By Jeffrey Dominguez
Negro. Redskin. Chinaman. Jap. Oriental. Raghead. Redneck. Wetback. Illegal Alien. Deportable Aliens. Here, I present a few terms that have been used throughout history, and continue to be used, to dehumanize various ethnic groups in the United States.
Such words are designed to generalize groups of people and reduce them to a level of inferiority for being representative of the Other. From political jargon to racial jokes, these words are still prevalent in everyday rhetoric, used to describe people whose ideology, skin color, speech and being differs from what is perceptibly “American.”
On the night of President Obama’s State of the Union address, Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King demonstrated how the use of derogatory terms toward minority groups is still considered acceptable in the year 2015. King characterized one of the president’s guests that night, Ana Zamora, as “a deportable,” not worthy of being in such proximity to the event.
When asked about the remark, King responded, “shake it off and have a sense of humor.” I can’t help but wonder if he would have responded the same way if someone called him a pretentious “cracker.” Perhaps his idea of humor would change if his ethnic group received dehumanizing remarks in the media or from a “respectable” politician.
Such terms are detrimental to the groups that they are used against. Classifying individuals on the basis of socioeconomic status, skin color, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or circumstance is simply degrading and unprofessional — especially when espoused by an elected official. One can see how such terms have stripped and continue to strip away the human worth of all minority groups in the United States.
Nonetheless, Zamora, who lacks American citizenship because her parents brought her to the United States unlawfully at a young age, must surely be expected to shake off offensive comments due to her immigration status, which she had no control over. Labels such as “illegal alien” or “deportable” ostensibly fit better on her than “American.”
According to congressmen such as Rep. King, these labels are acceptable even when taking President Obama’s 2012/2014 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which provides discretionary grants of relief from deportation and work authorization to law-abiding, educated undocumented youth — into consideration. Does Zamora’s lack of choice in her birthplace and subsequent migration mean anything?
Zamora’s situation is only one example of inappropriate language that has circled and polluted the topic of immigration. Conceding to such ethnic slurs not only propagates more use of offensive terms, but it slowly begins to cultivate a desensitized civilization toward such disrespectful and politically incorrect labels. There is a negative and creature-like connotation that comes with the term “illegal alien.”
It nurtures a belief that people such as Zamora and millions of other hardworking immigrants are not human beings like the rest of us, but rather inherently illegal aliens that deserve to be removed from our country. Some politicians use derogatory verbiage to cloud issues such as immigration and push their own political agendas. After all, people are much more comfortable demanding the deportation of aliens and illegals than single mothers with U.S. citizen children at home.
Recently, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt signed on to a lawsuit against President Obama’s immigration actions in 2014. Such actions include an extension of DACA and a creation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which will provide relief from deportation and work permits to keep hardworking, law-abiding and tax-paying immigrant families together.
In joining the lawsuit, Laxalt is threatening the unity of immigrant families throughout the state. Despite having acknowledged his immigrant roots in his defense of the lawsuit, Laxalt is supporting the deportation of millions while refusing to provide solutions to present issues like that of our inefficient immigration system.
We cannot stand by as politicians conjure up labels and injurious actions that incorrectly identify real human beings as “worthless deportables” or “aliens.” Do not let words mask the fact that these human beings have feelings, families, dreams and basic rights, regardless of their circumstance. Simply because I have colored skin, speak another language and have a parent who is an immigrant does not mean that I should endure disrespectful language used to “describe” us.
This kind of criteria is applicable to many; you don’t need brown skin to understand why hateful labels are degrading. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed this sentiment eloquently when he stated that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If you believe that you, too, could be demonized as a “deportable,” join us, students of the Latino Student Advisory Board and faculty of the Latino Research Center, in solidarity for a 30-minute silent demonstration around Hilliard Plaza on Wednesday, Feb. 4th at noon. Together we can send a message to Laxalt to stop engaging in frivolous lawsuits that endanger our families and economy. Similarly, you can call Laxalt’s offices at either 775-688-1818 or 702-486-3420 to voice your opinion on the matter.
Jeffrey Dominguez studies biology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.