Over the past year, I’ve observed one document repeatedly referenced and recommended as a helpful resource for folks seeking to incorporate more inclusive language in their work with community: A Progressive’s Style Guide. I finally got around to downloading and reviewing it–and encourage you to do the same.
The origins of A Progressive’s Style Guide
In this post on Medium, the Campaign and Culture Director of an organization that describes itself as fighting for people over profits, shares how one simple email message helped her recognize her own use of ableist language. That encounter sparked her development of a style guide intended to guide fellow campaigners and writers in the progressive movement to adopt more inclusive language.
As a side note, in sharing her story, she alluded to another distinction that was new to me: ‘calling out vs. calling in.’
There has been a lot of internet talk in progressive circles about the difference between ‘calling out’ and ‘calling in’. This person who flagged my mistake called me in, taking the opportunity to point out how I could do better while encouraging me in my campaign and sending me good wishes.
The takeaway: in many circumstances, calling someone in can be a more productive response than calling someone out–which is typically intended to publicly shame or vilify them.
Toward harnessing language in support of intersectionality and cross-sector power building
In the introduction to the guide, its co-authors articulate why we need to be more mindful of the words we use:
Language is a key ingredient in a winning theory of change. Language can build bridges and change minds. By acknowledging the ability of language to shape and reflect reality, progressive campaigns can become more powerful vehicles for social change, inclusion, and justice. In fact, understanding and applying the authentic language of the individuals and communities with whom we work can be a revolutionary act in itself.
Words are things, I am convinced
You must be careful, careful about the words you use
Or the words you allow to be used in your house
Words are things
You must be careful
Careful about calling people out of their names
Using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives
And all that ignorance
Don’t do that
Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words
I think they are things
I think they get on the walls, they get in your wallpaper, they get in your rugs
In your upholstery, in your clothes and finally
I’ve long been an advocate of the idea that ‘words matter,’ but this guide has served as a useful tool in helping me reflect on my own word choices and language, especially in my advocacy and client work. If you’re curious to do the same, be sure to download a copy and keep it handy during your next project.