Grain of Sand | Immigrant has become a dirty word

In life, history and society will try to define who you are. Those who have the power and means to suppress you will call you what they want, without your consent. But it’s not what they call you, but what you answer to.

There are several terms that have acquired a negative meaning based on the manner in which these words were/are used, often to demean and belittle others. The words ‘n****r’, ‘spic’, and ‘Judenschwein’ are such words and they have no place in humanity. These are ugly and demeaning words and I am using them here only to prove an important point.

Words like these have became free passes to justify the ill treatment of other people from different backgrounds. In Denmark, and most parts of the world, words like ‘n****r’ are still in official use. Why not refer to people with their real names instead of the names you give them in order to put them in a box of torment?

I have a name, for example, and it is Tendai. Why look at me through the lens of segregation and call me ‘immigrant’? Yes, ‘immigrant’ has become a dirty word too, used to box people into a giant glass ceiling.

I have witnessed the word ‘immigrant’ take on a new meaning in the current Danish and European debate, which is fuelled by the far right and a general resentment of foreigners.

Sometimes I ask myself whether humanity is capable of ever living in peace. For centuries we have failed to embrace one another, and history reveals a recurring ‘us against them’ perspective.

In Denmark, I am ‘them’. Even my  official documents issued by the government state that I am an ‘alien’. As if this wasn’t enough, I am still expected to integrate. Well, I consider myself integrated according to my own definition of the word.

I was integrated the day I was born – integrated into a human family that is divided. Yet against all this, I remain integrated into humanity and I find it difficult to put people in boxes on the basis of their skin colour or origins. If anything has become a minority, it is the value of respect for others. Here in Europe, many talk about integration, but what they really mean is assimilation, which is a form of moral dictatorship.

Recently, I participated in a workshop to devise some guidelines on how ‘ethnic minorities’ can use radio to voice their opinions. The attendees were from Denmark, Germany, Romania and France. As we sat there, deciding what should go in the guidelines, I could clearly see how easy it is for a group of people to sit and decide what kind of learning experience so-called ‘immigrants’ should have.

There was a silent assumption in the group that perhaps ‘immigrants’ need to be taught the most basic rudimentary tasks. But wait a minute? Who said ‘immigrants’ had no idea about radio? Who said ‘immigrants’ are incapable of expressing themselves?

The real reason is one no-one wanted to discuss. The reason why most immigrants are reduced to ridicule in most Western nations is not because they are incapable, but because of simple, age-old discrimination.

On any given day, I can find non-native Danes who live in Denmark and have amazing skills. In fact, many are qualified doctors, nurses, lawyers, intellectuals and engineers. Yet  in Denmark, their qualifications have been denied. Even those who master the difficult language and manage to get Danish qualifications suffer from the glass ceiling that all non-natives suffer. It is the same in most EU countries. The irony is that Westerners who migrated to Africa called themselves ‘settlers’ not ‘immigrants’. The word itself is not negative, but the meaning it has accumulated over the years in Europe and the West is. It is a negative connotation that is tantamount to stereotyping a group of people into one giant box with the sleek title of ‘immigrant’.

In this regard, ‘immigrant’ has become a dirty word like the word ‘Judenschwein’ which was used by the Nazis to refer to Jews. The proud people did not call themselves this word at all. It was a word fostered upon them in order to demean them. The word ‘n****r’ is also such a dirty word. And the word ‘spic’ is another dirty word used to refer to the proud Latinos. Such words have no use in a progressive humanity. And now, ‘immigrant’ has become another such dirty word.