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Thursday, September 08, 2005


from Kevin Drum

There seems to be some sort of problem with using the word 'refugee' to describe those people who have fled or are fleeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

So I looked up the word refugee in the online Oxford English Dictionary:


noun a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

Well, I admit I was surprsed since that is a narrower definition than I was expecting since it does explicitly describe leaving a country.

This makes the following quote more sensible than it might have been without the definition above:

"I'm not a refugee; I'm an American," said Daphne Carr, 37, who fled New Orleans with her niece, Loasha, 9, and is staying at the Astrodome.

I don't understand why people are upset and where this perjurative aspect to the word comes from. An interesting point is raised by Stephen Baker:

But I think part of the problem is that we associate refugees with foreigners in hellish parts of the world. If there's one good thing to come out of this tragedy, it might be that we start to see that other refugees, whether in Africa, Asia or Latin America, aren't so different from us after all.

If this is so then the often vitriolic rejection of the 'r-word' potentially hints at an underlying bigotry, possibly subconcious: 'Don't call us refugees since we aren't like those people!'
I hope that I am wrong about that but why else the detestation?

"These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). "Calling them refugees coming from a foreign country does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I'm almost calling this a hate crime."

The thing is that probably like me, many people would never have thought that refugee meant that they came from another country. I assumed that it was a fitting word since the survivors were in fact seeking refuge. Not once did it cross my mind that by calling them that I would be showing disdain for them, not once. As for hate crime? Oh, for God's sake you moronic imbecile. Sure accuse us of being ignorant of proper definitions but don't suggest that it is almost a hate crime, because it isn't.

Of course this is all based on just one definition of refugee, but I guess to be accurate then we should leave refugee behind in this case and use other words to describe the poor folk who have been displaced by this hurricane.

Other definitions include:


hubris said...

The word never had a negative connotation for me either.

Kav said...

Ah yes, but you are one of those right-wing, racist, hate-crime kind of people. So I can't believe you.


It's all so petty and stupid!!!!

Shinobi said...

It seems like whenever there is some big catastrophe we all spend about 3 days outpouring support and stuff. And then because we were so nice for 3 days we have to spend the next month being as nasty, judgemental and defensive as possible.

Kav said...

welcome to the free society...

hrun said...

I wonder of the word refugee just has other connotations for other folks. It comes to mind that 'The Fugees' and their alias 'Refugee Camp' may have meanings that I am not privy to. Does anybody else know?