Colorado State University’s Inclusive Language Guide instructs students “to avoid” using the words “America” and “American,” because doing so “erases other cultures.”
“The Americas encompass a lot more than the United States,” the guide states. “There is South America, Central America, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean just to name a few of 42 countries in total.”
“That’s why the word ‘americano’ in Spanish can refer to anything on the American continent. Yet, when we talk about ‘Americans’ in the United States, we’re usually just referring to people from the United States. This erases other cultures and depicts the United States as the dominant American country.”
The guide advises students to use the words “U.S. citizen” or “person from the U.S.” instead of “American.”
Some of the other words and phrases deemed not inclusive by the guide include the words “male” and “female” (because this “refers to biological sex and not gender,” and “we very rarely need to identify or know a person’s biological sex and more often are referring to gender”), “cake walk” (because it apparently has origins in “the racism of 19th century minstrel shows”), “freshman” (because it “excludes women and non-binary gender identities”), “Hispanic” (“because of its origins in colonialization and the implication that to be Hispanic or Latinx/Latine/Latino, one needs to be Spanish-speaking”), “hold down the fort” (because “the U.S. the historical connotation refers to guarding against Native American ‘intruders’ and feeds into the stereotype of ‘savages’”), “no can do” (because it was “originally a way to mock Chinese people”), “peanut gallery” (because it “names a section in theaters, usually the cheapest and worst, where many Black people sat during the era of Vaudeville”), “straight” (because it “implies that anyone LGBT is ‘crooked’ or not normal”), “food coma” (because it “directly alludes to the stereotype of laziness associated with African-Americans”), and “war” or “battle,” when used any way other than to describe a literal war or battle (because “they evoke very real tragedy that can be problematic for survivors of war or Veterans”).
Honestly, I write about political correctness for a living, and yet I have to admit that many of these were news to me. Now, because I’m not a jerk, if any of these words or phrases were to actually bother someone with whom I was speaking, I would avoid using them during those conversations in order to be respectful. The thing is, though, I highly doubt that there are many people who actually are offended by these words and phrases. Regardless of what they may have meant in the past, I think that most people understand that when someone says, for example, “That test was a cake walk,” that person is obviously not intending to convey even the slightest disrespect toward African-American people. I know there are words (such as “hysterical”) that have origins that are offensive to women, but I (a woman) am still personally not offended by them — because I understand that meanings can change over time, and tend to focus more on what the other person is actually trying to communicate than on what kind of offense I could potentially take from it.
Speaking of things I highly doubt, I actually outright reject that simply using the word “America” or “American” actually has the power to erase another culture. Everyone who’s older than five understands that “the Americas” encompass more than just the United States, and using the word “America” to describe the United States doesn’t just erase those cultures. I have never once, for example, asked for “American cheese” on my egg sandwich and had that cause me to totally forget that Mexico and Canada exist. In fact, I will go as far as to say that I don’t think that my use of the word has itself caused even the slightest amount of harm to even a single other country.
The truth is, “America” is just what we call ourselves, and people who live here understand that fact. It’s a common reference; our language has lots of them. As long as everyone understands what a person means when they use a certain word (and understand that that person is not using it in a derogatory way), then I think that it should be totally acceptable to use it. That’s the whole goal of language, after all, to communicate, and I just don’t see the point of removing any of it when it’s not actually causing harm.
This story was previously covered in an article in Campus Reform.