No, 'Illegal' Is Not Like the N-Word

The Blaze brings our attention to recent commentary by CNN columnist Sally Kohn on the topic of illegal immigration. She claims that describing immigrants that way, as “illegal,” is like using the n-word to describe black people. Kohn writes:

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.’

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.

No, it isn’t. Kohn’s equivalence is beyond despicable.

The n-word serves no descriptive purpose. It does not speak to a factual truth about its object. The n-word is plainly and only derogatory.

The word “illegal” is an adjective with objective meaning that describes a factual reality. We call illegal immigrants “illegal” because they are here illegally. It’s pretty simple.

Of course, Kohn knows that. An eighth grader knows that. Surely, someone writing for CNN understands that words have meaning and that communicating concepts accurately proves essential to any policy debate. We may therefore conclude with confidence that Kohn’s campaign to remove “illegal” from our policy vernacular is a naked attempt to deny the illegality of certain immigration by erasing any linguistic reference to it.

The answer is no, Sally. We’re not changing our language to suit your agenda. We’re not going to stop categorizing people objectively as illegal immigrants. We're not going to dilute the gravity of truly derogatory terms by conflating them with one that is not.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic. 10:27 minutes long; 10.09 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)