Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Getting the Word on Sensitivity

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Getting the Word on Sensitivity

Article excerpt

A couple of sharp-eyed readers of this column caught me in a "gotcha" of political correctness. My sharp-eyed readers wanted me to know I had offended some people by my use of a certain word in a column I had written. The word was "Eskimo."

Use "Aleut" or "Inuit" or some other native ethnic label, I was told. "Eskimo," like "Indian" or "Negro," is a word white settlers conferred on the native nonwhite people of Alaska, Canada and other regions of the frigid north, not a term they chose for themselves.

I confess that my first impulse was to tell these sharp-eyed readers where to go. It is irritating to be accused of insensitivity when you know that was not your intent.

But I was cool. I calmly apologized for any offense and promised to be more careful. After all, I said diplomatically, people are entitled to be called what they want to be called, not what I want to call them.

"But, what," I wondered, "does this mean for Eskimo Pie ice cream bars?"

That's their problem, my caller said.

I guess it is. It is a problem just about every corporate manager is wrestling with, one way or another, in this age of increasing ethnic and gender diversity in the workplace.

Just ask the editors at the Los Angeles Times. They stirred up an internal commotion with a recently issued 19-page booklet: "Guidelines on Ethnic, Racial, Sexual and Other Identification."

Drafted by a 22-member committee and issued by editor Shelby Coffey III, its list of words to avoid includes "WASP" ("may be pejorative,") "co-ed" ("considered derogatory to female college students,") "Dutch treat" ("an offensive reference to sharing expenses,") "mailman" ("many women hold this job") "mankind" ("humanity, human beings and humankind are preferred") and "man-made" ("the preferred words are artificial, manufactured and synthetic").

Among other taboo terms: "deaf," "babe," "bra-burner," "Chinese fire drill," "crazy," "normal," "gal," "ghetto," "inner city," "gypped" (a derogatory derivation of "Gypsy") "handicapped," "hillbilly," "holy rollers," "Indians," "queer," "welsher" (a derogatory derivation of "Welsh") "white trash" and, yes, "Eskimo. …

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