September 03, 2005

2006: The Year of the Refugee

Main Entry: ref·u·gee
Pronunciation: "re-fyu-'jE, 're-fyu-"
Function: noun
Etymology: French refugie, past participle of (se) refugier, to take refuge, from Latin refugium: one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.


I've heard a couple of very articulate (are you falling out yet george or george?) and passionate survivors of the horror in New Orleans this week say (on interview snippets) in no uncertain terms STOP CALLING US REFUGEES. We are American Citizens who have been devastated by a hurricane. We are not Refugees.

It's an important distinction. It's an important distinction in American Perception. And American Perception is Everything in America:

Refugees are never white. White people seek asylum.
Refugees are not American by birth.
Refugees are poor. They don't go to school.
Refugees don't live in my neighborhood. They live in herds.
Refugees should be happy with powdered milk and rice.
Refugees are easily converted to Christianity.
Refugees can't vote.
Refugees have runny noses and flies are on them all the time.
Refugees don't need homes; they have blankets.
Refugees don't work.
Refugees can be sent back when things calm down.

If we aren't careful with the language, by 2006 every brother in America will be a Refugee. And the darker you are, the more refugee-er you are.

It's a kick in my ass to remind me about language and perception and the co-opting of power through naming.

They are disaster survivors, fellow citizens, the great ignored, hurricane victims, tenacious people. They are a lot of things.

But they're not Refugees.