“I” is for “I Believe in Dignity and Respect”

Thursday, September 30, 2010

by Maria Nakae

Have you ever been called a bad name? It’s annoying, right? Have you ever been called a racial slur? Now that’s downright infuriating. And it’s wrong.

This week, the Applied Research Center launched a national public education campaign called Drop the I-Word, with the goal of eliminating the use of the word “illegal” from the media and public discourse in reference to immigrants who are undocumented. The campaign’s website states,

The I-Word creates an environment of hate by exploiting racial fear and economic anxiety, creating an easy scapegoat for complex issues, and OK-ing violence against those labeled with the word.
Many of us don’t use the i-word for the same reason we don’t use the n-word, the ch-word or any other racial slur: we recognize that it not only harms and dehumanizes a particular group of people and designates them as “other,” it also perpetuates stereotypes that fuel discrimination, violence and racial profiling that tears apart families and destroys entire communities.

The media, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have that kind of common sense or humanity. Journalists across all forms of media – print, TV, radio and online – use the word with abandon as if it’s just another adjective. So do most elected officials. In an address to Congress in September 2009, President Obama famously dismissed rumors that the health care reform bill would cover 'illegal immigrants' (for which he received an outraged scream from Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), “You lie!”). And if you watch or read Fox News, you probably hear or see the i-word all the time. Unfortunately, when the word is used so rampantly in the media, it promotes fear, division and anti-immigrant sentiment among the public, who will continue to spread racists language and attitudes because the systems and institutions are telling them that it’s okay to do so.

It’s time to stop. Think about the words you use and their impact, and call others out for the words they are using so they understand that it’s not just another word and it’s just not okay.

So if you believe in dignity, respect and human rights for all, if you don’t call people by the i-word, and you want the media to stop using the word too, sign the Drop the I-Word pledge and ask your friends and family to do the same.

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