Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What He Said

Having gotten another winter cold, I've been watching a fair bit of television and getting toned and tanned from surfing the sunny beaches of the internet. I noticed that there has been a resurgence of posts about the 'r' word that either decry it's usage or offer other words to use instead. Knowing, from deeply personal experiences, how hurtful words can be, I've long supported the use of careful language. I have found the elimination of some words from my vocabulary has actually increased my ability to express myself. I don't need to use words that hurt when there are a billion words that don't.

Then I watched a series on Netflix and in it the 'r' word was used, as it is always used, as a pejorative, a put down. I bristled and considered watching no further. I could see that the writer was using this word as a means of showing the character of the person speaking. It was a commentary on his nature that he'd use such language. Later on in the show, the primary character speaks up and states that the 'r' word isn't an okay word to use.

But all that's just introduction.

There was a scene where a character who has an intellectual disability, is involved in helping the primary characters out of a jam. When the plan is successfully executed he said something like, "Nobody expects anything from the 'r#tard'" as his explanatiion as to why the plan worked. He's right of course, but, I had a very different reaction to him using the word. He used the word in reference to himself, he used it as a person with an intellectual disability. And to me, that seemed acceptable, not that anyone needs my approval or anyone's approval to speak of themselves as they so choose.

I have never been criticized by another disabled person from using the word 'disabled' in reference to myself or to use it without the person first structure. Lots of non-disabled people tackle me on it. But I have always felt free to say what I want about myself and to me the words 'cripple' or 'gimp' are up for grabs - with or without your opinion.

In the context of the scene, I felt the same for the character with a disability. His mouth, his voice, his choice.

I'm not sure how you would all feel about this, but I think it's worth talking about. Who gets to say what in the disability world - and is there a limit on choice for people with intellectual disabilities which doesn't exist for other people with disabilities?



clairesmum said...

It's not ok to call someone else by names to insult them. It's not ok to call someone else by a slang term as a joke, unless you know them really well and are pretty sure it will be taken only for humor....though it's pretty risky. If someone wants to call themselves a slang term that is often pejorative...we all have that right.
Look how many women bemoan how fat they are...wearing a size 8! It's not ok to call yourself hurtful names...that was a hard lesson for me to learn....that it's not ok to be mean to myself......

Slang terms are part of a group identity, as you point out. I can call myself 'a tough old broad', and might, when i am with a few other women of a similar age and irreverence. In other settings, the words wouldn't cross my lips.
My self - my words - my choice.

Deb said...

Claire's Mum has a good point - we all say things about ourselves and in the company of trusted friends that we would never say in general company. A friend of mine refers to herself and her partner as dikes. A coworker once commented that if anyone else called her a dike, she would be furious, so why did she refer to herself that way? She thought about it for awhile and said it wouldn't upset her coming from everyone, just from most people. She named two of us, neither one gay, and said it would not bother her if we called her a dike because we are all friends. She also said she sometimes finds dike an offensive term coming from another lesbian if it is someone she does not know well, and that it comes down to trust.

Lisbeth Espinoza said...

Thank you, Dave, for your insights about disability. I’m in my first year of DSW here in Canada. Today in class, we were talking about Advocacy. We did a little group activity; our partner had to use the r-word during a made-up conversation and the other person had to respectfully correct the language, and then we had to exchange roles. While I was doing my role of the person saying the r-word. It came really hard for me to say it. When I was ready to say the R-word, my brain kind of want it to change the word to people-first -language. It took me around three tries to finally say the R-word. It’s amazing how the human brain can be rewired with the use of proper language. And I say this because back home in my country, the r-word is still used as a diagnosis-term and the use of the r-word is not a big deal for NOW. The disability rights movement is just emerging, and the neurodiversity movement is something that just a few people have an understanding. Hopefully, my country will catch up with all the changes. People with disabilities will find their voice. Thankfully, the foundations are there for a change and we, all, are change. It is time to speak up and to deal with the problem.
Thank you again! And you know what it’s your mouth, your voice, your choice, and YOUR RIGHT!

Iris said...

I often use slurs or insulting language to ironically refer to myself. I think it's a powerful statement of awareness- we know full well what people think of us and what words they use when they think they can get away with it and we're calling that out directly by using it.

Vicki in St. Marys said...

Put-down, offensive words are awful to hear, I don't care whose mouth they come from actually.

I have heard plenty of people talking about taking ownership of hateful words like the 'n' word and horrible homophobic slurs and that by using them themselves, it takes away the power of having them used against them.
I don't get it.
I still find them sickening to listen to. I would rather not hear those kinds of words EVER.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Iris, I cannot read more than a few words of your other post because blogger cuts off long posts ... so I can't read without publishing. Can you message me on Facebook?

Girl on wheels said...

I think as long as it’s someone from that group using the slur, so a disabled person calling themselves a cripple or some with an intellectual disability calling themselves the r-word, I have no problem with it. It’s their slur to use, especially if it empowers them to use a word that has been used to demean them in the past. I don’t think anyone should use those words if it makes them uncomfortable, but you being uncomfortable doesn’t mean you get to police the language of others in your community. We’re all different, we all experience the world differently and we should be able to use the words we want to use to describe ourselves (as long as that slur belongs to our community anyway). I’m not sure I would use cripple or cripple to describe myself, but I became disabled as an adult and I haven’t had that word used to demean me.

Unknown said...

Everyone should learn the act of speaking without hurting the feelings of others. So, words which can cause a negative impact on individuals with disabilities should be eliminated. People have the choice to speak whatever they like, but they must be careful about its impact on others. The law guarantees equal right to everyone regardless of whether they are disabled or not. So, what is more important is the person, not the disability. The r-word should not be used in any context. That word is not suitable to describe individuals with disability. They might have some disability in any area, but they do have the same feelings and emotions as that of others. I have seen many instances in which individuals with disability perform excel in certain areas. So, the r-word is never a match for them. Nowadays, media use the r-word without paying much attention. In my opinion they should be much more focused on using the terminologies that might have an impact on people.

Ashley said...

I completely agree !, people need to learn how to speak without hurting others, and use of the "R" word is definitely hurtful. Being aware of what you are saying and its potential impact on others is a huge issue in todays society. If the individual wanted to refer to themselves in such a way then that is their right, no one tells me what I can and cannot say about myself and the same goes for individuals with Developmental Disabilities.
Great read, keep on blogging