A week ago, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) voted to cut the media’s long-controversial—and fortunately, not uniform—practice of calling people the dreaded and demeaning i-word. Surely, you know what word I’m talking about: “illegal,” “illegal immigrants,” “illegal aliens.”
For years, the media have taken the liberty of constantly demeaning those folks who not only made this country but who continue to build it, drive it, nurse it, mow it, clean it, and feed it. The use of the i-word has gotten large swathes of the population up in arms—sometimes literally!—by fueling anti-immigrant sentiment. They come here to take our jobs! (No, they really don’t). They are all criminals! (Hardly). They drain our public benefits! (Where do I even begin? “They” are typically ineligible for benefits, not that the U.S. is known for having any kind of magnanimous social safety net. Besides, many of “them” pay taxes on the insultingly low wages they earn doing some of the hardest and most dangerous jobs around.)
Meanwhile, for some of us, just reading the i-word in print is enough to make our stomachs turn—personally, hearing it spoken aloud makes my blood boil. I have a few choice words for the i-word lovers: what part of inappropriate, insensitive, insulting, and inhumane don’t y’all understand? So today, I’m ecstatic that we should see the i-word being phased out of use in the media. This judgmental (not to mention usually misleading and often inaccurate) term never had a place in respectable media outlets, and it will be refreshing to see those outlets give the i-word its due.
We like to think America is great, and sometimes it really is. But immigrants are what made this country great in the first place and will continue to make us great, and we need to remember that. The media play an important role to play in keeping us informed and keeping us democratic, so thank you to SPJ for taking this initiative—it is truly inspired and truly inspiring.