3 Mar 2010

Words, language, attitudes and actions


There's a campaign to encourage people to rethink the words they choose to write and say. Today, March 3 2010, has been chosen as a day to focus on these issues.

Words matter, language matters. When people decide to use as slurs and insults, words that originated as diagnostic labels for various disabilities and/or for various categories of mental illness, real and manufactured ("hysteria") then they contribute to a culture that marginalises people. Disabled people are dehumanised by these words. A society that tolerates the use of slurs like r*t*rd and sp*st*c as equivalent to stupid, useless, pathetic, hateful or annoying, legitimises the hatred that leads to the abuse, murder, forced drugging and sterilisation and discarding of so many disabled people in this country and all around the world.

Some people whine about the "language police," "PC gone mad," their "right to free speech" and how "no one has a right not to be offended." They make a case to keep insulting, belittling, minimising and dehumanising people like my son who have developmental disabilities just so they can slag off their mates or sound hip and cool on someone's blog or YouTube comments. But if someone wants to keep acting like an entitled and callous arse, that's their call.

There's a fantastic series on Ableist Language at the FWD/Forward blog discussing specific words, their origin, the damage they can do and suggesting alternatives. As expected, the usual arguments in favour of the right to offend and destroy and display your laziness and lack of consideration say whatever the hell you want are raised. These are deconstructed in this great post.

There's one argument the non-creative who prefer to keep right on insulting and degrading developmentally disabled people use that isn't in the list. It's the "euphemism treadmill" argument, and it's explained in this blog comment;
This sort of process (words becoming offensive and being replaced by new terms that end up becoming pejorative over time only to be replaced by more and more cumbersome and ridiculous expressions and so on and so forth ad infinitum) is known as the euphemism treadmill. And people who keep insisting on keeping this treadmill going are fucking retards (I hope the actual innocent retards forgive me for using this innocent word pejoratively).
The Blog owner responded to this inanity with, "Fucking right!"

Can I have a facepalm?

OK, that's me shut up then. I wouldn't want to contribute to the "euphemism treadmill." Keeping all hip and raging against the PC police is far more important than listening to the people whose lives are directly negatively affected by your words and committing to making a few simple substitutions.

My understanding of what this commenter calls the "euphemism treadmill" is the positive effect of disability activists who have influenced the language used to describe people with their attributes. "Wheelchair bound" is out because people who use wheelchairs find the term fucking ridiculous and limiting. If people who are blind prefer not to be referred to as a "the blind" and people who have epilepsy quite reasonably don't want to be called "epileptics" then should those of us who are not in these groups get all bothered by their "disgraceful assault on our right to speak as we see fit"? Should we return to a more paternalistic era (as if this one's not bad enough) when we allowed doctors, psychologists educators and others with power-over to dictate the terms used to describe people, or might it be seen as fairer that, as people gain more agency over their lives, they and only they have the moral authority to dictate the language used to describe these lives.

There's more about this on Here Be Dragons post; Ban the R-Treatment:
A lot of people think that The R-Word campaign is just about a disablist slur, but it’s the medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour that’s dehumanizing, hence the basis of all slurs for people considered inferior are medical terms which caused the euphemism treadmill in the first place.
Another thing about the previous comment is the distinction made between the "fucking r*t*rds" behind this drive to substitute language that demeans with the language of their choice and the "actual innocent r*t*rds" whom s/he hopes will forgive such pejorative use of this "innocent" word.

FAIL!

They're the same people, these "innocents" and the ones who annoy you (and confuse you?) so much with their attempt to improve they way they're discussed and to stop people using using their discarded diagnoses as the epitome of the put down. And what makes them "innocent" anyway? They're almost all adults so in all likelihood, they're as much of a sinner as you or I! I hate this trope that developmentally disabled people are seen as innocent and child-like even when they're full grown men and women. It's another way in which they're dehumanised.

If you want to, go ahead and use r*t*rd and similar terms as insults. I reserve the right to think of you who do as arrogant, rude, insensitive twerps. To the rest of you who might decide that on reflection, it might be decent to chose other words that don't have such power to hurt and harm, please pledge your support to eliminate the demeaning use of the r-word.

9 comments:

Kowalski said...

Ooooh, what a great post, Sharon!!!

I especially like that you point out that these words are equivalents to negative traits, because a lot of disabled people use "spaz" or "spastic" as a term of endearment, and the reclaimation of a word has often been used as an excuse to continue using it as an insult.
The N-word is a good example, white people who justify its use by saying black people use it as well are ignoring the different meaning as well as the fact that black people don't have a hive-mind.

Also, that blogger you quoted is such an arsehole, I've no words. He used George Carlin of all people to make a point, WTF?
Carlin did have his offensive moments (mocking fat people for instance) but generally Carlin loved to piss off privileged and powerful people. He was a huge contrast to today's comedy twats who heavily rely on mocking minorities.
(I really should blog about this instead of ranting on...)

