The Garret Tree
Thursday, September 08, 2005
  Words: "Displaced Americans" "Displaced Persons"

Words and history

Sometime in the last 24 hours, under pressure from those who objected to the term "refugees" used to describe people driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding aftermath, U.S. officialdom has come with the term "displaced Americans." (Although term has been in blogosphere for at least a week and aired in a Chicago Tribune blog, by Eric Zorn on September 5, "Refugees vs Evacuees.")

(Update:Zorn continues the debate at EZ goes CD on "refugee")

Zorn does say there is an international NGO/UN/everyone else term; "The precise term of art here is evidently "internally displaced persons," or IDPs, but news stories and conversations don't use precise terms of art."

CNN reported this morning that the word to use "displaced Americans" came officially from the Pentagon. CNN and AP are now using the term; as in this AP report in The Guardian

Meanwhile, Bush objected to references to displaced Americans as "refugees."

"The people we're talking about are not refugees," he said. "They are Americans and they need the help and love and compassion of our fellow citizens." The president raised the subject during a meeting with service organizations that are helping with the relief effort.

As I listened to CNN in the past few minutes and reporters kept talking about "displaced Americans," I wondered if anyone had bothered to check the history books.

After the Second World War, the official term was "displaced persons" (the wider usage since the people "displaced" were everywhere on the planet).

"Displaced person" was soon shortened to "DP" and "DP" very quickly became a derogatory term. I remember as a small child growing in up in Kitimat, a town in nothern British Columbia with a significant population from Europe who had survived the Second World War, that the term "dirty DP" was used far too often. One of my memories from the time I was about six is seeing a sign scrawled large in mud (long before there were spray cans) "DP Go Home" across the wall of a neighbour's house. I also have a vague memory of seeing one of those black and white "training films" in school where kids were taught to be nice to refugee children and not to use the nasty term "DP." I also have memories of the derogatory term "DP" showing up in some Hollywood movies of the era but can't be sure.

So are the people driven from their homes by Katrina going to be called "DAs" once some in the community where they are now staying decide they are no longer welcome?

Just something to think about.

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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