Lenora Billings-Harris

Article Summary:

Politically correct terminology and actions for a positive approach to communication that is not offensive.

Politically Correct Language

The following list highlights words and phrases that can be substituted for the less respectful terms. If you think this is too much work, ask yourself, “If I were in the group being referred to, would I still feel this is too much work?”

Insensitive Words & Phrases Possible Alternatives
Black sheep Outcast
“Guys” (when referring to a mixed group) Friends; folks; group
Oriental (when referring to people) Asian (using the specific nationality, i.e. Korean is even better, when possible)
Acting like wild Indians Out of control
Girls (when referring to coworkers) Women
Policemen/postman Police officer/mail carrier
Manhole Utility hole
Chairman Chair
Handicapped People with special needs; people who are physically/mentally challenged; people with disabilities
Retarded Developmentally challenged
Gifted children Advanced learners
Race Ethnicity or nationality (There is only one race–human)
Uneducated (when referring to adults) Lacking a formal education
No culture (when referring to parts of the U.S. where the opera and the theater are scarce or nonexistent) Lacking European culture
The little woman; the wife Your wife; his wife
“Don’t go postal on me!” No alternative; someone in your audience may have relatives who are postal workers
Acting blonde No alternative
Old people Seniors; “Chronologically Advantaged”
Bitchy or “PMSing” Assertive
“White” lie Lie (Calling it white does not make it okay)
Flip chart Easel (Flip is a derogatory word referring to Filipinos)
wheel-chair bound A person who uses a wheel-chair
Jew down Negotiate
Half-breed Multi-ethnic
Blacklisted Banned
“Manning” the project Staffing the project

Actions to Make a Difference
Ask several people within the same cultural group which terms they prefer. Since everyone will not agree, use the term most often stated as acceptable. Include diversity-related questions on your pre-program questionnaire to help you plan your presentation.

Will there be visually-challenged or hearing-impaired attendees?
Knowing this can help you design visuals and inter-active exercises more effectively.

What is the age range?
You will know when to use examples from Star Trek of the Captain Kirk era, vs. Seinfield.

What is the gender mix?
Stories should include sports as well as other life analogies. (For great ideas listen to Eastern Educational Workshop, 1998 tape # 34- Customizing Presentations to the Gender of your Audience, by Lee E. Robert.)

What is the ethnic mix?
In addition to using correct terms, you could use various names that show ethnicity when using scenarios and vignettes during workshops, instead of only relying on Dick and Jane.

Omit slang terms when referring to others.
Ask a colleague to review your presentations, audiotapes, videos etc. to identify slang terms you frequently use. As audiences become more multi-cultural many participants speak English as a second language, or their primary language is British English. The slang terms have greatly differing meanings. You may not recognize your own habits.

Use 14-pt. or larger fonts on handouts.
50% of the workforce will be 50 years old or older by the year 2000.

Do not use derogatory terms to describe others even if people within the cultural group do.
For example, if a Scottish person tells a joke about Scots, or a southern tells jokes about Alabama that is not permission for others, not in the group, to do the same.

Only refer to ethnicity, age, disability etc. within your stories when it makes a difference to the point of the story.
If it is relevant, do use it. Don’t clean your stories up so much that people cannot follow your point.

For more ideas, read The Sideroad’s Political Correctness and Diversity in Public Speaking.

Lenora Billings-Harris, CSP is an internationally recognized speaker, performance improvement consultant, and author with more than twenty five years experience in the public and private sectors. As a workforce diversity specialist, and performance improvement consultant, Lenora has developed a unique way of presenting sensitive topics in a high-energy, fun-filled, yet thought-provoking way. Her interactive style, and immediately applicable “how to’s” have caused clients to invite her back again and again. She works with Fortune 500 companies as well as several professional associations, and non-profit organizations. She also served as an adjunct professor for Arizona State University. Lenora has presented to audiences in South Africa, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Ukraine, and Mexico and Canada. More information on the topic of diversity, Lenora Billings-Harris, and her book The Diversity Advantage: A Guide to Making Diversity Work can be found on her website, www.lenoraspeaks.com.

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