Don’t kowtow to the language police
Progressives, particularly campus progressives, very much enjoy controlling language. That’s understandable: If you control a language, you control a significant portion of the public debate. Dictating who can say what, and how, can go a long way toward ensuring that you win the debate.
A student government official at Emporia State University is learning this the hard way: Michaela Todd has been targeted by her school’s diversity complex for using the phrase “illegal alien” in a Facebook post. Todd is facing impeachment over that phrase; the school’s “Diversity and Inclusion Committee” is urging her to resign or face removal because, in their words, “no person is illegal” and Todd, by saying the words “illegal alien,” dehumanized the people to which she referred.
How stupid. For starters, the term “illegal alien” doesn’t “dehumanize” anyone; just because you don’t like a phrase doesn’t mean it’s a “dehumanizing” one. In any event, calling someone an “illegal immigrant” is a perfectly valid, appropriately evocative way to describe, well, an illegal immigrant. Nobody is claiming that the immigrant himself is illegal—only that, in his status as an immigrant, he is in a fixed and constant state of lawbreaking.
The idea that you cannot call someone an “illegal immigrant” without dubbing the person himself illegal is contrary to common, everyday basic language. If you call someone a “bad driver,” after all, are you actually calling him a bad person? Of course not. Thinking, rational adults are perfectly capable of separating the specificity of the qualifier from the essence of the qualified. It’s not hard.
Todd herself, in what may be an understandable act of self-preservation, has already apologized for calling illegal immigrants illegal immigrants, claiming that she was “not aware of the negative connotations” associated with the term. Facing down an unhinged campus diversity apparatus, you can kind of sympathize with anyone who would rather just say sorry and move on. It would be encouraging to see students not back down from using a perfectly defensible phrase, however; we all know, after all, that it’s not going to stop at “illegal alien.”
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