Be careful of toxic language


“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ~Maya Angelou

For the last several years the UK government has operated their immigration policy under a two-word term: “Hostile Environment“.

This started out as being designed to make it difficult for those in the UK illegally to stay, but very quickly became an amplifier for the still heavily entrenched institutional racism still present in this country, impacting literally millions of people contributing to society.

Over the holiday season, the UK Government showed with a very simple choice of toxic words in a tweet how deeply embedded the doctrine and culture of Hostile Environment has become.

If the opposite of #BeautifulLeadership is Ugly Leadership, I see this in first-hand stories from across the UK time after time under the doctrine of Hostile Environment.

As Maya Angelou famously said:

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

After the Windrush scandal burst into the public domain around April 2018, the champion of Hostile Environment, Prime Minister Theresa May herself, sent a tweet in August to congratulate Jamaica on the day of their independence day celebrations. Suffice to say the response from all the Jamaican and broader Caribbean audience and diaspora was a collective “kissing of teeth” and perhaps a few choice words.

So, to show how language can also show you who people are, take a look at this tweet:

“will need to apply”

To apply is not the same as to register, the very word apply includes several clear inferences. To name but two, first to apply does not give a guarantee of acceptance of the application, and second, it subliminally “others” those applying in that they are being treated as if they are seeking the approval of those they are applying to.

The legal reality behind the language is, however, very different. This is outlined in an excellent, concise and pointed article in The Spectator, which concludes:

“government policy is to guarantee status to all EU nationals, and its message to them ought to be simple: thank you for coming to our country, and for how you strengthen our economy and public services. We are leaving the EU so we would need you to complete some paperwork, but that’s all. We’ve gone to great lengths to simplify the process: a passport scan and a National Insurance number is all you need. We’ll do the rest. Your status here is guaranteed, as is that of your family.”

EU Nationals living and working in the UK, under Government policy, are entitled to remain in the UK, there is a clear and simple process for them to register for this post-Brexit. The language “will need to apply”, however, shows us clearly how prevalent the “hostile environment” leadership culture is within the Home Office (as The Spectator article goes into very clearly).

So, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” 

Another common phrase is that “Actions speak louder than words”, and to this, I also note from today’s examples that words signify actions, and toxic words signify ugly leadership and all that will entail.

Beautiful Leadership is a choice, so is Ugly Leadership. Be careful of toxic language and all it indicates.

Also published on Medium.

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