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Cult of Outrage: The #-Word, Phony Sensitivity is Confusing and Insulting

In the Cult of Outrage, it seems as if every group out there wants to have its own “word” that they can demand be banned. It’s as if by no longer speaking the offensive word, somehow the societal wrong will be righted. In an editorial for CNN, liberal activist Sally Kohn advocates that the term “illegal” (with respect to immigration) be banned, referring to it as “the i-word.”

With certain well-known slurs, especially those deeply associated with hate crimes like “nigger” or “faggot,” censoring the word is seen much the same way as bleeping curse words. It’s not broadcast/printed in full, but everyone knows what it means.

By referring to them as the “n-word” and “f-word,” respectively, it gives the appearance of sensitivity because (it’s assumed) everyone knows to which words they refer. There’s an argument to be made that it’s a faux sensitivity, because the words are synonymous and (it’s a good bet) everyone thinks “nigger” when they hear “the n-word.”

So while intellectually disingenuous, it does make sense from a sensitivity standpoint. In fact the idea of “emotional correctness” versus political correctness is Sally Kohn’s “signature idea.” What I’ve always like about her TED talk on the subject was that she essentially made an argument for context, saying (in this case about the term “dyke”), “I don’t care about the word, I care about how you use it.”

Ironically, I also completely agree with Kohn about using the term “illegals.” It is tantamount to a slur and certainly dehumanizes the subject. I also don’t use the term “illegal immigrant” preferring instead to refer to them as “undocumented,” based on my own personal feelings about the discord between U.S. immigration policy and what the U.S. is supposed to represent.

What will only seek to further the divide between those who are for or slightly hesitant about immigration reform and those who are diametrically opposed to it is an upswing in “So-and-so Says the ‘I-Word’” stories. Put another way, it will seek to persecute people not for their wrong ideas but how they express them. Using a “#-word” designation versus saying the word outright in most cases, serves only to confuse the issue and can seem insulting to the people not yet convinced that the particular usage of a word is bad. Vilifying your ideological opponents only shuts down bigger, more important conversations.

Image via screengrab

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.