Stop Using Dehumanizing Language

Our words can kill or our words can give life. They can humanize or dehumanize. They’re either poison or fruit—we get to choose. One of the things that burn me up is the failure to use person-first language when we refer to certain people, demographics, or specific lived experiences of others in our conversations.


Person-first language puts a person before a diagnosis. It describes what a person “has” rather than asserting what a person “is” because a diagnosis does NOT equal identity. People with a diagnosis or “disability” are a person FIRST. Who they are is not their diagnosis or abilities.



The dehumanizing language I hear includes: “he is autistic, he is schizophrenic, he is ADD or she is bipolar, he is diabetic, he is a foster kid, “illegal” immigrant or ex-felon. Person-first language says: he has autism, he has schizophrenia, he has ADD, she has bipolar disorder or he’s in foster care, or he’s been adopted, etc.


As a tenured child welfare professional, I cringe every time I hear someone say “foster child”, or “adopted” child. Children and youth who have been in foster care or adopted should NOT be named/labeled according to their life circumstances or legal status. It puts what happened to them before who they are. A person first. Language such as “illegal” immigrants instead of “undocumented” immigrants or “migrant families” tends to criminalize and demonize immigrant communities. (read more about the movement to DROP THE I-WORD ??


People should not be named or labeled by what they did. They are not what they did nor are they what happened to them. No one wants to be assigned a negative identity because of their diagnosis, different ability, past actions, or legal status. People want to be known as individuals. Not a label that stereotypes them or demonizes, criminalizes or ostracizes them. Furthermore, human beings are not ILLEGAL!


Using Person-first language honors the dignity and humanity of a person. Dehumanizing always starts with language because it seeks to deprive a person of their fundamental human qualities, value, and inherent worth. And it desensitizes us to the feelings, struggles, and needs of our fellow brothers and sisters.


So let’s be better and do better. Protecting the human dignity and personhood of others starts with getting our hearts right so we can then get our language and behavior right. Let’s be mindful of how we refer to others. And Let’s be gracious in our speech. Because “when we engage in dehumanizing language or promote dehumanizing images, we diminish our own humanity in the process” (Brene Brown)


#stopdehumanization #droptheiword #personfirstlanguage

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