I had a friend in elementary school, Jack, who one day after recess hugged another boy, Todd, for no other reason than to express some — admittedly — oddly timed affection. The bell had sounded, we finished up our game of four square, and for whatever reason my friend Jack innocently hugged Todd, who was also playing. Todd, later that night, told his dad about it and his dad responded by saying, “What is he, a f--?”
The next day, Todd told everyone in school that Jack was what his father had called him. None of the kids really knew what it meant, but they understood that it was certainly bad, and it had to do with one boy hugging another boy.
Jack was mocked with gay stereotypes, he was called the slur behind his back and, in moments of heated adolescent arguing in which he was involved, he was even called it to his face. Jack moved to another state three years later because his father got a new job.
The ability of human beings to assign hateful labels to other human beings never ceases to astound. Somewhere along the way hate labels enter our vocabulary, become colloquialized and are eventually leveraged to denigrate marginalized or oppressed populations.
"Anchor baby" is an expression used to describe a child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants citizenship to children born in that country, the hope being that the mother, or other relatives, will eventually secure citizenship through the child. The label "anchor baby" has always been a pejorative expression, with its isolated use saved for those extremely conservative Americans who choose to express their intolerance with illegal immigration in a derogatory way.
That is, until last week, when "anchor baby" entered the proverbial playground of the 2016 GOP election and candidates began using it in the same reckless, insensitive and largely uninformed way in which the kids in elementary school ridiculed my friend.
"I'd much rather find out whether or not 'anchor babies' are citizens, because a lot of people don't think they are," Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE said last week to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly.
"[We need] [b]etter enforcement so that you don't have these, you know, 'anchor babies,' as they're described, coming into the country," said former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.) last week on Bill Bennett's conservative radio show "Morning in America."
The hate label "anchor baby" is dehumanizing and offensive; it is used, without any contextual understanding, to generically label and demean a population of people.
In an age of sound bites, videos on demand and 140 characters, we unfortunately require less of our candidates. We have become lowest-common-denominator consumers. The confluence between a growing fundamentalist approach to politics and the brevity with which we consume our information has forced politicians to make their point in the shortest, and loudest, possible way. The result is a select group of GOP candidates screaming from the lectern about "anchor babies" in order to ensure that a strong affirmation of "hard on immigration" is both expressed and consumed.
Those candidates who have used the "anchor baby" slur argue that they won't succumb to a culture that has become too politically correct. The unfortunate element to that claim is that the goal of the political correctness movement of the early '90s was one of inclusiveness, of cultivating empathy for marginalized and underrepresented communities.
How could any candidate be opposed to that?
The political correctness of 2015, however, has itself become pejorative. It has been hijacked by both parties and is used as a mechanism for delivering a message quickly and loudly. The left uses political correctness as a rationale to, at times, act as a language police: A spin on political correctness that suffocates authentic thought and, ultimately, breeds cynicism. The right sees political correctness as weakness. Some go to such extremes, such as using a term like "anchor baby," to capture a headline and boldly proclaim their distance from the "sissy," "PC" way of thinking.
What those who use the hate label "anchor baby" fail to realize is that words are powerful. History is littered with words that have been used to denigrate entire ethnic, religious and underprivileged populations. These words are divisive, and have a sordid way of proliferating.
I fear for the Latino or Asian child who walks onto the playground tomorrow and is mocked, pointed at and called an "anchor baby." Children can be so irresponsible with their name-calling.
Spatola is a West Point graduate and former captain in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as a college basketball analyst for CBS Sports and SiriusXM radio.