Inclusive Language Guide - Oxfam Policy & Practice
Language has the power to reinforce or deconstruct systems of power that maintain poverty, inequality and suffering. As we are making commitments to decolonization in practice, it is important that we do not forget the role of language and communications in the context of inequality. The Inclusive Language Guide is a resource to support people in our sector who have to communicate in English to think about how the way they write can subvert or inadvertently reinforce intersecting forms of inequality that we work to end.
“It's like a calculator” is a common quote I hear about ChatGPT. As if the idea is what matters and writing it down is just a necessary evil or technical chore that needs to be done by someone or somecode.
But anyone who writes for a living knows that in many ways writing is thinking. The process of translating vague ideas into a coherent text helps structure ideas and make connections. The time spent editing and re-editing weeds out important ideas from marginal ones. The effort to address an imaginary reader, to clarify things to them, helps eliminate unnecessary style decisions. Finding your own voice helps you understand yourself and your contribution to the world better.
As life in the Anthropocene tips into a gradual decline brought on by the irreversible effects of climate crisis, the past becomes a highly valuable commodity in criticism because the future gets more volatile by the second. Those of us with a lot of time in the bank account sit comfortably on hundreds of thousands of pre-pandemic hours, while younger, more time-poor people wonder every day what kind of past they will actually inherit—what will their past be worth?
The act of writing has always been an art. Now, it can also be an act of music. Each letter you type corresponds to a specific musical note putting a new spin to your composition. Make music while you write.
Iceberg is a beautiful, flexible writing editor for crafting posts with the WordPress block editor.
Iceberg allows you to write within the WordPress block editor in a way that feels much more natural than working with “blocks”. Our goal is not to remove blocks, but rather to deemphasize them – and any non-essential elements within the editor – to promote a focus on writing.
I always said that when my time came I’d want to go fast. But where’s the fun in that?
Closeness is impossible between an artist and a critic. Each wants from the other something—the artist’s mojo, the critic’s sagacity—that belongs strictly to the audiences for their respective work. It’s like two vacuum cleaners sucking at each other.
To limber your sensibility, stalk the aesthetic everywhere: cracks in a sidewalk, people’s ways of walking. The aesthetic isn’t bounded by art, which merely concentrates it for efficient consumption. If you can’t put a mental frame around, and relish, the accidental aspect of a street or a person, or really of anything, you will respond to art only sluggishly.
This is a lovely reimagining of ‘The Little Mermaid.’
Essarala learned of the traders from her cousins' gossip, and she lingered near the interpreters, watching and wishing. She longed to explore their ship and ask them to take her with them to the stars. But the more she listened, the more she learned, and one thing became obvious: their ship might carry water for its crew to drink, but it didn't contain water for a mer to live in.
J.W. McCormack: Nebulous Geography: On Renee Gladman’s Houses of Ravicka (BOMB Magazine)
The imagined city from Gladman’s Ravicka series is as elusive as human self-hood.
What Gladman’s work does have in common with the aforementioned works is a faith that language creates the thing it describes. As opposed to the commercial novel, which gestures at the consensual reality beyond the page, Gladman begins with the internal and constructs her world from the ground up, finding meaning in negative spaces. Jakobi proposes that streets should be built according to “qualified voids” and muses that “You can design a flag and name a country, then design another flag and name another country, years before you have to bring that country into existence,” which might have been Gladman’s process with Ravicka—a coherent imaginary place, slowly solidified book to book.
It’s possible to read the novel without being aware of how much of it Gladman intends as a dwelling against “the atrocities of the political and social present,” but what comes across in all of Gladman’s work is that there is a world worth discovering and which lives both outside and within us, a place “changing all the time” where “there is too much to say about it, too much to see to want to keep seeing.”
Music Journalism Insider #029: An Interview with Pitchfork's Reviews Editor
Todd L. Burns interviews Pitchfork Reviews Editor Jeremy D. Larson. A lot of really excellent advice in here.
Q: What's the best way to pitch an album review to Pitchfork?
Just email me; I will get back to you soonish. I like getting pitches from people who have an extensive background in writing music criticism, whether that’s at other outlets or on your own personal blog. It’s a bit of a different skill set than reporting or culture writing, and there are a few basics I like to see with new writers. I like reading people with a voice and would much rather read some fun thing you wrote on your Tumblr than a capsule review you wrote for a magazine or newspaper.
As a general note on pitching: Try to find a way to pitch with the voice that you write in. Show me who you are as a writer. I get a lot of pitches that are in this stiff, stilted, overly formal tone, which, I understand, writers want to be respectful to editors they don’t know. Don’t email me and be like “fam bam lemme do that Dungen live album cool?” but do find a middle ground. If you can come to me with an elevator pitch or some sort of key or flourish to unlock an album that is written in a way where I can see that I don’t have to spend a ton of time editing it, that is the best. Think of pitching as an audition—the director is very busy, they are watching a hundred people today alone, everybody can generally do the job just fine, things start to sound the same after a while, but they are looking for the person who can do the job like no one else and make their life the easiest. You have one minute to grab someone’s attention.
