Editor’s note: This post contains language that some readers may find offensive. Discretion is advised.
Progressive commentator Sally Kohn took aim at a word she deemed derogatory and dehumanizing in a CNN column published on July 4.
She compared the term to “n*****” and “f*****” and called for an end to its public usage.
The word: “illegal.”
Here’s how she opened her column:
During the civil rights era, Alabama Gov. George Wallace was asked by a supporter why he was fixated on the politics of race. Wallace replied, ‘You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about n*ggers, and they stomped the floor.’
In the 1980s, during the rise of the gay rights movement, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms accused a political opponent for supporting ‘f*ggots, perverts [and] sexual deviates of this nation.’
Today, opponents of immigration reform attack undocumented immigrants as ‘illegal immigrants.’ Even worse, like anti-immigration extremists, some prominent elected officials use the term ‘illegals.’ Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, said, ‘I urge all Mainers to tell your city councilors and selectmen to stop handing out your money to illegals.’
Not the same thing? Of course it is.
She goes on to call for the elimination of the term “illegal” from public discourse, essentially arguing that social pressure should be employed to rid American parlance of the adjective.
“The organization Race Forward has a campaign to get media organizations to ‘Drop The I-Word’ in their reporting about immigration,” Kohn wrote. “So far, the campaign has succeeded in getting the Associated Press, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and many other outlets to stop using the word. But the pressure continues on The New York Times, The Washington Post and radio and television outlets. And the campaign around media usage is just one step toward influencing and ultimately ending the use of the word ‘illegal’ by everyone in America.”
It seemed that Kohn would propose an alternate description for those who enter the U.S. unlawfully: “undocumented immigrants.”
Whether she intended that the word “undocumented” would come to connote “illegal,” or whether she intended that abolishing the use of the word “illegal” would, by association, eliminate the unlawful nature of such immigration, was unclear.
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