This past weekend, MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes featured an excellent conversation all about the i-word this Sunday. Sunday’s guests included John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University, Maria Hinojosa, journalist, anchor and executive producer of NPR’s “Latino USA,” Brooke Gladstone, co-host and managing editor of WNYC’s “On the Media,” and Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and founder of Define American.
The entire 4-part segment is worth a watch because they get to discuss the i-word in-depth. Hayes says he uses “undocumented worker” partly because he calls people however they want to be described. Hinojosa, who recently came out against the i-word in the film “Harvest of Empire”, shares that it was Nobel laureate and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who told her not to describe people as “illegal” “because that is exactly what the Nazis did to Jews. You do not label a people illegal.”
It’s a spirited and well-informed conversation. At one point Hayes interjects at McWhorter’s understanding about a person’s immigration status. McWhorter starts to say that it is illegal for a person to live in the US without papers. Hayes makes the distinction and correction: the act of entering without inspection could be “illegal,” but living in the United States without papers is not. It is a civil infraction — as the Drop the I-Word team has often stated.
Vargas makes the point that while journalists should aim for accuracy and precision, many are taking a page from a memo written in 2005 by Republican strategist Frank Luntz that gave direction for undocumented immigrants to be labeled “illegal immigrants.” He says, “If journalists argue a neutral stance, are we then listening to Frank Luntz?” On Friday, MinnPost reported that Vargas was arrested for driving without a valid license that morning as he made his way to Carleton College to give the weekly convocation. He has a court date scheduled for October 18th and has reported on Twitter that he is fine. Notably, MinnPost’s Beth Hawkins did not describe Vargas with the i-word in her report.
If you are interested in the full case being made to journalists, see the Drop the I-Word toolkit here.