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The power of language in community engagement - with Samiya Abdi

In this episode, Samiya Abdi joins host Andrea Bodkin to talk about the power of language and community. Samiya talks about the importance of active and passive language when referring to particular communities and groups. For example, passive terms such as “at risk” and “vulnerable” implies that that the community is innately at risk or vulnerable, and there is nothing that we can do about it. “Hard to reach” and “hard to serve” implies that it is the community itself that can’t be reached or can’t access services, for reasons of their own.

Active language, on the other hand, recognizes the systems, policies and structures that actively put communities at the margins.  These terms include “marginalized”, “raciliazed”, and “colonized”. These terms can bring discomfort to those who have power and privilege. With active language, the responsibility is placed on the service providers, rather than the communities seeking support. They force us to recognize the root causes of inequities and health risks. 

A current example is the higher rates of COVID-10 in raciliazed communities. These communities are more affected not because of race, but because of racism.  Andrea’s favourite blog, We Heart Health Literacy provides a helpful synopses of this.

As public health professionals, we need to be very aware of the terms we use, why and how we use those terms, who benefits from those terms, and what the impacts of using them are.

PHESC has created a number of online learning courses to support professionals

Visit the PHESC website for a full listing of courses and resources related to health equity


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