The city of Seattle has advised government workers that the words "citizen" and "brown bag" have the potential to be offensive and should no longer be used in official documents and discussions. The city's Office of Civil Rights alerted workers about the new policy via an internal memo.
"Luckily, we've got options," wrote Elliott Bronstein of the Office for Civil Rights in the memo. "For 'citizens,' how about 'residents?'"
Bronstein said during an interview that the term "brown bag" has been used in the past as a way to judge skin color.
"For a lot of particularly 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," Bronstein said.
The new terms for brown bag are "lunch-and-learn" or "sack lunch.”
Citizen is apparently offensive because many of the people who live in Seattle are legal residents, but they are not citizens, Fox News reported.
"They are legal residents of the United States and they are residents of Seattle," Bronstein said. "They pay taxes and if we use a term like citizens in common use, then it doesn't include a lot of folks."
Washington State as a whole is very sensitive to the nuances of language. State lawmakers have voted to remove gender specific words in official records. Freshman are now "first-years," journeymen are "journey-level," and penmanship is now referred to as "handwriting."