Saturday, September 17, 2005

What's in a Name?

Ref·u·gee. (ref´ · ū · jē) noun
One who flees in search of refuge.

[French réfugié, from past participle of réfugier, to take refuge; from Old French, from refuge, refuge.]

Americans love to label things; thinking of a good acronym sends some (typically computer types or government workers) in a state resembling sexual ecstasy, or what computer types and government workers think sexual ecstasy might be like if they ever came across any. Many labels, once attached, take on lives of their own, sometimes wildly divergent from the original meaning.

It’s one thing to re-define slang, or words intended to be derogatory. The much-vilified N word, or the famous twelve-letter epithet denoting highly developed Oedipal tendencies come to mind. Sometimes a word is invented for a specific purpose, or shoehorned into a euphemism to keep from saying something is a duck, no matter how it walks or quacks. When our military crossed the border from Vietnam into Cambodia in large numbers, it was called an “incursion.” There was already an appropriate and well-accepted word available; “invasion” was apparently too war-like. (Since we didn’t invade, did we incurse? Where’s George Carlin when you need him?)

Now Jesse Jackson is up in arms because the media has referred to those displaced by Hurricane Katrina as “refugees.” I don’t know what term Jesse prefers, mainly because I don’t care. He’s not upset over the accuracy of the word, which is a good thing for someone who’s supposed to be well-educated. He says the word is racist.

It’s comments like this that have relegated Jesse to the status of Al Sharpton with better hair. Remember when Jesse was considered a role model and inspirational speaker, the most visible disciple of Martin Luther King? Probably not, if you’re under thirty or thirty-five. Now he’s reduced himself to arriving at media events with his entourage to give a sound bite, probably something rhyming or otherwise catchy to better ensure his appearance on the news.

The war in Iraq – pardon me, the peacekeeping in Iraq – has shifted most attention usually paid to civil rights away from the racial issues characterized by the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantees, and back to the Bill of Rights. This means Jesse (and Al, and Lou) are scrambling for time on the news and coming out behind Scot Peterson, Natalee Holloway, and whether or not Jennifer Anniston can be happy with Vince Vaughn since Brad dumped her for that tattooed skank Angelina Jolie.

The sad truth here is that it’s Jesse who’s being the racist. I have no knowledge of him decrying the use of the term when applied to Iraqis, or those fleeing the genocide at Darfur. For him to imply that “refugee” confers an inferior status on those so called, he must therefore imply the same for these others, displaced through no more fault of their own than those in Louisiana.

This should be good news. It’s nice to know Jesse clearly feels race relations in this country have come so far that he can spend his valuable time quibbling over a dictionary definition. Instead of continuing the abstract discussion over how many racists can dance on the head of a pin, his time might have been better spent by using some of his pull with Operation Push to help the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Maybe he could ditch the expensive suit and get down in the dirt with some of the not-refugees he claims to care so much about and actually do something for them.

No matter how anyone feels about who should have done what and when, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a tragedy in the true sense of the word. (Sorry, Jen, no matter how bad Brad the bastard behaved, you don’t qualify.) Of the millions of words of invective and finger-pointing, Jesse’s choice of argument has probably trivialized the situation as much as anything else, coming as it has from an ostensibly responsible and respected leader. Except maybe for Shrub’s comment about what a nice new house Trent Lott is going to have.

Those are examples of what passes for leadership in Twenty-first Century America. They are prosecution exhibits A and B in making the case for why so much of New Orleans isn’t there any more.

(Does anyone else see the irony? The word that means “one who flees in search of refuge” is French in origin?)

1 comment:

TheSportsCorrespondent said...


A few rants from the Sports Correspondent regarding Jesse Jackson.

1. I hate to correct you, but it is Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), not Operation Push. Add Jesse to your acronym club.

2. For those of us in your group who have lived in Chicago for a long enough period of time, we all know Jesse's act all to well. This is nothing new for him. Any chance he can get his face in front of a TV camera, he takes it. And once he has gotten every inch of exposure out of it, he moves on. Ask the school system in Quincy, IL about the amount of money they spent on lawsuits. And where is Jesse now regarding the lives of those he felt were being unfairly judged because of the color of their skin? Or about the time he camped out in Naperville when a new high school opened with hundreds of inner city youth demanding these students go to the new high school. Problem is, you have to live in the community to attend the school. Jesse needed the media coverage in Naperville instead of finding ways for some of these families to move into the district. (I have an idea Jesse, buy housing in Naperville and let some fortunate people live there so their children can go to the high school.)

3. Being a racist is nothing new for Jesse Jackson. If the sole criteria for being a racist is to use a derogatory term to describe a specific ethnic group (see Mark Fuhrman), then Jesse has been a racist for decades. Jesse, in his failed presidential campaign, refered to New York City as "Hymietown". Granted, the tape recorder was not suppose to pick up that comment but it did and Jesse hopes no one remembers. (Funny isn't it that when a caucasian individual uses the "N" word, they are a racist but any rap artist can use it freely, but I digress).

Jesse needs needs to understand that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. He also needs to learn a lesson regarding "pointing the finger". Years ago, I had to develop something for a Japanese audience and was required to take diversity training specifically for the Japanese culture. One of the things I learned is that, when a Japanese individual is trying to make a point, all four fingers and the thumb are pointed in the same direction. The instructor's comment was, "when you point A finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you. Jesse needs to learn this lesson. Not only in the matter of what is happening in New Orleans but for everything he chooses to get involved in.