Ableist Word Profile: Why I write about ableist language
- Ableist Word Profile is an ongoing FWD/Forward series in which we explore ableism and the way it manifests in language usage.
- Here’s what this series is about: Examining word origins, the way in which ableism is unconsciously reinforced, the power that language has.
- Here’s what this series is not about: Telling people which words they can use to define their own experiences, rejecting reclamatory word usage, telling people which words they can and cannot use.
- You don’t necessarily have to agree that a particular profiled word or phrase is ableist; we ask you to think about the way in which the language that we use is influenced, both historically and currently, by ableist thought.
- Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post
This is Part 1 of a two-part series on Ableist Language Discussions in the Blogosphere.
There’s a lot of chatter that goes on ’round the Social Justice Blogosphere about Ableist Language: what is it? what do you mean? those words don’t mean that! how can you say that? what does that mean? why are you bringing this up? don’t you have more important things to talk about? Intentions intentions intentions! It makes my head hurt.
I talk about ableist language for a variety of reasons. The most obvious, I think, is to challenge ableist ideas that center the experiences of non-disabled people. When someone proudly assures me that words like “lame” and “dumb” and “r#tarded” are never used to describe actual people with disabilities, I’m fairly certain I’m talking to one of the currently non-disabled. Currently non-disabled readers, I’m here to tell you: those words, and any similar words you think are “archaic” and not used anymore, are used all the time, as taunts and insults towards people with disabilities, and in some cases as official diagnoses. Some of them are also used in reclamatory ways by some disabled people, but certainly not all.
But it’s more than that. Part of why I challenge ableist ideas and ableist language is because I would like more Social Justice bloggers to think “Oh, yeah. People with disabilities also read social justice blogs! I should remember that more often when I’m writing.” [I also like to challenge it in other places, which is why I occasionally go through spaces like Wikipedia & TVTropes and re-write every instance of “wheelchair bound“.]
There’s a strong tendency to assume that disability-related issues are somehow a separate thing, as though there’s a Disability Silo and things like reproductive justice, racism, heterosexism, anti-immigration, transphobia, classism, and misogyny, etc, don’t actually enter into that silo. As though no one with a disability is interested in reading about these topics, or is affected by them in any way, or is an activist on the topic, or wants to be more of one.
When someone writes something like “Wow, those anti-immigrant people are r#tarded idiots!” [I made this example up] or giggles about seeing Dick Cheney “wheelchair bound” because “it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person!” [I did not make this example up], I bring up the ableism, and my activity in the disability rights movement, as a way of reminding them that we’re here. We’re reading. We’re participating. And it’s more than a little-bit alienating to see social justice bloggers using our experiences and oppressions as their go-to for “insulting people we don’t agree with”.
But at the same time, I don’t think talking about ableist language – no matter how well-intended – is enough. It’s a step. But that’s all it is.
I will write more about that tomorrow.