Watch your (ableist) language!

Hey, if you’re writing online about something or someone you disagree with, please, please watch your language.

I’m not talking about fuck words – anyone who knows me knows I’m a potty mouth – I’m talking about those insidious little words that cause the continuation of disadvantage and the unfair association of certain groups of people with horrible, wrong, or evil acts.

What on earth am I on about?

I’ll tell you. Every time someone says ‘Trump is mentally deranged’, or ‘Theresa May is stupid’ or ‘Boris Johnson is a bumbling idiot’, those words disadvantage whole groups of people.

Which words? Which people?

Stupid. Idiot. Deranged. Lunatics. I could go on, but I’m already just as guilty as every other able person who uses this language, even in utilising those words in this blog post. (I should star them out). And for that, I’m sorry, but I find when explaining privilege to those who are privileged, it’s best to use their language so they can recognise themselves and the things they say more easily. Otherwise we just get ‘oh, well I don’t do that sort of thing.’

What’s the ‘ableist language’ problem?

Look, I’ll sell it to you quickly. If you describe the acts of the powerful using language normally reserved for describing groups that are not empowered, you simultaneously:

a) reduce the impact of the wicked acts (e.g. the Tory party are so ‘stupid’ they gave away £1.5bn to the DUP, just to keep Theresa May in power, i.e. they couldn’t help it);

b) place those disempowered groups into the same box as those who commit wicked acts.

For example, describing the Conservative decision to remove £30 per week from disabled claimants as ‘crazy’ is to reduce the impact of their decision (i.e. they don’t know what they’re doing, so it’s okay) and equate mental illness with the desire to disempower and hurt others.

Don’t get me wrong: a person with a mental illness or disorder doesn’t believe the word ‘crazy’ relates to them; but society makes it so. This is called a ‘stereotype’. In other words, an inaccurate label, filled with unpleasant connotations, applied to people with specific personal problems that manifest in specific and varied ways. If society would kindly stop using these bloody words to describe acts committed by perfectly able, mentally well people, (not to mention stop using them to describe disadvantaged groups too!) it would help.

What’s worse, it isn’t just right-wingers who use this language – the left is at fault too! Many older folks especially seem to rely on this type of language to communicate their disgust with political and other events, and because their intentions are good, they think it doesn’t matter.

It does. It matters. Whatever your intention. Please stop.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A perfectly good argument around some of what is wrong with American politics today, but ruined by the use of the word ‘dumb’. Many people don’t understand politics, it is true, but that isn’t often because they are not able to understand it; it’s because they haven’t taken the time to learn about it, which is different.

We’re all guilty of it. Really, we are. There’s no escape. Just like casual racism, we’ve (white people especially) been allowed to use all these words in mixed company for literally forever. But now it’s time to stop. Take stock. Think about those words coming out of your mouth, because every time you speak, you reveal your own underbelly, and it often isn’t very nice at all.

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