Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cleanse the language and culture so that we offend no one

Commentary by James Shott

Aliens can be “aliens” no longer. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) wants to refer to them in federal matters as “foreign nationals.” And if they are in the country illegally, we cannot refer to them as “illegal aliens,” they now must be transformed into “undocumented foreign nationals.”

Never mind that the proposed new designation is longer and more cumbersome, a larger problem is that the old designation is more accurate.

An “alien” is defined as: A resident born in or belonging to another country who has not acquired citizenship by naturalization, a foreigner. “Illegal” is defined as: By law or statute, contrary to or forbidden by official rules, regulations, etc.

Ergo, someone from another country who is not a citizen, who is in the country without having gone through appropriate legal processes to be here, is an “illegal alien.”

This proposed change in our use of language is being insisted upon because Castro thinks the label “illegal alien” is demeaning and hurtful. This idea ought to have linguists concerned. If words with specific meaning can no longer be applied to people or situations that precisely fit that meaning, then we have a problem that we may not be able to survive.

Frankly, if you are in this country illegally, you do not deserve any special consideration in how we describe you. If you are offended by the designation you have earned for yourself by being in the country illegally, well then, go back home, and then if you want to return, do it the right way.

The solution to removing the hurtfulness of the term “illegal alien” is to be a legal alien or a legal immigrant by following immigration and/or visitation laws, not by changing a term used in federal documents since 1790 that accurately describes the person and the circumstance.

America once was about individual freedom. You could think what you wanted, pretty much say what you wanted, and within fairly limited legal bounds do what you wanted, and you didn’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time worried about whether what you thought, said or did might offend someone, somewhere.

America did not become the country so many of us grew up in and loved by worrying about offending someone by observing long-standing traditions, or doing normal, everyday things. It also did not become the great nation it once was by accommodating people whose life consists primarily of searching out things that offend them.

One right that is not guaranteed in the Bill of Rights or by the U.S. Constitution is the right to not ever be offended. And thank goodness it isn’t. Part of being an adult is being able to cope with less-than-ideal circumstances, and each of us has an obligation to the rest of us to “just deal with it” sometimes.

Instead, many people believe that when they are offended by something, others must change to suit their preferences.

A good example of over-reaction in the name of being non-offensive is that at least two school districts banned Halloween activities, one of them because 20 percent of the students could not or would not participate.

Milford, Conn. parents and other residents were angered when the school district decided to ban the popular Halloween parades at the city’s elementary schools, due to fear of excluding children who can’t or won’t participate in the tradition.

An official of the school district told the local newspaper, the Connecticut Post, “Milford Public Schools do have many children from diverse beliefs, cultures and religions. The goal is for all children to feel comfortable and definitely not alienated when they come to school.”

A petition opposing the decision read, in part: “These are our American customs and traditions and we should not have to give them up because others find them offensive!” And a school parent added, “I’m so tired of my kids missing out on some of the things we all got to do as children and are some of the greatest childhood memories I have due to others saying they find it offensive.”

The school district reversed the decision, however, some obvious questions arise: What about the vast majority who could and probably would participate? Is 20 percent the red line beyond which traditions that some don’t like can no longer exist?

Where does it stop? How few people who are offended by some activity should be able to end to it? We Americans love and treasure our traditions, and some of them have been around since before the birth of the nation.

And, finally: Is it even possible to assure, as the Milford school district intends, that all children, or adults, will always feel comfortable and never feel alienated?

President Barack Obama was likely not involved in the actions of these school districts, but these actions fit comfortably within the idea of his pledge “to fundamentally transform the United States of America.”

Fortunately, there are tens of millions of Americans who want none of it, and will fiercely resist efforts to erase treasured traditions from our lives, and further are disinclined to go crazy trying to avoid offending the terminally offended.

Cross-posted from Observations

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