Q: Describe your basic approach to editing a typical piece.
In general, I like making sure there is a beginning, a middle, and an end—they should all be braided together. The lede should be the best thing you’ve ever written. There should be value judgments; you’d be surprised how many drafts I’ve read that do not tell me whether a record is quite simply good or bad.
The best stuff should be at the top. Cut cliches, idioms, cut most adjectives and adverbs. I’m not a huge fan of reading how instruments sound, especially because it is very easy to simply listen to the album and hear it yourself, and describing a synth or guitar often leads to bad or boring writing.
I cut a lot of quoted lyrics—most lyrics pulled out of context don’t really offer much insight into the songwriter, or they fuel an argument that is straining for meaning, or sometimes the context is just plain wrong. Lots of drafts hem and haw or are very equivocal, so I try to eliminate crutch phrases and draft language such as “almost feels like” or “some fans will find” or “so it makes sense that,” things like that.
Also, the phrases “proves to be” or “finds himself” are vestiges of college newspaper writing and sound wretched, just use “is” or activate the sentence. What’s left I send it back to the writer, to address the edits and make sure they are happy with the final copy.
It’s easy to glom onto an artist’s massive audience and cruise in their wake, but there is a better audience, a smarter and more attractive audience, who cares deeply about what a critic and a journalist think. Write for them.
I used to think that maybe I’d let my anger serve as an engine. But I’ve since discovered that my anger over each new racist incident is now rivaled and augmented by the anger I feel when asked to explain, once more, why black people shouldn’t be brutalized, insulted, and killed. If you’re a person of color, the racism beat is also a professional commitment to defending your right and the right of people like you to be treated with consideration to an audience filled with readers champing at the bit to call you nothing but a nigger playing the race card.
The hostility directed at writers who cover minority beats in America is solid proof that those people are doing important work. But that work can be exhausting. It’s exhausting to always be writing and thinking about a new person being racist or sexist or otherwise awful. It’s exhausting to feel compelled on a consistent basis to defend your claim to dignity. It’s exhausting to then watch those defenses drift beyond the reaches of the internet’s short memory, or to coffee tables in dentists’ offices, to be forgotten about until you link to them the next time you need to say essentially the same thing.
After a while you may want to respond to every request for a take on the day’s newest racist incident with nothing but a list of corresponding, pre-drafted truths, like a call-center script for talking to bigots. Having written thousands of words about white people who have slurred the president over the past six years, you begin to feel as if the only appropriate way to respond to new cases—the only way you can do it without losing your mind—is with a single line of text reading, “Black people are normal people deserving of the same respect afforded to anyone else, but they often aren’t given that respect due to the machinations of white supremacy.”
I’m ready for people in positions of power at magazines and newspapers and movie studios to recalibrate their understanding of what it means to talk about race in the first place. If America would like to express that it truly values and appreciates the voices of its minorities, it will listen to all their stories, not just the ones reacting to its shortcomings and brutality.
If this doesn’t eventually happen, I wonder how many more writers of color will come to the conclusion, as my colleague did, that this life we’ve made for ourselves is unsustainable. How many essays can go up before fatigue becomes anger becomes insanity? How many op-ed columns before you can feel the gruesomeness of trying to defend another dead black kid slowly hollowing you out? How many different ways can you find to say that you’re a human being?
Ismail Muhammad: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Uneasy Hope (The New Republic)
The writer's critics call him a cynic. But as a new anthology shows, his thinking has matured in subtle ways over the years.
The word most frequently attached to Ta-Nehisi Coates is probably pessimistic. His critics charge him with focusing on American racism’s intransigence, and overstating the power that white supremacy exerts on black life.
The racial backlash that Obama engendered testifies to the fact that any attempt by black people to liberate themselves fundamentally threatens the American order. This is part of the glory of Barack Obama’s presidency, that black people possess the potential to recreate America as a true democracy. But the events that have followed the Obama presidency tell us that democracy’s advent will perhaps remain more of a potentiality than a reality, a protracted struggle that the nation will not resolve without enormous strength of political will.
Eight Years in Power asks us to linger in that tension instead of dismissing it. Coates’s gradual drift away from post-racial hopes towards hard-nosed realism shows us that he has been in motion this whole time, not denying America’s capacity to change, but realizing how monumental the task before us is.
Jenny Zhang: They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don't Exist (Buzzfeed)
It may seem totally nuts now, but as far as who gets credit for simply being affected by black pain, it doesn’t seem very removed from our current world where we heap lavish praise on someone like Jon Stewart for announcing on the Daily Show that he was too heartbroken to make jokes after the Charleston church shooting, as if all throughout this country’s present and past, black people and people of color have not been so heartbroken and so violated that we were left humorless, or worse, dead. To praise Stewart as excessively as he was praised is to say to black people: Your pain is unexceptional and does not matter until a white man feels it too.
