The Words We Choose: Overcoming Stereotypes in Writing

The Words We Choose: Overcoming Stereotypes in Writing


If we pay attention, children’s books often contain important life lessons for adults, too. A particularly timely lesson comes from Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o: the words we choose to describe others can really hurt and devalue them. In life and in writing, it’s so important to select and use words with care. Here are some excellent online resources to help us do just that:


Writing with Color

This Tumblr blog covers a lot of ground when it comes to current events and writing advice. The blog is full of posts describing the very real consequences of racism, and the authors (a group of moderators) encourage donations to organizations working against racism. Additionally, the Writing with Color blog offers several posts showing how we can fight racism in the worlds and characters we create. Be sure to check out “Common Microaggressions: African Americans and/or Black People” for a thorough list, plenty of real-life examples, and advice on the “use of microaggressions in writing” (Colette and Alice).


“Writing People of Color (If You Happen to Be a Person of Another Color)” by MariNaomi

This Midnight Breakfast article is a great resource for anyone who enjoys comics and wishes to learn more about stereotypes in various media. The author, MariNaomi, in trying to help a white friend incorporate “people of color” in her work, recounts her own experiences with seeing and being on the receiving end of Asian stereotypes, illustrating a couple encounters. She acknowledges the complexities of representing “diverse characters” (MariNaomi) and decides to ask other artists for help, so the article includes several comics and pieces of practical advice for writers.


“Choose Your Words: Avoiding Biased Language”

Though aimed at a college-writing audience, this resource from the textbook publisher Cengage is generally useful. “Choose Your Words” covers several categories, such as “gender, race, place, age, … health and abilities,” and “sexual orientation.” There are explanations for why we would want to “avoid” (“Choose”) certain words in certain circumstances, and, beneficially, alternatives to those words and descriptive methods.