneself.

Also one should be mindful of acknowledging social justice issues.  What one says about a situation can be particularly affirming or offensive to the people one meets. In Israel and Palestine, I have met some people who will call the whole land simply “Israel” or simply “Palestine,” and yet will never acknowledge the presence of the other due to the conflict. In this case, I felt it was not my place to correct or comment on these individuals’ lack of distinction between the two, but instead I moved to listen to their stories as people who were living within the conflict. Often times we can walk into these traps without knowing it, and what becomes helpful is then listening to the stories behind the social justice issues so that one can inform others of what was learned.

Finally we need to be mindful of how we speak about ourselves. In the local dialect of Arabic in Palestine, people from the United States are known as “Ameirican,” which is obviously derived from “American.” This is problematic, because people from the United States are not the only Americans in the world, but yet people across the world have picked up on our use of identifying ourselves with the term “American.” Canadians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Jamaicans, and many other countries are a part of the land mass known as “America,” which itself is divided into two (and according to others, three) sections. This also does not acknowledge the many First World Peoples who struggle to maintain their cultural identity apart from the colonial identity. Also, calling ourselves “Americans” denies the uniqueness in the identity and history we have in being citizens of the United States of America.

Like all things in understanding inclusive language, we will always fall short. It is a struggle in which we gain insight on how we use words and their impact on others by walking with our brothers and sisters in Christ across in the globe, and even in our own backyard. Understanding the issues of colonial oppression on the identity of people and the struggles of maintaining cultural identity in an ever globalizing world can go a long way to help people speak in terms that lift up the humanity in the global neighbor.

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One response to “INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE By Eric Grayvold, Final Year M.Div.

  1. Pingback: WARTBURG SEMINARY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY CONVOCATION 2014 | The Persistent Voice

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