A memo which was circulated within local government in Washington state, before being leaked to local TV station KOMO News, advised state workers that they should refrain from using such phrases in official business.
According to the memo, the word ‘citizen’ is offensive to those Seattlelites who are residents in the city, but not US citizens.
The phrase ‘brown bag’ is offensive for its having been used as a verb during racial segregation in the United States. When deciding whether or not a black person was light-skinned enough to enter a private residence, servants would ‘brown bag’ them: using a paper grocery bag to gauge their skin tone.
The memo’s author Elliott Bronstein, who works in the city’s Office for Civil Rights, wrote: “Luckily we’ve got options. For ‘citizens’, how about ‘residents’?”.
“To replace ‘brown bag’”, he continued, tackling the offensive phrase that employees use to describe their packed lunches, “we can go with ‘lunch-and-learn’ or ‘sack lunch’”.
The news has gone viral in the United States, receiving more than 5,000 shares on Facebook and as many related tweets. One Twitter user described the news as “unreal”, while another points out that “our constitution uses the word ‘citizen’ 17 times”.
The political correctness debate polarises Americans, a recent example being the 2011 editing of Mark Twain’s classic novel ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ to remove a racist term from the text. The ensuing debate caused the novel that Ernest Hemingway described as the “basis of all modern American literature” to be removed from many schools’ curricula.
Closer to home, the Duchess of Cornwall in 2011 spoke out against political correctness, calling it “as severe a form of censorship as any”.