The words we use are powerful, especially when it comes to talking about people created in God’s image. Word choice shapes how people perceive events and respond to the arguments made by people in the public arena. As Christians, we are called to speak up when our society uses language that dehumanizes and degrades our brothers and sisters.
Journalists and others in the media should be the first to understand this phenomenon. Unfortunately, reporters from TV stations and newspapers still label undocumented immigrants as “illegal.” This dehumanizing term robs people of their dignity and prejudices readers against the real needs of immigrant communities.
These reporters often follow the standards set by the Associated Press Stylebook, which is the authoritative guide for journalists across the country on everything from punctuation to word choice. &Nbsp;
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
I often wonder how frequently people think about the impact their words have on others, specifically, on the development of human perception. The conclusion I’ve sadly reached is that when a language norm is established by dominant cultural forces —such as the news media, in our day – the truth seldom matters. Once something is spoken and repeated enough times people consider it to be true regardless of the real facts or circumstances.
One recent debate clearly illustrating the power of words is around which terminology the media should use when referencing immigrants who are in this country without authorization to work. Those outlets that use the word “illegal” defend this practice by pointing to the Associated Press’ Stylebook, which designates “illegal” as the appropriate term. Those using the term “undocumented” have noted the changing circumstances within the culture and recognize that using such inflammatory terminology only adds fuel to the proverbial political fire around the issue of immigration.