Many times we may say things simply because we’ve always heard them used. We all have little phrases that are ingrained in our language! However, because these phrases seem so ubiquitous to us, we may not have considered how offensive some terms may be.
During a meeting I once attended, in the midst of busy discussion, a woman chuckled and said, “There’s too many chiefs in here and not enough Indians!”
Oftentimes we don’t pause and ask ourselves where phrases like these come from and who we might be harming when we invoke them. Today, however, right now, we’re going to pause and reflect on this phrase. From the start, we can see that this phrase contains an offensive misnomer: “Indians” has not and has never been an accurate term for the indigenous peoples of America; “Indigenous” and “Native” are typically more accepted nomenclature. Secondly, this phrase creates an implicit hierarchy, where placing Native people as “lower” than a chief suggests that non-indigenous peoples belong in positions of power and indigenous people belong as subordinates.
So why do I highlight these linguistic details? For starters, it’s certainly not to shame the woman who uttered these words! Many if not all of us have unconsciously used words and phrases that may hurt others. The key here is that we must reflect on the phrases that have been passed down to us through generations, often by figures of authority, and question if they perpetuate exclusion. If they do, a turning point offers itself to us, where we can choose not to use these phrases and instead be more inclusive in our dialogue. By doing so, we become one step closer to creating more inclusive environments for everyone!
Dima Ghawi is the founder of a global talent development company with a primary mission for advancing individuals in leadership. Through keynote speeches, training programs and executive coaching, Dima has empowered thousands of professionals across the globe to expand their leadership potential. In addition, she provides guidance to business executives to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and to implement a multi-year plan for advancing quality leaders from within the organization.