We could all take a page (ha!) from the Associated Press today, as it has changed its style on ‘illegal immigrant’:
illegal immigration: Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.
From the Poynter article:
In a statement, AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll says the change came, in part, because of ongoing work at AP dedicated to “ridding the Stylebook of labels.”
Immigration is just one area where AP is doing such work, Carroll says in the statement. Now it recommends “Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of schizophrenic, for example.”
Reached by phone, Carroll elaborated on the AP’s struggle against labels: “It’s kind of a lazy device that those of use who type for a living can become overly reliant on as a shortcut,” she said. “It ends up pigeonholing people or creating long descriptive titles where you use some main event in someone’s life to become the modifier before their name.”
It’s a small thing, but I’ve tried to be conscientious about it ever since I wrote a story several years ago about a child with autism. I was talking to his mom, and used the phrase “autistic child” and she bristled slightly, then asked that I say “child with autism” instead.
“It just makes it sound like the autism is the only thing about him, that it comes even before the fact that he’s a human,” she said, and she was right.
Edit: A lot of people have written in to let me know that there is a big debate in the Autism community, and many do prefer ‘autistic.’ Obviously, people get to decide what to call themselves and you should follow their lead. This is just something to be mindful of.