Drop the i-word

Colorlines has just launched this really important campaign to get folks to stop calling people, and particularly immigrants, “illegal.” I wrote not too long ago about how the AP style book promotes this language.

Watch the video (transcript after the jump) and you’ll be convinced. Then go sign the pledge and do what you can to eliminate anti-immigrant sentiment.

Feministing has signed the pledge. Will you?

Transcript of video narration:

Calling people “illegals” feeds a hate machine and hurts our nation’s future. News organizations and government officials who use the i-word need to drop it now.

Cacophony of clips of media pundits and newscasters using the word “illegal” to talk about immigrants.

We get barraged by i-words every single day.

Cacophony of clips of media pundits and newscasters using the word “illegal” to talk about immigrants.

The i-word exploits economic anxiety, it creates fear about our multi-cultural America, and like we’ve seen in the past the i-word is a racial slur that breads hate against all whole groups of people. It’s getting worse. In 2010 use of the word illegal on television quadrupled from 2009. And hateful language is dangerous. More than half of reported hate crimes in 2008 were motivated by race. In the recent period of rising anti-immigrant hysteria, hate-crimes against Latinos rose by 40%.

Hateful language can be deadly. In Long Island in 2008 Marcelo Lucero and his friend Angel Loja were attacked by a group of teens shouting hate speech.  Marcelo was stabbed to death by local high school student Jeff Conroy.

Media clips about Marcelo’s death.

Words that feed hate can also be used to decieve and divide people. Right wing strategists have cast immigrants to the US as the enemy.

It’s no accident that vulnerable people are used as scapegoats. Editors, public servants and all of us should stop using the i-word and other words tainted by hate.

Calling people illegals is just plain wrong. No human being is illegal. Drop the i-word, don’t feed the hate machine.

Sign the pledge at www.droptheiword.com.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s correct to equate the use of the word “illegal” in this context to hate speech. It is an accurate term because these individuals are not legal immigrants. I’d say you would definitely have an argument in regards to the use of “alien,” but “illegal” is simply a description of the activity that has taken place.

    • Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      There are many illegal activities performed by people every day–smoking pot, running red lights, drinking underage, just to name a few. Do we call all of those people “illegals”? No. Defining undocumented immigrants with this label, as if it is their entire identity is equivalent to their lack of documentation, is racist and hateful.

      • Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        Do we call all of those people “illegals”?

        No, but we do have a tendency to refer to those people as “criminals.”

        I don’t think the issue here is naming conventions. So long as the law dictates that undocumented immigrants are breaking the law by being here, people are going to refer to said immigrants in a way that notes this fact. While I normally think that changing our language in order to modify society’s views is a productive approach, in this case I believe it obscures the real issue: these people are, technically, criminals and lawbreakers, and they are here illegally. We need to change the laws that make this the case, not change the name.

        If anything, I think that softening the language used to refer to undocumented immigrants will serve to exacerbate the problem by obscuring the fact that our screwed up laws are resulting in criminal status for people who shouldn’t be considered criminals.

        That doesn’t change the fact that referring to someone as “an illegal” is dehumanizing, but “illegal immigrant” seems to be an accurate descriptor.

      • Posted September 29, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        I think that perhaps people don’t feel the need to add the cumbersome descriptor “illegal” to these activities, because there are no (common) situations in which traffic violations, under age drinking e.t.c. are ever legal. Immigration on the other hand can be divided between those who enter a country legally and illegally.

        As a side note, many legal immigrants themselves like to keep the distinction clear (as the daughter of legal immigrants, I can confirm that this has been my personal experience).

    • Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      But “illegal” isn’t being ascribed to an action in much of these clips. “Illegal” is being ascribed to a person or, hell, being used as a noun. A lot of these clips have newscasters straight up saying Illegal/Illegals which is dehumanizing and othering.

  2. Posted September 29, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    If someone is illegal, what else to call their non-legal status…? Or are you objecting that is what they’re being defined as?

  3. Posted October 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the premise of the video, but I don’t think it does a good job of explaining that the word is dehumanizing because it defines the person by the illegal act. It’s not enough to say “the right spews it and we disagree with them”. They also don’t give the viewer an alternative discourse, such as calling them people who, because of their circumstances, chose or were forced to engage in an activity that is illegal in the U.S. , or “undocumented immigrants”.

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