Michigan Cites Racism in Decision To Ban Term 'Field Worker'

‘While the widespread use of this term is not intended to be harmful, we cannot ignore the impact its use has on our employees’

Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Getty Images)
January 10, 2023

Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services says it will no longer use the words "field worker" in agency communications, citing the term's "implication for descendants of enslaved Black and Brown individuals."

The department said "staff and stakeholders have raised concerns" about the term’s allegedly racist connotations, according to a January 4 memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

"While the widespread use of this term is not intended to be harmful, we cannot ignore the impact its use has on our employees," the memo reads. "Establishing shared language is essential to our collective progress."

The memo came from Demetrius Starling, the director of the department’s Children’s Services Agency, and Dwayne Haywood, the director of the department’s Economic Stability Administration, neither of whom responded to requests for comment. Its letterhead includes Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer (D.), who in 2021 mandated "implicit bias training" for all health professionals in the state.

The government of Michigan is not the only progressive body to put "field" out to pasture. On Monday, the University of Southern California’s school of social work announced that it had removed the term from its curriculum, citing the need to "reject white supremacy."

"This change supports anti-racist social work practice by replacing language that could be considered anti-Black or anti-immigrant," an email from the university’s education department said. "Phrases such as ‘going into the field’ or ‘field work’ may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign."

Formerly known as the "field education department," the school’s education program will now be called the "practicum education department."

The changes reflect the linguistic churn of "woke" progressivism, in which words deemed insensitive or harmful are purged from bureaucratic vocabularies. That churn has been especially turbulent on college campuses: In 2016, Yale University stopped referring to the heads of its residential colleges as "masters,"  claiming the term was "associated with the ownership of slaves." And in December, Stanford University compiled a list of "harmful phrases", including  "brown bag" and "blackballed," that should be removed from university websites.

"Blackballed," the guide said, "assigns negative connotations to the color black, racializing the term." Other proscribed terms included "white paper," "blind study," "cakewalk," "grandfather," and "American."

Stanford issued a mea culpa for the guide 48 hours after the Free Beacon and Wall Street Journal reported on it, saying the use of "American" is "absolutely welcomed" at the university.

The revision of language extends to the Biden administration. The White House's 2022 budget proposal used the term "birthing people" instead of mothers, and diversity trainings for the U.S. Army now reference a soldier who wants to discuss "his newly confirmed pregnancy."

In 2021, President Joe Biden made headlines when he discussed vaccine hesitancy amongst "Latinx," a gender-neutral term that has also been used by Vice President Kamala Harris.