Refugee or evacuee?
Some news organizations -- including the Dallas Morning News, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Columbus Dispatch -- have stopped allowing the use of "refugee" to refer to displaced New Orleans residents.
No one argues against the fact that these are people seeking refuge. And they fit most dictionaries' definitions of what a refugee is. But people don't like the foreign-country connotations that come along with it.
Jesse Jackson and the NAACP's Brian Gordon spoke out against the word: "It is just wrong," Jackson said. "They are citizens displaced by a disaster."
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus took issue. Said Rep. Diane Watson of California:"'Refugee' calls up to mind people that come from different lands and have to be taken care of. These are American citizens."
The president even weighed in.
You know, there's a debate here about refugees. Let me tell you my attitude and the attitude of people around this table: The people we're talking about are not refugees. They are Americans, and they need the help and love and compassion of our fellow citizens.It's not just talking heads. One story I read quoted a 60-year-old woman, Clara Rita, who said: "I can't stand people calling me a refugee. I am an American, and I love America. But right now things are bad."
Honestly, I think the arguments against using "refugee" are more damaging than actually using the term. As one blogger summed it up, they imply: Refugees are those foreign people in dirty little countries! These are Americans! There's nothing shameful about being a refugee. If anything, this might make us look at refugees throughout the world in a new light.
That being said, I don't think we should use the word, anyway. It doesn't matter if it's technically correct; it's become a distraction. Better to use "evacuee" or "survivor" or whatever instead and not make readers pause.
(But please don't adopt the preferred language of former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, who likes "citizen refugee.")
UPDATE: An AP story says the Washington Post and the Boston Globe have banned "refugee," as well.
AP and the New York Times are still using the word.
"We have not banned the word 'refugee,'" said [Times]spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. "We have used it along with 'evacuee,' 'survivor,' 'displaced' and various other terms that fit what our reporters are seeing on the ground. Webster's defines a refugee as a person fleeing 'home or country' in search of refuge, and it certainly does justice to the suffering legions driven from their homes by Katrina."
And William Safire shared his opinion, saying he didn't see any racial overtones.
"A refugee can be a person of any race at all," he said. "A refugee is a person who seeks refuge."Any stories from newsrooms elsewhere?
He first suggested using the term "hurricane refugees." After thinking it over, though, he said he would probably simply use the term "flood victims," to avoid any political connotations.