University of California, Berkeley’s, Associate Director for its Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership Genevieve Macfarlane Smith succeeded in this with her letter in The Wall Street Journal‘s Letters section last Thursday. Smith began by complaining
Lawrence Krauss writes, “I have a hard time understanding how people can be so hurt by the use of some words and names.”
Then she proceeded to make Krauss’ point for him.
Take “illegal alien”: This term brands a person “illegal” and implies they’re not human but “alien.” Beyond dehumanizing, the term is imprecise: It implies criminality, but lacking immigration documents is a civil, not criminal, offense.
Of course, “illegal alien” does none of that. The term brands no one as illegal; the individual involved has made himself illegal by entering our nation illegally.
Nor does the term imply criminality. As Smith actually concedes, “lacking immigration documents—” being an illegal alien—is a civil offense: it’s simply illegal, with no implication of felonious or civil illegality.
Nor does the term imply that the illegal alien is in any way not human. Here are the American Heritage Dictionary‘s definitions of “alien:”
1. Owing political allegiance to another country or government; foreign: alien residents.
2. Belonging to, characteristic of, or constituting another and very different place, society, or person; strange.
3. Dissimilar, inconsistent, or opposed, as in nature: emotions alien to her temperament.
1. An unnaturalized foreign resident of a country. Also called noncitizen.
2. A person from another and very different family, people, or place.
3. A person who is not included in a group; an outsider.
There’s nothing in there about the illegal alien being not human.
Smith then asked,
Still agree with Mr Krauss that reflection on language is a “waste of time” or “silly”?
Yep. Smith was making Krauss’ case. Unsatisfied, though, she dug a bit deeper.
Mr Krauss discusses efforts to replace “master/slave” from computer code with “primary/secondary.” … This type of language can signal that black people aren’t welcome.
I’ve worked in the tech industry for years. No one, not a single minority colleague, felt unwelcome from such terms. We all understood the context; we were software engineers and managers, not…social engineers. And context matters. More than Smith seems to understand.
Perhaps if Smith and her cohorts weren’t so desperate to change the ordinary meaning of the words of our American English language in order to support their quest for offense, her victims, the ones she’s pretending to want to protect (apparently because she considers them incapable of protecting themselves) would experience considerably less angst.