Re-Humanizing Immigrant Communities in the Age of Trump: 5 Language Practices

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“Concentration camps.”

Over the last year, a number of public figures have drawn praise and ire for referring to the facilities in which tens of thousands of people are being imprisoned by the United States without due process as concentration camps.

What has resulted is a “rhetorical cacophony regarding historical accuracy and proper terminology,” in the words of Lauren Duca of The Independent.

If, like me, you believe that language not only describes but creates reality, the primary question should not be “what is the correct definition of concentration camp and is that definition being accurately applied?” but rather “how am I morally obligated to describe and respond to what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border?”

The five practices below are designed to help you use language to humanize in the face of dehumanization and practice liberation in the face of violence and hate. But first, some context.

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Radical Vocabulary: Post-Election Words to Know

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Sometimes you want help understanding the meaning of a word, but you’re not sure whether you can trust a dictionary to give you a definition that is rooted in anti-oppression.

Most dictionaries were originally written by white, wealthy, educationally elite, straight, able-bodied men, which means normative assumptions and prejudices about how words should be used were written into them. And although dictionaries—like words themselves—have evolved, not all of their definitions give you the information you really need, or adapt quickly enough to provide you with fully current meanings of words.

Having a radical vocabulary can help you use language to unpack oppression, violence, and hate—and in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, this couldn’t be more essential. So here’s a list of the top words to know since the election. 

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What’s in a Word: white nationalism

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What does it mean?

White nationalism is a sector of the U.S. right-wing political sphere that is characterized by a white supremacist ideology.

As Chip Berlet explained, in a 1992 piece co-authored with Margaret Quigley, white nationalism “oscillates between brutish authoritarianism and vulgar fascism in service of white male supremacy” and white nationalists believe that “social problems are caused by uncivilized people of color, lower-class foreigners, and dual-loyalist Jews.”

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The New York Times, Radically Copyedited: Reporting on Bias

A copyedited paragraph from a New York Times article titled "On Campus, Trump Fans Say They Need 'Safe Spaces.'"
Copyedited paragraph from The New York Times.

Yesterday, The New York Times published the article “On Campus, Trump Fans Say They Need ‘Safe Spaces,'” by Anemona Hartocollis. Showcasing an appalling lack of responsible journalism, the piece attempted to present a “balanced” take on heightening tension on college campuses in the wake of the U.S. presidential election.

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The Spectrum of Language

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United States mainstream culture promotes the idea that language is either “correct” or “incorrect” (in terms of grammar, spelling or pronunciation, word choice, and content). But language—along with everything else in this world—is so much more complex.

As a radical copyeditor and as someone who believes that words have incredible power for destruction, oppression, healing, liberation, and more, I understand language to exist on a spectrum from actively hateful to profoundly loving—and I strive to help people use language in the most life-affirming ways possible.

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