Stop Using the ‘W-Word’

Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN, April 2, 2013

In a recent interview on Ketchikan Public Radio in Alaska, Rep. Don Young, the state’s only congressman, offered this unhelpful tidbit:

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wet—- to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

There it is–the equivalent of what Groucho Marx used to call “the secret word.” It’s a word that is so offensive that I won’t say or write it in the long form–although many people do so freely, which is a problem.

Just as Americans have been conditioned to refer to the “n-word” as a sanitized alternative to the filthy and hurtful long-form version, so we too should start referring to the “w-word” when describing that ethnic slur used to describe Mexican immigrants who came here, shall we say, without proper documents.

I started this crusade in April 2007 with a column for CNN.com. In it, I pointed out that the w-word is used with reckless abandon by right-wing cable talk show hosts but also left-wing journalists and celebrities. I couldn’t imagine these folks using the long form of the n-word even if they were merely repeating what someone else had said. Yet they did not hesitate to use the w-word.

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Let’s face it. Americans are not good when it comes to condemning the loaded language of race and ethnicity. We’re not careful. We’re not consistent. And we’re not sincere. It’s part of an overall breakdown in civility in our society and how dismissive we have become of anyone who raises concern. We’re too mean, too childish, too petty and too personal.

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