“Illegals”, “swarms,” “aliens,” “invaders.” Do these words drum up images of loving mamas and papas and brothers and sisters? How about grandmas and grandpas? How about a loving husband and engineer for Garmin who goes out with his friends after work in Kansas?
The language we use to describe immigrants and refugees matters greatly in how society treats them. It Always Has. Calling people words meant for animals or objects over and over again makes a group less real, more terrifying, less like us. “When people dehumanize others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures,” says David Livingston Smith, author of the book Less Than Human. He argues it’s important to define and describe dehumanization, because it’s what opens the door for cruelty.
People are uncomfortable admitting that their language is dangerous. Just look at the comments section of well, any article lately about immigration. There will be dozens of people dismissing a relationship between words and actions and then long justifications of why “alien” is an appropriate word.
But there is no shortage of examples in history where this is the case. Most don’t bear repeating as they are so commonly discussed. Germans referred to Jews as “rats” again and again, “cockroaches” were what the Hutus in Rwanda called the Tutsis before relentlessly killing over 800,000 of them, again reducing a whole population to vermin. Think these examples are exaggerating current times? Let’s refer then to a article by Katie Hopkins, a British writer and public figure, who likened migrants to “cockroaches” in a column published in the Sun newspaper in April 2015.
This week’s Immigration Lexicon term is “catch and release.” Heard on every talk show, article and and syndicate news station to describe the US immigration memo released on Monday, apparently implying that the previous tactics towards undocumented immigrants resembled sticking a hook through the lip of a fish, yanking it out of its environment, depriving it of air and then throwing it back into the water – a humane sport if you will. Now the US will get “tough” on the fish and detain them instead.
With incidences of hate up all around the country to worrying levels, including just this week bomb threats on Jewish Centers, destruction of a Jewish cemetery, and on Thursday the murder of an Indian man who was chatting at a bar with his friends, we cannot dismiss these incidences as acts devoid of influence. Particularly when “get out of my country” was what was heard as the shots were fired, among other racial slurs.
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For the full Washington Post article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/07/30/why-the-language-we-use-to-talk-about-refugees-matters-so-much/?utm_term=.185c7e7a14ac