From: Mayor Anthony A. Williams
To: All staff members (and I mean that in the most inclusive, inoffensive sense of the term.)
David Howard, my public advocate, recently resigned after using an unfortunate adjectivereferring to parsimoniousnessthat other staff members found homonymous with a racial slur. I thought it might be good to speak frankly about the kind of language we should all be striving for. Not so frankly, of course, that I would actually mention the word he usedthat would open wounds anewbut just frankly enough to avoid problems into the future.
For reasons that I hope are manifest, the following semantic changes are effective immediately. Please follow these linguistic guidelines for the duration of the Williams administration:
•We are no longer using the term “dark days,” which equates trouble and blackness in a way I think we can all agree is problematic.
•References to a “Master Plan” are forbidden. “Master,” of course, evokes the plantation. And “Plan,” capitalized or not, spells doom for us all.
•“Political races” sounds far too much like “political racists.” From now on, use “community campaigns.”
•“White space,” commonly used to refer to the blank areas on a page, seems to etch divisions in a needless way. Substitute “underutilized paper area.”
•The word “color” is just an “ed” away from an era of segregation and lawn jockies. Let’s go with “hue” or “tint” just to be on the safe side.
•This administration will no longer oppose “sole-source” contracts, because of pejorative implications. We will, however, continue to require competitive bidding.
In addition, please be aware of the following regulations: Staff members named Tom shall henceforth be referred to as Thomas. If a D.C. government function requires the serving of cream-filled chocolate cookie sandwiches, managers are requested to purchase Hydrox biscuits rather than the potentially pejorative Oreo brand. City-employed landscapers from now on may use only shovels, trowels, or hoesnever spadeswhen gardening.
I know that many of you are hurt and angry upon hearing of my gutless collapse to the forces of rumor and innuendo. Nonetheless, to avoid potential insults to our Asian community, I insist that my belly only be referred to as “jaundiced” or “xanthous,” never “yellow.” Howard helped put me where I am, and while it’s remarkably self-interested of me to accept his resignation for using a word accurately and in context, my administration’s new linguistic rules demand that I be “maligned,” but not “denigrated,” as a man lacking in spine.
Our mission, of course, is far larger than any one man, especially if he is white. In a city where my affiliation to those of my race is constantly questioned, we cannot afford to allow misunderstanding to obscure the greater good of bringing the city together. Let’s keep our eye on the big picture: As you all know, Bill Clinton dumped cabinet members at the first sign of trouble, and he is still here after six years of personal misfeasance. By capitulating to the ignorance and racial bile of a few staffers, we ensure that the rest of us will be here to do the important work of all of the people of the District.
I’m sure you all understand the importance of our administration laying out our needs in black and white…um, let me rephrase that. I did not mean to exacerbate existing conflicts. Our needs and our use of language should be clear, precise, and absolutely impossible to misconstrue. Thanks for your attention to this matter.
Anthony A. Williams