Tell the Charlotte Observer to Drop the I Word

Young Latino activists in Charlotte are leading the charge to get the city's leading paper to stop its use of racially charged language. Here's how you can help.

By Mu00f3nica Novoa Nov 30, 2011

The Drop the I-Word campaign, together with the local Charlotte, North Carolina campaign led by The Latin American Coalition’s youth group, United 4 The DREAM (U4TD), today launched a call for the "Charlotte Observer" to cease use of the terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien."

Supporters are encouraged to go to this link to send a letter to the Observer’s editors asking them to drop all forms of the i-word.

The local campaign’s media chair and U4TD member, Selene Rios said, "We hope that the Charlotte Observer recognizes that we do not want to be called any form of ‘illegal’ and that it harms people individually, but also the entire community of Charlotte."

Since May, U4TD members — many of them high school students — have talked to more than 3,000 Drop the I-Word supporters and collected their handwritten pledge signatures via petition cards. They have secured a pledge to drop the i-word from Mike Collins, host of "Charlotte Talks" at local NPR station WFAE. They’ve also reached out to both "Fox News Charlotte" and WSOC-TV, but has noted that reporters at neither station have moved away from using the term.

U4TD also secured drop the i-word pledges from Mecklenburg County Commissioner Chair Jennifer Roberts, along with candidates for City Council Lawana Mayfield and John Autry as well as from School Board candidates Aaron Pomis, Hans Potseneder, Lloyd Scher, Lisa Hundley, Elyse Dashew and Darrin Rankin.

The outreach to the Observer began in August when U4TD members met with a reporter and editors at the Charlotte Observer to ask them to refrain from using the i-word. The editors were not convinced, but said they would taper back usage of the term "illegal immigrant" and use it only once at the beginning of reports, in addition to other terms like "unauthorized" and "undocumented" when writing about immigration.

The group said that the paper had made small but measurable progress. But after the meeting, the term "illegal immigrants" appeared multiple times in the article titled "Arrested Immigration Rally Protesters Expected to be Freed Today." The term appeared alongside "illegal alien," and not in quoted material. The students were disappointed and committed to do a larger call to ask the Observer to drop the i-word in all forms once and for good.  

The majority of young people involved and leading the local Charlotte campaign were motivated to get involved because of the increased bullying of Latinos and others perceived to be immigrants. They say students are called "illegals," "wetback," and "alien."

As we reported  earlier this year, Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, visited Charlotte to talk to students about bullying and harassment due to a rise in civil rights abuse claims in the region.  In a span of two weeks this November, at least seven cases of anti-Latino bullying in Charlotte public schools were reported to the Latin American Coalition.

The problem isn’t unique to Charlotte. Across the country, anti-Latino hate crimes are on the rise. According to FBI statistics, nationally, hate crimes against Latinos, when compared with hate crimes against other racial/ethnic groups, have risen at the highest rate, with a 25 percent increase between 2004 and 2008. 

Latinos are a vital part of the Charlotte community. In total, Latinos make up 13.1 percent of the city’s populace, and Charlotte has the biggest Latino population of North Carolina’s ten largest cities. The state now ranks 11th in the nation for its number of Latino residents. 

We support and stand with the people in Charlotte who are working hard to rid their community of this harmful, legally inaccurate, racially charged language. The i-word in all its forms is unacceptable. Last month we took action by asking the Associated Press to drop the i-word from their 2012 style guide. We have asked them for a meeting and are waiting for a response. We’ll provide updates on all fronts as soon as we have them.

Today, we need your help in standing with the community in Charlotte, North Carolina and asking the Observer to drop the i-word: To make your voice heard, go to: