In fact, she calls it “the i-word.”
In a recent op-ed for the news site, Kohn makes her case that calling someone by that moniker, or the even worse “illegals,” is the same thing.
From 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.”
Kohn notes how the n-word and the f-word were “utterly acceptable terminology in undermining not only the basic rights but basic humanity of black people and gay people.”
“That those terms seem radically inappropriate and out of step with mainstream culture now is only because social movements and legal and political changes have shifted the landscape,” she adds. “But make no mistake about it, words matter, not only in reflecting certain dehumanizing attitudes toward historically marginalized groups but in actively perpetuating and rationalizing that dehumanization.”
Later in the piece, she asks if it’s possible to oppose immigrant rights “without resorting to attacking immigrants as human beings?”
“The intensity of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is stunning,” she says. “Even if you don’t support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, can’t you find some compassion for them as human beings who live on the same planet?”
Of course, opponents to Kohn’s idea that the i-word, or “illegal immigrants,” or “illegals” are the same things as the n-word, will point out that African-Americans were not breaking any laws when they were being verbally and physically attacked.
Furthermore, the n-word was a hateful attempt at dehumanizing a group of people, wherein, for many, “illegal immigrants” is another way of saying a group is doing something illegally. Not inaccurate, opponents note, and it could even be an insult to immigrants who came to this country and obeyed all laws regarding the pathway to citizenship.
Currently, the U.S. allows and even encourages immigration under certain rules and regulations. It does not, however, endorse shirking those laws.
Do you think Kohn is correct in equating “illegal immigrants” to the n-word? Share your thoughts in our comments section.
[Image via SallyKohn.com]