Friday, February 15, 2013

A triumph for diversity and language

The city of Ghent will no longer use the word allochtoon (immigrant, or, literally, originating from another country) in its official communications and everyday speech. "This marks the launch of a new integration policy," says Equal Opportunities Minister Resul Tapmaz, himself a Ghent politician of Turkish origin. "The ethnic cultural minorities have come to me asking to have the Ghent administration scrap the word," says Tapmaz, "The people of Ghent from whatever background are not satisfied with that label. They feel like Gentenaars, not immigrants." More specifically, the city will replace the word 'immigrant' in all its administrative documents with terms such as ethnic minorities, Turkish Gentenaars, Ghent Moroccans and newcomers.
It should be mentioned that not only Ghent, but several other cities in both Flanders and the Netherlands, have made this change in protocol. A new wind is blowing, and it smells like solidarity.

What the Xpats article doesn't mention is the main reason for the change: the negative connotations of the word allochtoon. Fact is, the word has traditionally and frequently appeared together with words like theft, violence and poverty, in order to highlight social problems within some immigrant communities.

When this word is applied as an umbrella term for immigrants, you end up lumping a lot of different people into the same box. A box that is starting to stink to high heaven.

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