SEATTLE — A recent memo to public affairs officers at Seattle city agencies pointed out that the terms "brown bag" and "citizens" could be offensive to some.
Usually, "brown bag" refers to a bring-your-own lunch event or simply a sack lunch. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has had frequent so-called brown-bag lunch events with media or the public.
But the term "brown bag" also refers to intra-racial discrimination from the segregation era. African-Americans used a "brown bag test" to discriminate against other African-Americans. Those with skin darker than the color of a paper bag were not allowed to join elite clubs and churches.
“For me it's not a negative connotation, says Cheryl Shaw an African-American who lives in Seattle, "but you have to be careful with whom you're speaking to about that."
Another African-American from Seattle, Javon Buckley, believes the term has its origins in the way slave masters used to divide their slaves against each other. But he doesn't take offense to the term now.
“The color of the bag is brown; there's nothing else to it," he said. "It's pretty clean-cut to me."
Elliott Bronstein, communications coordinator of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, sent the memo after hearing from about a dozen people over the years that they were offended by the term. But he said reports that Seattle is banning the term are wrong.
"The City of Seattle has not banned any terms," he said." We have not laid down any hard rules on the use of terms."
The same goes for the term "citizen," also included in Bronstein's memo. A naturalized U.S. citizen from Canada, Bronstein said the term can inadvertently excluded some of the people the city is trying to reach.
“'Citizens' is a different case: We sometimes use it as another way of saying 'members of the public' -- except for all the members of the public who aren't actually citizens but who live and work here," his memo said.
But Seattle resident Dale Walters doesn't feel the term is exclusive.
"I don't like that idea, I disagree with them," Walters said.
However, Ethiopian Immigrant Isaiah Grebremichael is not a U.S. citizen. He believes it would be better to say, "Hello people, hello everybody," instead.
Asked if his memo was political correctness run amok, Bronstein said, "I don't think so. There was no effort to forbid any one from using any term. This was really just a friendly suggestion."
© 2020 KIRO