What I want is to get paid for my labor and be credited for my excellence. What I want is to not have to be made aware that because most publications only ever make room for one or two writers of color when those publications publish me it means another excellent writer of color does not get to have that spot, and yes, we internalize that scarcity and it makes us act wild and violent toward each other sometimes instead of kind.
Why are we so perversely interested in narratives of suffering when we read things by black and brown writers? Where are my carefree writers of color at? Seriously, where?
Ten days after calling off her engagement, CJ Hauser travels to the Gulf Coast to live among scientists and whooping cranes.
I think I was afraid that if I called off my wedding I was going to ruin myself. That doing it would disfigure the story of my life in some irredeemable way. I had experienced worse things than this, but none threatened my American understanding of a life as much as a called-off wedding did. What I understood on the other side of my decision, on the gulf, was that there was no such thing as ruining yourself. There are ways to be wounded and ways to survive those wounds, but no one can survive denying their own needs.
Chris Coyier: Words to Avoid in Educational Writing (CSS-Tricks)
And they are:
Obviously (obvious to whom?)
Basically (use fewer words and be clearer
Simply (simple for whom? just omit this word)
Of course (show why it's clear, don't say it is)
Clearly (see above)
Just (meant to be casual but not a good word for casual)
Everyone knows/As we all know (do we _all_ know it?)
However (don't start sentences or paragraphs with it)
So (new paragraph needed?)
Easy (don't assume so)
Zeynep Tufekci: The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones (Scientific American)
It's not just bad storytelling—it’s because the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological
But if we can better understand how and why characters make their choices, we can also think about how to structure our world that encourages better choices for everyone. The alternative is an often futile appeal to the better angels of our nature. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they exist along with baser and lesser motives. The question isn’t to identify the few angels but to make it easier for everyone to make the choices that, collectively, would lead us all to a better place.
Kevin Alexander: I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It. (Thrillist)
If there was one main negative takeaway from the raging fires of food tourist culture and the lists fanning the flames, it was that the people crowding the restaurant were one time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place. In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.
Vajra Chandrasekera: ‘Binti’ by Nnedi Okorafor (Strange Horizons)
A brilliant piece of literary criticism for a novelette I loved and am looking forward to the next installment of.
As a metaphor for acculturation into empire, this works almost too well. You can walk in the halls of empire, yes, as long as you're willing to accept invasive alien tentacles into your mind, to put alien needs above your own, to allow yourself to be instrumentalized.
There’s an old saw about the web that says that when the web democratized publishing, everyone should have become a writer, but instead most of us became consumers. (Nevermind that email and SMS have most people writing more in a day than their Victorian ancestors wrote in their entire lives.) There’s more than a hint of disparagement and elitism in that saying: everyone should have taken up writing, which is obviously superior to reading or watching or (gasp!) consuming. And I worry that that same sentiment creeps in when we argue the supremacy of text over image on the web. Writing is an important and valuable skill, but so are many other things.
Here’s another way to think about it: over the past year, video after video has emerged showing cops shooting unarmed black people. Those videos have been shared on the web, and while they haven’t yet led to anything resembling justice for the victims, they have contributed to profound discussions around race, militarized police forces, guns, and more. They are not sufficient to bring about desperately needed social change—and there’s an argument to be made about whether they are at risk of becoming mere spectacle—but I think it would be hard to deny that they are an important element in the movement, that they have had a major impact.
I worry that the push to keep the web defined to words, while pragmatic and reasonable in many ways, may also be used to decide what stories get told, and what stories are heard. Many more people are using their tiny computers to record video and audio and take pictures than are writing; as much as I may love writing, and as much as I know that transmitting writing via cables and air is a hell of a lot easier and cheaper than transmitting video, I’m not sure I can really stand here and say that the writing is—or should be—primary.
One of the design principles of the web is to pave the cowpaths: it looks to me like there are some new paths opening up, ones we may not have expected, ones that aren’t going to make many of our jobs easier. Maybe instead of putting up signs saying there are better paths elsewhere, it’s time we see where these ones take us.
David Meir Grossman: Folks have been debating lately on how, and if, they should incorporate musical theory into writing about music.
I don’t know anything about music theory, not what an E or an A means in terms of sound. But through the crucial context Ross gives, and his descriptions, I don’t need to. My Lai to Manson, this is not going to be a happy work. The E “longs for resolution”, signifying tension. It does what all great music writing should do, make you desperate to hear the music being described.
Ryan Leas: Slow Burn, Slow Fade: Inside The Walkmen’s Final Days (Stereogum)
Somewhere along the line, something went wrong. Things fell out of place, or failed to fall into place to begin with. The general assumption is that Johnny Marr’s set went absurdly long, and that nobody forced Kurt Vile to shorten his in order to get things back on schedule. On subsequent days, photographers and others in and out of the backstage scenes will repeat a rumor that the Walkmen bringing their own sound man along contributed to the issues and the confusion, but no one really knows what that means. Whatever the cause, things don’t go right. Having flown in that morning from their various hometowns — New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York — the Walkmen arrive in Austin on Friday, November 8, for a high-billed set at Fun Fun Fun Fest, and are able to play only six songs.