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Want to know what’s wrong with the term “illegal alien”? Actually, it’s a semantics thing; nothing is actually wrong with it per se. However, it does have certain derogative connotations about the person the label is attached to. Let’s dig into that for a minute …
I am also known as an alien. My “alien registration number” is the number attached to my green card. I am a legal alien, but I am still an alien and that feels like someone shit on my grave. It offends me. That feeling, though, is purely emotional. Emotional responses and reactions always make me dig deeper into what happened or what was said because I want to know what the rationale is behind the emotion. It’s how my brain works. I want to figure out the motivation behind reactions and responses that seem so purely driven by emotion. I want to understand what makes people tick. So for me, being offended by the term “alien” means that somewhere deep down, I have some issues with the word. Add to that the often used term “illegal alien” and I am downright angry because “illegal?” fuck off. #emotionaltiradeengaged #watchout (Ugh. Hash tags have made it into my writing now – shameful!)
I looked up the definition for the word “alien”, and to my surprise, the definition of “from another planet/world” was number 3 in the list. Number 1 in the list of definitions was “belonging to a foreign country”. That shattered my whole worldview because in my mind “alien” is the same as “ET” and “ALF” and I will not be categorised in the same space as fictional entities from another world. That feels insulting to me. But as I sat looking at the screen dejected, a caveat at the bottom of the definition page caught my eye: “ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin alienus ‘belonging to another’, from alius ‘other’.” And there it was – the origin of this word that makes me so angry is the very basis for bigotry and discrimination – “other”.
The question is, if one doesn’t know the origin of the word, does it have the same psychological impact? Probably not; which would explain why so many people defend the term “illegal alien” so vehemently. Maybe if they knew the origin of the word and the subconscious effect that that origin had on people, they might have a better understanding of why the term is so offensive to some.
Thinking about it some more, I realise that if you have never been a student of literature, languages, or culture you might never understand how “other” is an integral part of our subconscious serving to alienate and dehumanise “other” so that we feel better about denying civility and courtesy to those who inhabit that realm.
This is an intellectual conversation and one that I can’t have with everyone because the majority of people think it’s a waste of time to be this intellectually inclined. And thus the nuances of terms such as “alien” will continue to lose flavour over time.
My conclusion? Basically I need to just inure myself to people who consistently say “illegal alien” and move on. People from other countries who cross borders with other countries without express permission are actually breaking the law and are technically “illegal aliens” indeed. Never mind that their crime is more of the misdemeanour flavour rather than the criminal flavour, it’s still against the law.
I fell in love (sorta) with Helen Keller early in life. Before I realised just how much of a literary and inspirational icon she is. To be honest, I still don’t know how much of a literary and inspirational icon she is. I’ve a few articles queued up to read on her and I have a plan to get up out of this bed eventually (I’ve recently had major surgery and am still recovering) and do some thorough research on her and her life.
I knew early on that she was both blind and deaf and that she once said:
“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence; and I learn whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”
If you ask me for my favourite quote, that would be the one I’d give you. It’s the perfect embodiment of how I see life. I’m not blind and I am not deaf. I have bad eyesight that’s correctable to 20/15, but by itself I am about 20/75 … or something. (I actually don’t know what my eyesight is uncorrected; I should ask next time I get tested …). I hear really well. Sometimes too well. Part of being HSP is hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling things that normally go unnoticed. But I am not blind or deaf at all and thus I can’t even begin to relate to her on that level. Nevertheless, I feel that I get the idea of being satisfied with whatever lot in life one is given and making the best of whatever it is you have while striving to make life better still for the self and for those around you.
In reading more about her, I’ve learned that she espoused several other ideas that run parallel to my own. One of those in particular is the notion that it is in education – truly open and honest education – that tolerance lies. We cannot know how to accept our fellow man, regardless of his state and stature, until we learn that there are several other people in the world who see the world differently.
“The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage — the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think. No loss by flood and lightening, no destruction of cities and temples by the hostile forces of nature, has deprived man of so many noble lives and impulses as those which his tolerance has destroyed.”
Hellen Keller was an optimist and this is how she is known and what she is famous for. I am not that much of an optimist. In fact, I tend to be a bit idealistic and somewhat fatalistic. Still, I can appreciate the optimists perspective, because if I spent my time indulging my idealism and fatalism, I would probably go jump off the nearest bridge.
Why am I suddenly waxing poetic on some dead deaf-mute from the late 19th century (and who died in the early 20th century)? It was her birthday yesterday.
I am trying very hard to blog more often. I am also trying to tell myself that my blog posts don’t always have to be my own thoughts and views. I can also link other people’s thoughts and views as well. And here is one shining example of that realisation.
