A Very Short Intro to Being Inclusive Online (And Apologizing)


Welcome to the mash of beautifully different people on the internet. Perhaps you spend your daily life among people much the same as you. I assure you that here, in your online spaces, the assumption that everyone fits one general description is far from the truth. 

I know that you want to be inclusive of everyone! That you want them to feel welcome and supported, and that you would not want your words to make someone feel less important or excluded. So let's run a few examples of inclusive language to help us do better, and let's learn upfront how to apologize in the best way because we will all make mistakes.

Learn to apologize? Yes. Because if we unintentionally hurt someone with our language, the only response is to apologize swiftly and completely without centering ourselves. Which is really hard. 

Centering? Say you give a gift to a friend. They say, "Wow, thanks!" You reply, "Yeah I was in such a rush and I just barely could get out of the house to shop with the baby sick all last week." Way to suck the fun out of getting a gift, turning the conversation back on yourself. You were centering. Take allllll the "I"s out of your reply. Then you have no choice but to be a gracious gift giver.

Centering while apologizing: Say you accidentally run over a pedestrian's foot with your car. Do you hop out and say, "Oh my gosh, I had no idea you were there, and I have never done ANYthing like this before. I can't believe this happened!"? Actually, that reaction is pretty common. We worry others will judge our goodness as a person when we mess up ... so we defend our intentions. Really, though, that person has a broken foot and does not care about your intent. You hurt her. You need to own up to the impact of your actions. Impact is what you apologize for, not intent. This is not the moment to defend your character. No one accused you of being a bad person. Just. Apologize. 

When you roll into a babywearing community, prefacing your comment with, "Hey, mamas!", you exclude anyone who identifies as a father, or a gender-fluid parent who chooses another moniker, or a grandparent, or a babysitter, etc. Consider how many times this happens to that caregiver. How many times assumptions are made about them. Your comment did not intend to be exclusionary, but it was just one more microaggression against them. One more time they put up with having their identity erased. 

Perhaps they are bold and energetic enough at that moment to ask that you use language that is neither gender- nor roll-specific. REMEMBER: You are not being accused of being a bad person. Do not take it personally. Apologize simply and without centering or asking that person to do any more work, make the change, and do better. Bonus points for encouraging others to use more inclusive language as well. 

What if someone takes the time and energy to say to you, "That is racist/sexist/xenophibic/ableist." Chances are you used a phrase in common parlance that they hear all the time, and chances are that they feel the pain of a million tiny cuts of casual racism/sexism/xenophobia/ableism. Maybe you don't view your comment in that way but IT DOESN'T MATTER. The other person is hurt. Please be the gracious, caring, uncentering apologizer, realizing you had a negative impact regardless of your intent. 

It's difficult to not get your hackles up and take that criticism personally -- but if you do you will be exacerbating the problem. And if you dig in, denying or arguing or centering, then the other person has no obligation to baby you and your feelings. You hurt them. Yours was one more microaggression in a sea of daily microaggressions, splattered with a handful of major aggressions. They might be curt with you. But they are tired. Do not ask for a hurt person to change their tone. Rather, change whatever you can to mitigate impact for that person and apologize. It's so simple.   

Remember you are not being accused of being a bad person. Impact matters more than intent. Lessen your impact by apologizing without centering and then change. We all are growing as people, sometimes with the help of the internet. And for that I am forever grateful.

Sincerely, 

Jaime Gassmann, Owner, Bijou Wear


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