Sharon said...

Kowalski, this one's been buzzing in my head for a while. I am sick of these arguments. It would be nice if people listened when someone politely said they'd prefer they didn't use certain terms, but they work so hard to convince us that we're wrong to ask this great big thing of them. Their right to triumph beats everything else.

Yeah I've heard that whole "its been reclaimed" thing, and I think, "yes in certain circumstances and by some people, but it doesn't give me or you the right to use that word, especially not when it's equivalent to an insult."

I have seen George Carlin's ideas misrepresented loads of times by doods seeking to keep right on the oppression train. It rankles. It would be great if you could blog on that.

codeman38 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
codeman38 said...

(Edited to clarify some wording...)

Another argument that bugs me to no end is when people claim that, because of the euphemism treadmill, the R-word no longer actually refers to people with intellectual disabilities, just to NTs doing stupid things. One of my then-favorite comedians used this argument in a routine on The Daily Show last month; suffice it to say, he's no longer such a favorite.

The thing is, that argument is wrong on several counts.

First of all, remember the whole controversy over Tropic Thunder? That was because the word was used to refer to a character in the film-within-a-film with an intellectual disability. And that movie came out just two years ago. So yeah, still used in its literal sense.

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous: that's still the term used in the DSM-IV-TR! Yes, it's finally being replaced with a different term in the draft DSM-V, but as of right now, "retardation" is the official term used in the American Psychological Association's diagnostic manual.

lisadom said...

Yadda yadda on the R-word. If anyone needs to insult someone I have a whole host of really good sweary words that my culture has honed over the years, most of them referring to sexual acts or organs. So please get in touch and stop using the R-word, S-word or any others which you know, in your heart, HURT people.

As for this paragraph
"but it’s the medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour that’s dehumanizing, hence the basis of all slurs for people"

That perfectly encapsulates something which another um, mature parent and myself were discussing tonight. The way that the newly diagnosed parent will actually believe and take quite literally the language used in a medical report or diagnosis. Thus limiting their own child's potential through their failure to see beyond the label language, and see the child.

And we see it (my friend and I) a lot more these days - where parents don't actually KNOW their child because the "medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour" has dehumanized their child, in their own eyes!!!!

Whatever we may whinge and bitch about the medical or teaching professions, you, the PARENT should be the biggest fan of the child. The advocate, the interpreter, the believer and the ENABLER of potential.

And I am seeing it first hand even more now through the facebook group who hopefully have their eyes opened - to see the child they have and all their good points. And then I hear it when someone contacts me for the iPhone communication App, and then doesnt understand why they should be encouraging their child to ENGAGE with them, for more than just basic human needs.

Now I sound like some auld wan pining for the Good Ole Days, But in my day we got educated, we became our own best therapist/advocate/teacher and our child's number 1 lobby-ist.

We didn't believe the percentile scores and medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour - language in those horrid reports.

So yeah!


And if you need those excellent swearwords, get in touch. I have a gift. xx

lisadom said...

Yadda yadda on the R-word. If anyone needs to insult someone I have a whole host of really good sweary words that my culture has honed over the years, most of them referring to sexual acts or organs. So please get in touch and stop using the R-word, S-word or any others which you know, in your heart, HURT people.

As for this paragraph
"but it’s the medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour that’s dehumanizing, hence the basis of all slurs for people"

That perfectly encapsulates something which another um, mature parent and myself were discussing tonight. The way that the newly diagnosed parent will actually believe and take quite literally the language used in a medical report or diagnosis. Thus limiting their own child's potential through their failure to see beyond the label language, and see the child.

And we see it (my friend and I) a lot more these days - where parents don't actually KNOW their child because the "medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour" has dehumanized their child, in their own eyes!!!!

Whatever we may whinge and bitch about the medical or teaching professions, you, the PARENT should be the biggest fan of the child. The advocate, the interpreter, the believer and the ENABLER of potential.

And I am seeing it first hand even more now through the facebook group who hopefully have their eyes opened - to see the child they have and all their good points. And then I hear it when someone contacts me for the iPhone communication App, and then doesnt understand why they should be encouraging their child to ENGAGE with them, for more than just basic human needs.

Now I sound like some auld wan pining for the Good Ole Days, But in my day we got educated, we became our own best therapist/advocate/teacher and our child's number 1 lobby-ist.

We didn't believe the percentile scores and medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour - language in those horrid reports.

So yeah!


And if you need those excellent swearwords, get in touch. I have a gift. xx

Anonymous said...

"A person starts to live when he can live outside himself." - Albert Einstein !



what is the point of this quote ?

Manuel said...

Guilty...I have done and said those words many times in the past without thinking at all of the harm of them.

I'll stop...

Anonymous said...

Encapsulated a lot of what I have gone through just recently. Thanks for having a good aul rant, it made me feel better! Miche