As a journalist, I recognize the unmistakable power of words. The words we use to describe each other have the power to humanize, to dehumanize, and to shape social identities.
On September 18, Donald Trump posted an image of himself with the words “No Mas” on his Instagram account. The message displayed on Trump’s image reads: “No more fake asylum. No more ‘catch and release ’No more illegal entry into the United States.” The message appears in a red box and was typed in all capital letters.
What is the problem here? Is Trump not enforcing policies put into place by presidents who were in office before him?
The phrase “catch and release” is usually used when referring to trapping and releasing animals. The implication with Trump’s language is that it dehumanizes undocumented immigrants from Spanish speaking countries. As was evident in the Stanford Prison experiment, people who commit crimes should not be denied their humanity.
I bring up the Stanford Prison experiment because it is a prime example of how people treat each other when they are made to feel like someone is less human than them. Abuse of power has been proven to be an unfortunate aspect of human nature which is justified through dehumanization. When people in power convince themselves and others that a group of people are less than human then abuse follows.
Dehumanizing language has been a precursor of many horrific events; this includes genocide and slavery. When human beings are spoken to and about using exclusionary rhetoric, it becomes easier for them to be further marginalized and abused.
While I do not anticipate an upcoming genocide, it is still worth noting the dangers that occur when human beings are spoken about as if they are animals. Animals are hunted and put into cages and this sort of imagery adds to the existing issue of racism in America.
The fact that Trump added quotation marks around the term “catch and release” in his post, leads me to believe that he knew the potential implications of his chosen terminology; however, he decided to use it anyway. I am arguing that regardless of what the laws are and what they should be, undocumented immigrants are people who take a huge risk to provide a better life for themselves and their families. They should retain the right to their humanity. People who commit nonviolent crimes should not be spoken about like animals.
When people are referenced to as “aliens,” “animals,” the “r-word,” the “n-word,” “savages,” etc., they are placed into categories outside of larger society. They are made out to be less than a human which serves as justification for unspeakable actions committed against them.
When United States citizens are arrested and released from custody, the reports available online do not say that they were “caught and released.” Being “caught and released” is a term used for fish and is not suitable for human beings. The “catch and release” portion of the post should have been left out. It was an unnecessary intimidation tactic meant to strengthen the “us” and “them” perspective encouraged by the president.
Trump posted his photo a second time but the second photo was completely in Spanish. It is clear that the post was meant to both rile up US citizens, who have strong opinions about undocumented immigrants and intimidate undocumented immigrants themselves.
While many people argue that society is becoming too sensitive to trivial wording, I am arguing that one look at history can prove that we have a responsibility to not dehumanize each other.
Want to see the post itself? Here is the link.