Before you go down the road of outrage about political correctness or censorship, please consider this: Because we all watch television, or participate in social media, or binge watch Netflix, or go to movies, or plays, or dinner with friends, we have a shorthand for what we see, read, or hear. If someone says the word “inbred,” what comes to your mind?
I recently did some freelance sensitivity reading for a client. For confidentiality reasons, I won’t name names, but this was for a large corporation, not for an individual. The work was well written, well considered, and had nothing but good intentions. I was asked to read for socioeconomic sensitivity. As a person who was raised poor, I have experience with many of the ways in which undereducated, underemployed, working class people are sometimes misrepresented.
A word that stood out for me, and that I suggested might be changed, was “hobo.” I recognized that the author was looking for a way to avoid saying beggar or bum. Their intention was to show that the protagonist was generous to people who needed a handout. I suggested they use the phrase “less fortunate” instead. This was not to say a writer could never use the word hobo. Nor even that hobos are always less fortunate than other people. In this particular instance, I deduced that the writer was trying to show how the protagonist was sharing her newfound circumstances with others. And I made a suggestion, not a correction.
I’m sharing this example because I often read posts where writers share their fear of sensitivity readers and what one might mean to their work. I hope you find this reassuring. When people ask me for a sensitivity read, I make sure I am at least as sensitive to their work as they are trying to be to the topic they’ve asked me to review. Sensitivity readers are not here to censor writers’ works, or to change all our language to some kind of Orwellian double speak. We are here to help writers find the best way to cover their chosen topics.
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