July 27

Words Are Power- Using Language to Empower and Uplift Voices

Author: Dani Esterline

Multicultural mural

Language is a force that guides communication and understanding, and the way we use words is powerful. For local governments, the need for powerful language is essential to build trust in a community. Thought leaders recognize that the constituents they serve come from many different backgrounds, cultures, and identities. Being aware of the correct language for individuals' identities will empower local governments and the constituents that they serve. Not to mention, using incorrect language can harm community morale and damage an organization’s presence, and in some cases can be irreparable. 

We are going to dive into the power of building inclusion through language, by covering words to help meet a broader audience. Let’s begin with some basic principles of inclusive language.
The following table is from the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs.

Building Equity & Inclusion through the Power of Language Utah Division Of Multicultural Affairs


White and black woman standing together

Disability Status
Social identities are important and people first language is a step in the right direction to reaching broader audiences. We’re going to go into terms to avoid and suggested alternatives from credible resources.

The following table is provided by the American Psychological Association.

Table from American Psychological Association: Inclusive Language Guidelines

When writing content for local government affairs, avoiding some of these insensitive words and replacing them with the suggested alternatives will create a more inclusive environment.


“As we strive to further infuse principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) into the fabric of society, those committed to effecting change must acknowledge language as a powerful tool that can draw us closer together or drive us further apart.” (Maysa Akbar, PhD, ABPP Chief Diversity Officer


Woman standing over skyline

Race and Ethnicity
The U.S. in itself is a multicultural melting pot and using the correct terminology when referring to groups of people can uplift voices in the community. Understanding language can create an environment of respect and understanding.  Let’s go into some broader terms that can help us navigate language when referring to people. 

Race-  “Race is a categorization that is based mainly on physical attributes or traits, assigning people to a specific race simply by having similar appearances or skin color (for example, Black or White).” (The Law Society)

Ethnicity- “Ethnicity is broader than race and has usually been used to refer to long shared cultural experiences, religious practices, traditions, ancestry, language, dialect or national origins (for example, African-Caribbean, Indian, Irish).” (The Law Society)

You belong graphic

The Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs contains a glossary of terms to reference when creating an inclusive environment.


Here are some language substitutions offered by The Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, consider these substitutions when preparing content for your organization:


 Building Equity & Inclusion through the Power of Language Utah Division Of Multicultural Affairs Language Substitution Table


There are so many layers that derive from language and communication, and words matter. Language helps uplift and empower voices- and words that lead with kindness, compassion, and empathy can change the world (and it can start with local government). 





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