Continuing the i-word debate: “illegals” vs. economic refugees

As a grad student and media worker, many nights I find myself motionless for hours at a time.  I’ll read a chapter for class, eventually get distracted by Twitter, Facebook or blogging, go back to reading, and repeat.  Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of garbage out there and you don’t always find substantive, meaningful dialogue on important social issues.  Well, not this time. This one deserves its own blog post:

Having studied migration from the perspective of anthropology and linguistics, and the language used to talk about immigrants (language ideologies, narrative, metaphor, etc) in public discourse, this reminds me of the way linguists stood behind and advocated for California students in the so-called “Ebonics” debate in the 90s.  A proponent of what the late Dr. Ron Scollon called activist sociolinguistics, I wondered what this decade’s parallel academic intervention might look like.

I think we may have found it. Below are a few helpful links to navigate this conversation:

1) For more information on the Drop the I-Word Campaign spearheaded by Colorlines Magazine and the Applied Research Center, a Bay area social justice think tank.

2) The official statement from 24 linguists who call for an end to the I-word in journalism, endorsed by the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Committee for Human Rights.

3) A great 4-part MSNBC video from Up with Chris Hayes which featured an excellent conversation about the i-word debate. Guests included John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University, Maria Hinojosa, journalist, anchor and executive producer of NPR’s “Latino USA,” Brooke Gladstone, co-host and managing editor of WNYC’s “On the Media,” and Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and founder of Define American.

4) Great update on the i-word debate in Colleen Cotter’s op-ed to the AAA blog, “Challenging terms of reference” (10/10/2012)

5) “Illegal versus undocumented: Semantics or more?” HuffPo video on panel discussion, proposing the term economic refugee to replace illegal immigrant.

This is only a partial list — part of the ongoing public conversation being had by linguists, journalists, and others about the appropriateness of using the term “illegal” as a personal descriptor.  I’ll be following eagerly to see how this develops and hope to one day read more accurate language across news organizations, not just those with a Latino focus (ABC/Univision, Fox Latino, but not Fox News in general) as many others have noted. I also applaud all the linguists that are taking a stand for justice — you are my heroes!

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