When we know better, we can do better


When we know better, we can do better

Reading time: 1 minute, 20 seconds

As a child, I received treatment for my cleft lip and palate at the “Crippled” Children’s Division at Oregon Health Sciences University.

Illegal alien, oriental, cross-dresser, Eskimo, redskin, Indian style, gyp, Indian giving, colored, housewife, Mr. Mom, broad, retarded, cowboys and Indians

These are just a few examples of words I heard growing up that are now known to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or ableist. Language evolves, thank God. Sometimes it takes a while to catch up!

I believe passionately in inclusive language that is respectful, accurate, and relevant to all. I am also a professional writer, editor, and communicator with a strong connection to Asia. (I lived in Japan for three years and traveled throughout Asia in my early 20s.)

So I was caught out when someone recently told me that “Asian American” should not be hyphenated. I immediately began researching, and sure enough, the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press Style Book dropped hyphenation of “Americans” a few years ago. Asian Americans fought hard against the hyphen for years, while African Americans still use it at times.


As Henry Fuhrmann writes in the Conscious Style Guide, “those hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use in racial and ethnic identifiers can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American: part American, sure, but also something not American… ‘Japanese-American’ would have perpetuated the notion that its members held dual loyalties and could not be trusted.”


Where have I been?


I regret to think of how I might have unintentionally excluded people by failing to know this.


Mea culpa!

Sometimes our language takes a long time to catch up.

When we know better, we can do better.

Just in time for Asian American Heritage Month, starting in a few weeks!


I help professional services companies avoid BORING by making communications painless and boosting employee engagement, productivity, and brand recognition. I turn lackluster, jargon-filled, or technical prose into clear dynamic narrative.


As a podcaster for justice, I stand with my sisters from the Women of Color Podcasters Community. We are podcasters united to condemn the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others at the hands of police.


Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.

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