Brief Summary on APA’s 2021 Inclusive Language Guidelines

Written by Michelle B. Jolson, Psy.D, PLTC DE&I Committee Member

In December, the APA released a 27-page document titled “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Inclusive Language Guidelines” as part of the organization’s unprecedented examination and acknowledgment of its role in “destructive social hierarchies.”  The forward of the document is written by the Chief Diversity Officer, Maysa Akbar, PhD, ABPP. She writes, “The organization is assessing the harms and is committing to true change. This requires avoiding language that perpetuates harm or offense toward members of marginalized communities through our communications” (p. iii). True to this goal, the document focuses very specifically on language. She shares that the document will “evolve as new terminology emerges or current language becomes obsolete.” The document is divided into two sections: Inclusive Language in Writing and Avoiding Microaggressions in Language. The first section begins with a glossary of terms related to equity and power, followed by these sub-sections: 1) age, 2) disability status, 3) race, ethnicity, and culture, 4) sexual orientation and gender diversity, and 5) socioeconomic status. Within these pages, some terms are given historical context. For example, here is the information provided for the term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color): “People use the term BIPOC to acknowledge that not all people of color face equal levels of injustice. The construction of the term “BIPOC” recognizes that Black and Indigenous people are severely impacted by systemic racial injustices (Merriam- Webster, n.d.-a). The term BIPOC is still considered by many to indicate a hierarchy among communities of color. Instead of BIPOC, the preferred term(s) to use are “people/persons of color” and “communities of color” (p. 10). The second section of the document lists examples of culturally appropriative and pejorative language. It provides examples of “violent language,” “language that doesn’t say what we mean,” and suggested alternatives.  The Inclusive Language Guidelines is one step in APA’s attempt to acknowledge and examine its role of perpetuating marginalization. This attempt is concrete- providing definitions, historical context, terms to avoid, and suggestions for inclusive language. This document is intended to be “flexible” and continually updated.   

American Psychological Association. (2021). Inclusive language guidelines. diversity-inclusion/language-guidelines.pdf  

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