On Ableism and Language: An ApologyPosted: February 23, 2014
I have an apology to make.
As much as I try to watch my language, my metaphors, I’m flawed and am a product of the same societal and cultural values that I’m trying so hard to change. I have stopped using the words stupid, dumb, and idiotic. I’ve stopped saying so-and-so spazzed out, I’m trying hard to stop calling things crazy as an insult or a joke. That last one is really ingrained in me, I’m struggling to get it out of my lexicon of phrases.
The last post I wrote leaned heavily on spacial imagery. The title was about “standing in the gap” and at the end, I wrote about continuing to stand in the gap despite my uncertainties, in hopes that we, the human family, could “stand together.”
Sounded good. Until it didn’t. What if a person doesn’t stand? Whether in birth, accident, or disease, some people don’t navigate their everyday spaces by standing. Some lean, some use wheelchairs. Some lay. For some, the act of standing is exhausting and difficult.
When I write something that uses standing as an act of empowerment, what do my words evoke in someone who doesn’t stand? Maybe there are some people who would read it and not mind, but I’m willing to bet that there are some people who might read that post and be once again reminded that the act of standing is synonymous with power, agency, and gestures of solidarity. Those qualities aren’t limited to people who stand, however, and that’s the problem. It really isn’t that different from using a person’s white skin as a metaphor to describe purity, or someone’s ability to see as an act of intuition.
Now before anyone comments about our world being too PC, and is nothing safe, how are we supposed to know every little thing that could be offensive… I think all those arguments are a load of… nonsense. Believe me, I’ve gone through them in my head as well. Try as I might, though, none of them makes it through any rigorous examination.
Trying the “everyone is too politically correct” card ignores that the majority of discussions about -isms have nothing to do with politics while attempting to render the entire discussion moot and arbitrary. Most of the discussions about offensive language are average people, advocating for more respectful ways of using our words. In fact, the entire “politically correct” backlash feels more to me that some people simply bristle at being told what to do. Check it out though—here’s no omnipotent PC god sitting on a throne and drawing arbitrary lines for us. There’s just people saying, “Please don’t marginalize me with your language.” Everyone has the freedom to hold onto their prejudicial words, choose to hold on if you will, but let’s not pretend that it is a counter-cultural act of revolution against “the man.”
I do admit that sometimes I’m floored by how much ableist thinking is ingrained in our everyday language. I admit that I’ve tried to stratify it, accepting some in every day use, just because it is common. Thing is, overt racism used to be more common, but was it ever ok? Am I supposed to use my mental tiredness to excuse potentially hurting someone else? Can I really say it is acceptable to say something that I know may be hurtful, just because I don’t feel like bothering to find another word?
Mostly, I think I could simply do with more accuracy in my writing. If I don’t like something, I don’t need to resort to some boilerplate insult. I don’t need to use an insult at all, in fact. I can accurately explain what I see as problematic. If I want to use a metaphor, why would I just rehash overused ones? Wouldn’t I also want to really examine the metaphor, think it through past my initial point, to see if the image continued to serve my needs?
I’m not the arbiter of all that is right and respectful, nor do I know if what I wrote was actually disrespectful to anyone. I don’t even think I’m close to really understanding how much disability-based prejudice I’ve got in my own thinking. I’m trying though. I figure, I can’t go ask people to examine their own crap unless I’m willing to smell my own.
So there it is. I’m sorry. I’m picking through my own crap. Cheers.
ETA: After some discussions in the comments as well as the Facebook page, I’m not really sure where I am at all on the topic of my last post. Maybe the thing that first gave me concern was really a minority opinion. But I’m sure glad that people are willing to discuss it with me. :)