Two of my most recent posts have touched on the issue of loaded words and contested terms. The April 11 post about the use of the term "Concentration Camp" to talk about where Japanese Americans were detained during WWII has sparked some interest from another blog, "Is That Legal?," where Eric Muller (remember Professor Muller? I gave a plug for his excellent book American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty during World War II) provides more nuanced examination for thinking through the use of the term "concentration camp"--particularly its charged nature and yet why it IS an accurate term to describe the situation of Japanese Americans during WWII--click here for the link to "Is That Legal?"
[If you are reading this Eric, thanks for plugging my post/blog on your blog--I'm honored!]
And in the April 12 post asking when Asian immigrants become Asian Americans, a commenter and fellow blogger, John B. of "Domestic Issue," began an interesting exchange with another commenter about the use of the phrase "miscegenation."
Now, I don't know if any of you were reading my blog this summer, but that exact phrase came up in my August 2 post relating a racist comment made to me by a woman about purity and Asian Canadians. I said in the post: "That word has such a controversial connotation--rooted in a history of race baiting." This is the history of the word:
Originally coined in 1863, the word first appeared on a hoax pamphlet entitled “Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro.” Conceived by two New York journalists, David Goodman Croly and George Wakeman, the pamphlet was an attempt to depict the Republican party explicitly as proponents of inter-racial marriage and implicitly with the propagation of mixed-race children. By doing so, the hope was that voters would reject President Lincoln in his re-election campaign, for the man who supported the emancipation proclamation was also obviously in favor of promoting not only equality of the races but inter-mixing as well. Thus from its inception, miscegenation was a word linked with political propaganda and fear mongering for the purposes of supporting segregation and defying racial equality
[taken from a talk I gave five years ago at Southern U.]
So here's the question for you, dear readers: Can loaded words and contested terms be rehabilitated? Can they escape, in the case of "concentration camp" the tragic and overwrought associations with one of the worst genocides of the 20th century? Can we use a term, like "miscegenation" to simply mean "inter-racial" without invoking its etymological roots in race baiting and its historic use as a word associated with negativity, rancor, and hatred (because whenever "miscegenation" was invoked in the mid to late 20th century it was usually done in the context of "anti-miscegenation" laws, ie: laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage, or white racist Southerners invoking the fear of "miscegenation" as a rationale for school segregation.
I suppose a few more questions to consider are:
*Why is this loaded word or contested term being used in current, contemporary usage?
*What is the purpose of this rehabilitation?
*Who is trying to use this term and for what purpose?
*Is there another term that is as accurate/precise in its meaning as the contested term? Why is it important to use the contested term rather than the less loaded word?
I'd love to hear from anyone out there with an opinion...anyone???