Words matter. I’m a journalist and if I didn’t believe that then I’m probably in the wrong profession.
But our perception of words is very subjective.
Personally, I flinch at one particular swear word that others use without a second thought.
Within the confines of financial services; I initially struggled with, but have since become indifferent to, the concept of an expatriate versus an immigrant.
It is a subject that I now return to with renewed interest; as I try to get to grips with any culpability I may have, as editor, in perpetuating the idea that expats and immigrants are different.
Difference of opinion?
If International Adviser was to conduct a survey tomorrow, I strongly believe that the vast majority of respondents would agree ‘expat’ has positive connotations, while ‘immigrant’ has negative ones.
According to Google, the definition of the word immigrant is “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country”.
Whereas the term expat refers to “someone who lives outside their home country”.
We can argue about whether ‘expat’ defines people who have moved to a country on a perceived temporary basis – but that would be splitting hairs.
The south of Spain is filled with retired British ‘expats’ who have no intention of returning to the UK.
You can take the argument a step further and differentiate between those who are working and those who are retired, but that would take us away from an uncomfortable conclusion.
When we write about expats – retired or otherwise – it usually refers to Brits, Americans, French, Australians, South Africans etc.
While not all are Caucasian, a straw poll would likely identify that a majority are white.
Money, power and influence have been held in predominately white hands for most of modern history.
But the pulling down of statues and defacing of monuments has, in a sense, torn away the blinkers.
[Although I do strongly draw the line at graffitiing the Cenotaph – but that is an entirely different article.]
I have a history degree and I studied the slave trade. Yet I have never heard of Edward Colston, whose statue was torn down in the UK on 7 June.
But those in Bristol who were aware of his dealings as a slave trader and profiteer off the suffering of tens of thousands of African people would have been confronted with his name and legacy on a daily basis.
There are countless examples of similar names and places in countries and cities all over the globe.
The protests and demonstrations have (finally) made the world pause and reassess its own perception and understanding of history – and the lasting impact it can have.
It is important to understand the meaning behind statues and words – whether they are in poems, films, books, songs or news articles.
I do not believe that the word ‘expat’ is intended to cause harm or exclude people.
Editorially; it is a short, snappy and easily digestible word that clearly outlines the demographic being written about.
But that doesn’t mean it is not problematic.
A lot of our language has changed over time, to reflect updated views and opinions. Phrases that appear in children’s books from the 1950s and 60s are no longer acceptable.
And rightly so.
In my time as editor, nobody has ever reached out to me to complain about our use of the word ‘expat’.
Let’s face it, there are far more questionable and unacceptable words and phrases that need to be addressed.
But in my role as editor of International Adviser, it is the most prominent one my team and I write about on a regular basis.
We will continue to use the term, because it is clear and (most importantly in editorial terms) concise.
But we will look to broaden the definition and expand it to include a more diverse group of immigrants.
What’s the point?
And I am sure that there are some readers who think this article is unnecessary, or perhaps who feel villified by the Black Lives Matter movement.
I suppose, that its purpose is to look at words, such as ‘expat’, like you would a statue you walk past in the street.
It may not mean anything to you – but that does not necessarily mean that is the case for everybody.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I think the one thing we all can agree on is that words can inflict greater and longer lasting pain than a physical injury.