I saw a tweet today from an immigration attorney with a Biden administration language change that stopped me as I was making coffee.
This small swap, one word for another, won’t be the most consequential thing the Biden administration does today by far, but it’s one of the most important examples of why so many of us fought so hard this year to ensure a change in the Oval Office. Because culture, norms and precedent flow from the language used by those in charge.
In 2018, I wrote an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee on how the Trump admin’s choice of words were seeping into advertising at the local level, saying “Whatever language is used at the top of the USCIS will have a magnified effect on those who need those services, just as it will be embodied and enforced by those individuals who staff the agency.”
Words matter. And knowing that this incoming administration understands that to change a culture of fear and violence, you must change the words used at the top. You must lead by example. You must expect better. Just as the hateful rhetoric of 45 found its way to rank-and-file immigration officers and anti-immigrant advocacy groups, this language change from the top will filter down as well. And I am grateful for it, and the fact that 45 actually got on that plane this morning. Thank God, folks, cuz that wasn’t a given.
So here’s to the peaceful transition of power, to inaugurating a man and woman (!!) who understand the gravity and importance of leading a mourning nation out of this mess, to knowing that while there is so much to do to repair the damage of the past four years, we didn’t go off that cliff yet.