Jeffries: Remove offensive language from federal code

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries has co-authored a bill to remove outdated and offensive language from federal code.
Hakeem Jeffries

A bill co-authored by a Brooklyn Congressman aims to remove outdated and offensive language from federal code and replace it with appropriate terms of respect.

The bipartisan 21st Century Respect Act, authored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) and Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-01) on Feb. 26 passed the United States House of Representatives as a fully incorporated part of S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act.

Jeffries, whose district comprises parts of Brooklyn and Queens, said instances of outdated language include Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which still uses the term “Eskimo” to refer to certain indigenous Americans from Alaska.

“People in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term, because it was widely used to connote barbarism and violence,” said Jeffries, who sits on the House of Representatives’ Judiciary and Budget Committees.

He said Title 7 also includes the terms “Oriental” and “Negro,” “which are terms of disparagement.”

Jeffries said the 21st Century Respect Act replaces those pejoratives with “Asian American or Pacific Islander” and “Black or African American,” respectively.

“These new terms reflect America’s growth and progress,” he said. “To achieve a more perfect union, all Americans, regardless of origin, identity or gender, should be treated with respect and dignity.

“It is long past time that deeply offensive and hurtful terms in our laws including ‘Oriental,’ ‘Eskimo,’ and ‘Negro’ be eliminated,” Jeffries added. “I thank Congressman Chabot for his work on this critical effort.”

Chabot said: “Our legal system is based on the fundamental principle that all Americans are equal before the law.

“However, that basic right is undermined when the language of the law itself demeans or disrespects members of our society,” he said. “The bipartisan legislation approved by the House today helps to rectify this inequity by eliminating offensive, disrespectful terminology from federal law.

“This is a positive step in the effort to make sure that all Americans are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, and I thank Congressman Jeffries for his leadership on this important issue,” he added.

The bipartisan 21st Century Respect Act was originally introduced in the 115th Congress, where it passed the House unanimously in November of 2017.

The bill was reintroduced in the 116th Congress last month and has since passed the Senate as part of a broader legislative package. It is now headed to the White House for signature into law.

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