Thursday, July 5, 2012

Words have power - July 5, 2012

I used to read a website that was a collection of anecdotes of things medical professionals said to women. Negative, ignorant, inaccurate, or just plain unhelpful things. Within that website, there was a regular commenter who had an agenda and who pushed that agenda on every post, with every comment made, even if the post had nothing to do with that person's agenda.

So imagine my surprise when this person with such a passionate belief in something (a belief I do not share and that I find offensive, but we won't get into that part of it) turned around and used the R-word very casually in one of that person's thoughtful and amazing (ahem) comments.

I did what I do in this case - I link to and I ask the offender to please rethink the use of that word, which I and many people I know find hurtful for various reasons that are, honestly, too obvious for me to even list. I figured that perhaps it was a safe place to make this request, as most people who read the website believe in rights and the importance of shared information and whatnot.

As the Internet goes, I did expect some backlash. I also didn't really mean to go back and see said backlash - I had already broken my "DON'T EVER READ THE COMMENTS" rule (the only way to get the backstory on the anecdotes posted is to read the comments, though, so I frequently read the comments on this site as it seemed different...) and my "NEVER EVER RESPOND TO STUPIDITY IN THE COMMENTS" rule (guilty). But I genuinely forgot and went looking for the backstory

Let me assure you of a few things - words do, in fact, hurt. Words do, in fact, have power. I don't have to "let them" (implication: I'm a whiny crybaby) to know that some words are problematic. Racial slurs are problematic. Homophobic slurs are problematic. Anti-semitic slurs are problematic. And on and on and on. And I really don't care if someone you know with a developmental delay or other disability told you that it was totally fine to use whatever words you wished. That person does not speak for every person. That person does not speak for me. That argument is as flawed as any other "I have friends of [whatever persuasion] and therefore I am not racist, sexist, homophobic, and I am allowed to do what I want without offending anyone."

Interestingly, as my own comment was anonymous and pretty short and sweet, I left no indication of my reason for requesting that the offending word not be used. While you, blog reader, know that it hurts me because I have a child with a disability as well as friends with disabilities and friends with children with disabilities, anyone reading my comment would not know any of that. Those attacking me read that comment and seemed to assume that I myself was not disabled or even that I had no good reason to dislike the word other than to be a part of the ZOMG PC POLICE or whatever.

Happily, there were a few voices of reason that I saw before I stopped scrolling (I didn't read everything, I backed away and didn't go back again). I guess I just don't understand why one would be so proud to defend the use of a word that has taken on a derogatory meaning - whether it began that way or not, whether it is a proper medical term or not, whether some people don't mind it or not, whether you grew up saying it or not. Whatever. I politely requested that the user of the slur look into it further and reconsider its use. I was slammed for it.

So let me be clear. I grew up saying this word and other problematic words as slang. I slip up sometimes. I am learning every day. And I hope you will learn too. I hope that if someone asks you to be respectful of his or her beliefs, you will pause and instead of getting defensive, you will listen and you will think about it the next time you open your mouth.

I like the site "Yo, Is This Racist?" because the guy behind it is so funny and smart at the same time. Something he's noted over and over is that you have the RIGHT to say whatever words you want. Saying those words just makes you a racist. But go ahead and say them...I'll be over here, thinking about what you just said....

1 comment:

  1. I grew up saying the "R" word too and yes, I still slip up occasionally and get really mad at myself when I do. When I hear the word from other people in public now, I cringe. I learned from another blogger a few years ago how offensive and hurtful the word was to her as the mom of a special needs kid and I got it. I think people who are privileged in most ways (white, hetero, Christian, middle class) just have a REALLY difficult time understanding how racial slurs or ableist language can be hurtful. I'm not excusing their behavior at all, but it's just so common. Someone says "I as a member of x marginalized group find this language offensive" and then here come the eye rolls and "that word has so many definitions!" and other BS rationalizing. Anyway, I'm not being very eloquent, but I'm sorry this happened to you and yes, the Internet does suck sometimes.