Recently several of the sisters and I attended a workshop sponsored by Faith in Public Life called Language of Violence, Language of Peace (Preventing Violence 101). The presenter was Rachel Brown, an expert in genocide prevention. Rachel described the problem with dangerous language which is a subtle and hidden way to incite and justify violence against another group of people. Currently, this language is being used all the time and at the very highest levels of our government. Here are the six justifications for using this language and some examples of how it’s being used against immigrants.
De-identification or dehumanization portrays certain groups as not having feelings and experiences as we do. In fact, they are not even human. When immigrants are said to ‘infest’ or ‘breed’ in our country, they are being compared to disgusting vermin or animals. Don’t we often us desperate means to combat an infestation?
Threat Construction shows the other group as posing a dangerous threat, making them appropriate targets for violence. For example: Aren’t immigrants raping our women and taking our jobs? Shouldn’t we make every effort including the violence of separating children from their parents to keep them out of our country?
When violence is painted with a range of praiseworthy virtues like duty, toughness, or loyalty; and opposition to violence is depicted as ‘weakness’ or lack of such virtues, it is called virtue talk or valorization. Those legislators who support Trump’s actions at the border and the ICE raids are ‘protecting’ our country from the horrible fate of more immigrants. “Democrat immigration policies are destroying innocent lives and spilling very innocent blood,” Trump declared last week while speaking in Ohio.
Guilt attribution shows the other group as guilty of heinous crimes and thus deserving a violent punitive response. Every time an immigrant is accused of committing murder, the fact that they are undocumented is made the primary focus. Murder is unconscionable but many more murders are committed by native citizens than immigrants.
Assertions that violence is the only available course of action due to forces or constraints beyond the control of potential perpetrators is called the destruction of alternatives. The violent separation of children from their parents was frequently defended as the only way that immigrants could be kept from entering the U.S.
Finally, when violence is highly likely to produce extensive benefits in the future, which will outweigh any civilian suffering that results from the violence, it is referred to as future bias. Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist, believes that immigration and multiculturalism are threats to the white population. He dreams of a future that is a white “ethno-state.” And has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to remove nonwhite people from American soil.
Dangerous language will continue to be used as long as we tolerate and keep silent about the underlying belief that white Americans are somehow better than everyone else. St. Catherine of Siena reminds us to “speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills.”