Urban Equity blogs

The Changing Vernacular of Equity Practitioners

29 July 2022 by André Darmanin2

I have a few things to get off my chest. Now this isn’t really a soapbox, but rather experiences of how we engage with professionals in the equity and inclusion space.

While on vacation in Montréal last week, my partner and I experienced a bit of an unconscious bias. After we were seated in a prime spot on a rooftop, the waiter mentioned that we had to move because someone else had that seat and we could sit anywhere else. Now the situation could have been translated a couple of ways. There could have been an unconscious bias (by class and race) from the server because the people who were seated were a White couple or it his tone could have been misconstrued because Québecers, like the French, a direct. So this could be a situation of cultural awareness. Either way, after threatening to leave, we ended up getting free drinks and apologies from the manager and the server in question.

I mentioned this situation to a group of colleagues to where I thought would have been a safe space, had a twist. I did mention that the situation was crippling because I didn’t know how to respond and remained silent. An individual downplayed the situation and immediately mentioned that how I should have used more inclusive language. I responded to say that was not the time and place to mention such a situation. This is the discomfort we are in as equity practitioners.

Words and phrases such as crippling, grandfathered, powwow, etc, have undertones that can be offensive and have overall implication for those communities of ability, class, races and gender. Also, someone wanted a confirmation of the use of “800-pound gorilla” to describe a large overarching organization, to which I corrected him because of how the phrase impacts Black communities.

In any other circumstance, I would have done the same thing. Just the week before I listened to a recent Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox episode on inclusive language in everyday business.

I thought the timing to be “called out” was inappropriate and believe there needed to be an awareness and some emotional intelligence in response to the situation.

Another situation I seem to be having some difficulty with is the nomenclature of equity and inclusion. I have had conversations about using Global Majority over visible minorities, BAME and BIPOC, and EDI over DEI.

Let me get something out of the way. In my practice, I do not use acronyms to describe the work that I do. I am an equity practitioner because I value my work. Mentioning acronyms like EDI, BAME and BIPOC not only cheapens the work and the outcomes we are trying to achieve, but dampens its practicality. Using these acronyms so loosely are excellent examples of inadequate performative correctness. Jill Stoner says that “by conflating groups to single set of initials, we ignore important distinctions and forestall constructive debates”. Further, Stoner states:

Acronyms invented in military contexts support cultures of secrecy, irreverence and tribalism. All of these are understandable survival mechanisms within groups under extreme stress and needing solidarity. The acronyms invented in government and corporate contexts, as shortened names for agencies and companies, save the “valuable” time and space that would be required to say the words and spell them out. In each case — a need to solidify the culture of a group under stress through coded language, and the desire for greater convenience in day-to-day operations of business and government — are the antithesis of what is needed in promoting social justice.

Source: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2021/08/11/bipoc-and-dei-acronyms-arent-path-more-just-universities-opinion

On top of this, I concur with Rosemary Campbell-Stephens on how annoying it is to continue to use BIPOC, BAME and visible minority. Instead as equity practitioners, we should be using Global Majority. The Global Majority refers to the collection of cultures – Black, South Asian, Asian, Indigenous and mixed race. As a group, we make up over 80% of the global population. Continuing to use those acronyms, “limits the capacity to have honest authentic non-coded conversations about race and racism” as Campbell-Stephens asserts.

Furthermore, in an attempt to decentre whiteness, moving away from those terms allows us to acknowledge the collection of lived experiences felt by various communities, notably Black and Indigenous folks who distinctly continue to be marginalized. It may also imply that white folks are devoid of race, which is part of the ideology we are trying to overcome. Importantly, in an increasingly globalized movement and world, many people may not identify as POC as it’s an American social and cultural construct that does not translate universally.

I am glad to see Global Majority being used more frequently within our practice.

The vernacular is changing, especially being in the globally interconnected world we live in. How we respond to situations is sometimes context dependent. Some will continue to use these older terms out of convenience. Some will call out others because it is the easy thing to do. In essence, as equity practitioners must be culturally aware of the environments we are in while not being a part of the oppression Olympics, we sometimes experience.


  • Saleha

    30 July 2022 at 10:30 AM

    Very thought provoking commentary.
    And I agree with the discomfort you mentioned about the acronyms.
    Really appreciate the well-sourced and academically sound dialogue here.
    Thank you!!


    • André Darmanin

      3 August 2022 at 6:28 AM

      Thanks Saleha. Always speaking truth to power.


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