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CSCO language justice/just vocabulary


  • The words that we use to talk about people and actions matter, and the language we use should espouse the values that we hold. Alex Kapitan, who runs a site called “Radical Copyeditor” which explores language use, talks about how language exists not just as “good” or “bad,” but on a spectrum: violent, coded, unquestioned, minimizing, and liberatory. We are striving for liberatory language as much as possible! 

  • As a reminder, during this course we will have real-time consecutive Spanish interpretation. This means we will speak in English, then pause to allow our interpreter, Lina, to share what we have said in Spanish. Even if there are not many people on this webinar who need Spanish interpretation, in immigration work English is not always a common language between everyone. Taking the time in conversations to make sure that everyone receives content in their primary language can help remind us of all the complexities of this work. We are also offering text captioning for accessibility; there are a number of different reasons people might want or need access to text instead of or in addition to spoken words. 

  • You’ll notice that when the facilitators introduce ourselves, we share the pronouns that we use, and that if we ask you to introduce yourself we will likely ask you to do the same. A pronoun is a word that we use to talk about someone instead of using their name - “This is Heather, she works for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.” In English, like in many languages, we use pronouns ALL THE TIME. Often, we guess what pronoun to use for a person based on our assumptions when we look at them or listen to them. But those assumptions might not always be right, and making the wrong assumption can be hurtful and harmful. By sharing our pronouns, we let people know how we want to be referred to. By using the pronouns people have told us they use, we show that we respect them and their identity. There are various reasons people might not want to share their pronouns, and people should never be forced to, but if you’re not sharing simply because it’s unfamiliar to you, we invite you to practice it alongside us. 

  • The phrases “alien” and “illegal immigrant” are meant to dehumanize the people they are describing, are deeply tied to the criminalization of immigration, and collapse the complicated nuances of the circumstances. You can use the word “undocumented” to talk about people who are in the US without documentation. You can also ask yourself - does it matter in this situation I’m talking about whether someone is documented or not?

  • In this country, we often use the term “minorities” to talk about folks who don’t hold a dominant identity, mostly to talk about people who are not identified as white. Referring to people of color as “minorities” is very United-States and white centered - throughout much of the world, white people are not, in fact, the majority population. Because of this, many people have started using the term “global majority” to talk about non-white folks. When talking about someone, if it is necessary that you clarify or mention their race or ethnicity, the best thing to do is simply to name the race or ethnicity they hold that seems relevant: of Mexican descent, Nigerian-American, etc. If you are talking about a group of non-white people, people of color is a good descriptor. 

  • Instead of using the term “third world” to describe countries that are quote-unquote “less economically developed” than countries in the United States and western Europe, talk about the specifics you’re actually trying to convey. Some people refer to “over-developed” countries to recognize the issues that capitalism has caused in those places that we might typically think of as “developed.”

  • The phrase “worthy migrant” conveys the idea that some folks are deserving of documented immigration to the United States. While the term itself might be less used, it is a very common conception that many people hold, either consciously or unconsciously  

  • We will try to model a best practice for when you use a word that you wish you hadn’t: pause, briefly apologize, restate the sentence with the word you would like to use instead, and move on. Spending a lot of time dwelling on the mistake can lead to those with more marginalized identities taking on a large burden to either educate or comfort. If a facilitator or participant uses a word that we are trying not to use, we will try to give a written and verbal reminder. We are not trying to catch you or make an example of you - changing our language and our habits takes practice, and it takes people helping to hold us accountable in a loving way. 

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