“ILLEGAL” IS NOT RACIST – YEAH, RIGHT.
How can I convince my editor that “illegal” is a racist term?
A young woman frantically asked me for advice to answer this question this week. She was trying to figure out how to convince her editor at a major news organization that using the term “illegal” was racist. The fact that the news organization was quoting someone seemed to be their excuse to use this word, claiming that since they weren’t saying it, they could wash their hands of its racist implications.
It’s a really convenient way out.
When you hear the word “illegal,” what kind of people come to mind? Thanks to major media outlets, we as Americans have been conditioned to associated this word with Latinos — whether they are immigrants or not. Chinese immigrants, Indian immigrants, European immigrants are not the images that flash in your mind when you hear that word. You think of a Latino, and that type of thinking has consequences.
If you recall, Americans think that 1 out of 3 Latinos are here without papers — how can you wash your hands of that inaccuracy?
I told the young lady to stand her ground and to point this out to her supervisors. At that point, after she spoke up, the meeting broke up for management only. How convenient, I told her, so they could rationalize their bad decisions to each other, uninterrupted by the inconvenience of someone pointing out the flaws in their “logic.”
I find it tragic that, as the country pummels towards becoming an ethnically “minority” nation, the people at the helm of our news outlets insists on keeping their feet so firmly planted in the past. As a journalist, I like to think of myself as one who has the power, the opportunity, to try to peek into the future, to look at where we could be headed, to point towards potential routes and start a conversation about what that might mean for all of us.
To hear that a major news outlet that purports to be non-partisan would be so insistent on publishing a racist insult to one of the country’s emergent ethnic groups is more than a disappointment. It’s a tragedy. Publishing, and defending the use of, racial slurs never helped this country evolve in the past, I have no reason to believe it will do so now.
You can parry the blame towards whoever you want. At the end of the day, when you make a decision to use backwards language, you are not helping your fellow Americans move forward — no matter what justification you use to make excuses for yourself.
Copyright 2012 Sara Inés Calderón