Browing Google+, as I so very infrequently do, I stumbled onto this post that outlines the main reason that David Niose (a blogger/writer at PsychologyToday.com) thinks “America” is devolving. He says it’s all about anti-intellectualism. Since I know opinion pieces are just that, I tend to check out the comments more on these pieces because sometimes commenters bring up relevant information and opinions that present a foil or a bolster to the piece’s premise. In this case, someone in the comments mentioned “pseudointellectualism” which struck a chord with me. English language form is to use the preface “pseudo” when we mean to introduce the notion of “false” or “pretend” to a topic. A lot of people argue based on emotion rather than rationale. There may be facts embedded in their arguments, but for the most part, it’s all emotion.
Anyway, the wonderful thing I like about the way PsychologyToday.com does their stuff is that they link “response articles” to pieces like this one. And in this case, we have two responses to this piece that present slightly different perspectives: Ravi Chandra’s assertion that it is more self-centredness than anti-intellectualism that is contributing to the this new “America” and Michael Austin’s agreement from a Christian’s perspective that the problem is anti-intellectualism.
I love this kind of stuff. Thought provoking.
I’d also add that this isn’t a problem limited to the United States. This is a disease that is global. Ignorance and denial does not know borders.
I’d also like to add that even with these articles in mind, none of this is that simple. One cannot distill the world’s or one country’s problems into one word. But this gives us a very real place to start fixing things – education, rationale, critical thinking.
We make connections in our minds between the subconscious impressions of the world we live in. Often, we aren’t even aware that we’ve made those connections. From what I have been reading about and learning, it seems to me that this (among other things, of course) contributes to implicit biases. Other things I have been reading and learning about is human impulses; those that are sometimes beyond our control or even our knowledge. Things like “fight or flight” – those concepts and ideas are fascinating to me. How is it that conscious minds with the ability to cogitate about all the things, can be so blind to what’s going on in our very bodies?
Yes; I am weird like this. But most of you already know that.
One of things I try to remember is that in a way, human beings are “higher” animals. We share a lot characteristics with the “lower” animals. Like that “fight or flight” instinct. Whether we want to think about it, whether we like it, whether it even makes sense to us … we do share some very basic instinctual and animalistic traits with the other animals.
Two circumstances lit a bulb in my head recently.
A few years ago, my niece was physically afraid of talking to me, hugging me, even being in the same room with me. I couldn’t make head or tail of it back then. I extrapolated all kinds of notions as to why that was. Even that she could sense how ridiculously incompetent I was with kids. Or maybe that I had some deep-seated evil that only young children could sense. Oh; it got weird. I agonised for months over the fact that a 3-year-old wouldn’t hug me. I questioned everything; my ability to mother for one, my understanding of the world I live in for another, my choices, my reality … everything. I don’t even know if I ever came to a conclusion either. Until now …
The other circumstance was with dogs. If you’re offended by being compared to dogs, you can stop reading now. It gets … worse.
Two dogs on my street would often be left to run around unsupervised and unrestrained. They would run around in everybody’s yard doing whatever they wanted. Poop, play, dig … just another reminder how much I despise dogs. They would back me into my garage and bark and snarl no matter what I did. I absolutely HATED those damn dogs. So much so I filled out a complaint against their owners because I felt threatened and since discharging firearms here is illegal, I figured it was a better option than just plain shooting them. (I am only half kidding about shooting them; I thought about it but only for a second.) Then a neighbour said to me, “I wonder if it’s cos you’re black?” My husband recoiled in horror, but I was stunned. Of COURSE! They have never seen anyone LIKE me before and they have no way of knowing whether I am friend or foe. Add in my hostility and we get aggressive behaviour like cornering me in my garage, barking and snarling.
It’s logical when I think of it now. When we are faced with something new, something “other”, we automatically go into “fight or flight” mode because we have no developed skills to help us figure out who is friend or foe. The enterprising among us develop stories and ideas about the “others” in our midst and spread them subliminally and overtly. Whispering in our ears in several ways that this particular “other” is dangerous, bad, to be reviled. We never refute it, we never question it, we pass it down generation through generation it gets so entrenched that it’s part of our reality. We believe it like we believe our name. And so we strike out against that “other” in whatever way is acceptable and legal because it’s bad, it’s evil, and it will tarnish us.
Bias isn’t to be reviled. It is to be pitied because at its root, it is a kind of ignorance. And because it is such much a part of our foundational beliefs that it will take a whole lot more than yelling or constant and unrelenting dissemination of truths to make a change. Not that we should stop yelling and delivering constant and relentless information. Just that it will take at least as many years to resolve, as it took to entrench it in the first place. I wish that weren’t true, and maybe it isn’t; I hope against hope that is isn’t while I tell myself that it is. Just so I won’t be disappointed. It’s a sad thing to realise. Depressing. Yet hopeful. At some point, humanity might learn that we are all the same; no matter what we look like on the outside.