CNN Columnist: ‘Illegal’ is Today’s N-Word

by Molly Wharton

The use of the term “illegal” as a modifier or noun for people who entered the United States, you know, illegally, has attracted its share of PC criticism: The stylebook of the Associated Press, for instance, recommends against the term.

But CNN’s Sally Kohn thinks this is a bigger deal than just journalistic accuracy or good taste: She wrote in a column Friday that “illegal” — the “i-word” — is equivalent to the “n-word” and the “f-word” (the latter being the derogatory term for a homosexual).

“Today, opponents of immigration reform attack undocumented immigrants as ‘illegal immigrants.’” she wrote. “Even worse, like anti-immigration extremists, some prominent elected officials use the term ‘illegals.’”

Kohn explained that the n-word and f-word used to be acceptable terminology used to undermine “not only the basic rights but basic humanity” of black and homosexual people, she wrote, and they’re now considered very inappropriate because of the shifted social landscape.

“Not the same thing? Of course it is,” Kohn wrote. ”The intensity of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is stunning.”

“The history of the United States that anti-immigration activists profess to defend is one perpetually defined by inclusion rather than exclusion,” she wrote.

Kohn described the work of the campaign “Drop The I-Word,” which works for the media to stop using the offensive term. The campaign’s website describes its mission to “present the dehumanizing and inaccurate aspects of the i-word, give space for immigrants to tell their stories, and to highlight the history behind the term ‘illegal’ and other dehumanizing language.” It has succeeded in getting the Associated Press, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and other news outlets to drop the word.

“Today, most people find the n-word and the f-word incredibly offensive,” Kohn concluded. “Let’s hope that most if not all people will feel the same way about the words ‘illegals’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ in the not too distant future.”

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