Saturday, August 3, 2013


'Brown bag,' 'citizens' offensive? Seattle ponders

A memo sent out by a Seattle civil rights official says terms like "brown bag" and "citizens" are potentially offensive to some "residents" — a term deemed acceptable.

Seattle 'brown bag,' 'citizens' debate: A memo says use of the term 'brown bag' can be offensive
A Seattle city official says use of the terms 'brown bag' and 'citizens' could be offensive to some.
Culturally sensitive, or political correctness gone overboard?

Seattle residents (not "citizens") found themselves immersed in a language debate this week after it was revealed that a memo had recently been sent to public affairs officers at city agencies advising that use of the terms "brown bag" and "citizens" is potentially offensive.

The memo was written by Elliott Bronstein, the spokesman (or spokesperson, to be gender-neutral) for Seattle's Office for Civil Rights.

In it,according to,Bronstein suggested:

"For 'brown bag,' try 'lunch-and-learn' or 'sack lunch.'" For 'citizens,' how about 'residents?' (Our Citizens Service Bureau became the Customer Service Bureau a few years ago.)  Just thought I'd bring this up. Language matters, and the city has entrusted us with the keyboards."

Bronstein told KIRO Radio on Thursday that people have mentioned to him in the past that "brown bag" can be offensive to black people.

"For a lot of ... African-American community members, the phrase 'brown bag' does bring up associations with the past when a brown bag was actually used, I understand, to determine if people's skin color was light enough to allow admission to an event or to come into a party that was being held in a private home," he said. "It was just one of those things that was being used back in the past."

As for "citizens," Bronstein said a lot of people who live in Seattle aren't U.S. citizens and might feel left out of the discussion.

"If we use a term like 'citizens' in common use, then it doesn't include a lot of folks," he told KIRO Radio.

Bronstein emphasized that he was merely offering some alternative language suggestions to commonly used terms.

"There's been no effort to ban or forbid any term like that," he said.

"It's not an obsession. This was just a suggestion sent around to people whose job it is to craft a language that the city uses in memos, our Web language, all that."


Joel Connelly, writing in, suggested the language police had gone too far.

"Language DOES matter … but isn't the Office for Civil Rights trolling the far parameters of political correctness?" he asked.

Conservative radio and TV host Glenn Beck, who grew up in Washington state, also weighed in on his radio program Friday,The Blaze reported.

"You know what that is? That is a city that apparently is paying too much in income tax, because they have paid people to sit around and come up with ways to be offended," Beck said. "Idle hands are the devil’s playground."

Bronstein's memo comes on the heels of a bill Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed in April to make more terms used in state laws gender-neutral. Under the measure, terms like "ombuds" and security guards" replace "ombudsman" and "watchmen," according to The Associated Press.

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