Switching Labels

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shakespeare's Juliet once pined for a certain man named Montague, and proclaimed that the name had nothing to do with her love for the man-- that the two were separate entities and did not affect one another. Calling a rose a rotten egg would not change her opinion about its sweet smell.

Today, many sociologists (and some everyday people) recognize that what we call something does affect how we feel about it. Journalists Karen Carmichael and Rabiah Alicia Burks recently wrote this article, commenting on the nature of the relationship between the current debate about immigration and the terms "illegal immigrants," and "illegal aliens".
The article reminds us that the term illegal never has good connotations when it is applied to a person-- it can conjure up images of hardened convicts. Alien is also a word that is only used to establish a category of other.
The authors' primary issue of concern, however, is not the application of the words "illegal", and "alien". It is the use of the two terms by journalists.
With the advent of the internet and all the digital media that accompanied it, journalists have gained the ability to nurture and lead labels that are reflected in society. For this reason, it is important for journalists to report without bias.
Unfortunately, the terms that journalists have chosen in this case are not bipartisan.
I agree with Otto Santa Ana's suggestion that journalists use less biased phrases, like "unauthorized immigrant," which still accurately reflects the status of the immigrants. And of course, I don't think that only journalists have made a mistake here.
Anyone entering into the debate needs to first, recognize that not all unauthorized immigrants are Hispanic. And secondly, people must recognize that terms in a debate do affect outcomes.
Photo courtesy of FreeRepublic.com, via CreativeCommons.org.


kakon February 2, 2011 at 2:34 PM  

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