NETWORK FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Educate, Engage, Activate

Language Matters

We at the Network maintain a keen awareness of the impact of language on our interpersonal relationships, our institutional policies and practices, and our culture. Language can be both a reflection of our beliefs and a powerful agent of change. Because of this, we are launching a Newsletter exploration around particular words and phrases. We are hoping to hear from you, our community, about Language Matters. What words or phrases would you like to see explored in this segment? Please email office@nfsj.org with your responses and suggestions.

  1. “Alien”: While originally simply a term for “foreigner,” we all recognize how the word became a demeaning way to refer to people who are in the US without legal status; they have been referred to as “illegal aliens,” or even more painfully, “illegals.” As reported in The Boston Globe (1/31/21), on his first day in office President Biden indicated his goal of replacing the word “alien” in immigration laws with “noncitizen.” There are some who argue that this type of fine-tuned focus on words is excessive and restricts speech. Yet, people across the political spectrum do recognize the power of words. As an example, under the previous administration, Citizenship and Immigration Services removed the phrase “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement. This erasure can be seen as a powerful, and egregious, attempt to use language to redefine our national identity and re-write history, particularly because we are a nation composed of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants, Indigenous people, and people who were enslaved and brought here under bondage.

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