Thursday, April 04, 2013

'Illegal Immigrant': Kevin Drum Acknowledges the Foolishness

Though he's pretty low-key about it:

I've used "illegal immigrant" before, and I've always had a hard time buying the argument that it's an inherently insulting term. But times change, and I generally adhere to AP style since that's what I learned many decades ago. Cranky stubbornness aside, I certainly don't have any reason to make an exception here, so I won't. Illegal immigrant is now out.
But I do still have a problem. AP apparently now feels that there's no acceptable way to refer to people who are in the country illegally. Neither "undocumented immigrant" nor "unauthorized immigrant," is acceptable, and neither is anything else. Labels are flatly not allowed, despite the fact that we label people all the time. Kevin Drum is a blogger. Barack Obama is a politician. Etc.
This leaves us with constructions like "John Doe is a person who immigrated to the United States illegally." Or: "A bill pending in Congress would bar immigrants who are in the country illegally from receiving Medicaid." Clunkiness aside, I guess we can all get used to that, but I'm not sure how it especially serves the cause of accuracy.
Drum is eminently reasonable, and lots more cool-headed than I am. But, just for the record:

1. You have a hard time buying the argument that 'illegal immigrant' is insulting because the arguments are preposterously bad, and the term is in no way insulting.

2. The policy of sticking to AP style is a good one...but the policy of knuckling under to the PC Word Police is not a particularly good one.

3. Correct: there is now no convenient, PC way to refer to illegal immigrants. But a dopey, smarmy PC term that gains some rhetorical advantage for the lefty position will come down the pike soon enough. So don't fear.

4. Of course we label people--i.e. describe them with single words or short phrases--all the time. I'm a blogger. Kevin's a wonk. Etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. And there is no avoiding it.

5. No, none of this serves the cause of accuracy. PC reformulations rarely do. See: 'gender reassignment surgery' for 'sex change operation.'

Look, a much better reason for shunning the term goes like this: for no good reason, the group in question just finds the phrase insulting. So, hey, how about being nice about this and avoiding its use?

That is about a million times more sensible than the crackpot reasons being thrown around.

Though, of course, if we actually said this, we'd have to acknowledge that it's really just a relatively small group of activists and PC "social justice" types who have decided the term is "offensive." And then we'd really have to ask whether we were going to allow ourselves to be terminologically pushed around by such people for really bad reasons.

And that discussion is not going to be had by liberals.


Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...

We more enlightened liberal have a word for this: wanking.

7:52 PM  

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