The United States of America is the most racially and ethnically diverse it has ever been.

With 14% of the population being Asian, 24% being Hispanic, and 13% being Black, there is a clear trend of an increasing number of folx of color (Cohn and Caumont, 2016). This trend is only going to continue with the upcoming generations; and will begin to include factors of sexuality, religion and the like.

Millennials, for example, are a 43% non-white generation. According to GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance report for 2017, 20% of their population are identifying as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community (Gonella, 2017). They are statistically more likely to denounce religion and avoid getting married. A Pew Research survey shows that 35% of Millennials are “religious nones”. The same study also discussed the decades of declining marriage rates, increase in single parent households, and the changing family roles due to breaking down gender norms and blended families (Cohn and Caumont, 2016). So, what does all of this mean for our day to day interactions? Well, it’s pretty simple: we need to clear our mind of binary language and embrace this new diverse society and the language choice that comes with it.

“Inclusive language is more than positive and welcoming statements, it is also consciously trying not to make assumptions about people’s abilities, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other societal norms. This conscious effort to break down assumed “norms” (noninclusive rules of behavior that are considered acceptable in a group or society. People who do not follow these norms may be shunned or suffer some kind of consequence (McLeod, 2008). They can suffer psychological and emotional trauma as well as become isolated from their peers.) will help us promote our ever changing society, and create safe spaces for those breaking societal standards.

Here are a few tricks of the trade on how to avoid using assumptive language:

1. Recognize and affirm diverse family dynamics

Many families are interracial, headed by single parents, have same-sex parents, poly parents, or have divorced parents. This means that not all families may celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or certain religious holidays! It’s easy to acknowledge these dynamics and respectfully watch what language you chose to use. For example, we can acknowledge that not all children will be able to celebrate these holidays. So when it comes time to make presents for our care givers in school, we can use inclusive language and provide a number of word choices or crafts for children to use. Instead of having everyone make a “Mother’s Day” card, we can encourage students to make cards for whomever they chose, emphasizing that not having a typical “Mother’s Day” celebration is okay.

2. Use non-gendered words to describe groups of people

This means not sticking to the binary. Instead of saying “men and women” you could use “people”. Or instead of saying “boys and girls” you could say “children”. Bringing this to your home life is especially important. For example, saying “my sibling” instead of “my brother or sister” will help others understand that not everything is or has to be gendered. This transcends into our intimate relationships as well; instead of saying “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, you can use the term “partner”.

3. Be considerate of the terms you use to express negative emotions

For example, “Are you blind?!” or “that’s retarded” or even “ you’re acting ghetto” are all sayings that reinforce a minority identity as something bad. Being considerate of the expressions you use will help eliminate the ostracizing and belittling of “non-normative” identities. It is important to be aware of ableist language, as well. Sayings such as “let’s jump into Chapter 12” or “That’s crazy to assume” are examples of assuming all people are able bodied or neurotypical. By showing our solidarity and recognition that not everyone acts, speaks, or thinks like we do, we are working towards normalizing and embracing all identities. Here are some great links to further learn about ableist language: around-ableist-language-liberating-our-words/

4. Avoid Microaggressions: Find alternatives or eliminate unnecessary references to a person’s ethnic or racial background

Misidentifying a person’s race or ethnicity could be due to stereotypical behaviors that society pushes us to believe. By not referencing a person’s skin color, ethnicity, or class as a way of describing them or talking about them, you are refusing to fall into this harmful socialized habit. For example, saying “There were a lot of Chinese children in the class” when you don’t know if they are all Chinese could make people feel excluded or unimportant. Or, if you are describing a person, instead of saying “the black man in the store” you could say “The man in the jean jacket standing by the soda fountain”. Often times people feel the need to identify a person of color by their skin color when trying to point them out, because it would be assumed you are talking about a white person from the start. By refusing to fall into this mind frame of internalizing white supremacy, you are helping support diversity!

Here is a great video further explaining microaggressions:

5. Offer your pronouns upon meeting someone

The gender-fluid, non-binary, and transgender+ movements are empowering and meaningful to many people. It is respectful and important that you use caution to not misgender someone or use incorrect pronouns. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey shows that repeated misgendering or incorrect use of pronouns can cause anxiety, depression, self-hate, and thoughts of invalidation to the person effected. So, next time you meet someone, offer your name and pronouns! This simple strategy allows for the person you are talking to to feel safe to disclose their pronouns, and even more importantly, you will be showing them you validate and support their unique gender identity.
“As our language becomes more and more inclusive, and as the language in this our era ‘redeems’ more and more words which were once eschewed by many of us … may our primary discipline be to love and include, not ‘to convert’ and lay down rules. The remaking of our language is not necessarily painless, but if we begin with our humanity … we can also remember how to bring some healing to that pain.”
—Rev. Mark Belletini, ~1990

1. Cohn, D., & Caumont, A. (2016, March 31). 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from demographic-trends-that-are-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world/
2. Gonella, C. (2017, March 31). Survey: 20 Percent of Millennials Identify as LGBTQ. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from identify-lgbtq-n740791
Inclusive Language Guidance. (2015, January 28). Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://
3. McLeod, S. (2008, January 01). Saul McLeod. Retrieved June 10, 2017, from https://
4. Prosenjak, N., Harmon, M., Johnson, S., Bloodgood, P., & Hazlett, L. (2002). Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from statements/genderfairuseoflang
5. Smith, S. (2017, January 16). 40 Alternatives to These Ableist and Oppressive Words. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from oppressive-words.html

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This post was written by Jillian Abel.

Jillian is JPHigherEd’s summer 2017 intern. Jillian is a senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University. Over her college career she has developed a passion for inclusion, diversity, and social justice.

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