TW: Discussion of Ableism and use of ableist language
I roared with laughter. Loudly. My stomach ached. Yes whether it was the Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life or Fawlty Towers. I laughed uproariously and with great fervour. I did so with no second thought to it being ableist or politically incorrect. That thought never crossed my mind. And it was wrong that it didn’t.
As a young boy, the most common non-sweary insult used between boys at my school was the terrible word “Mong” we called it to each other with impunity. And yes we knew what it was short for. We knew it was short for the ableist slur Mongoloid. But, we didn’t give it a second thought. We even knew that that word Mongoloid was a term for human persons with Downs Syndrome. Indeed, I as a young teenager whilst throwing this word around happily hopped onto a bus on a weekly basis to go and assist at the local “Special Education School” with children who were predominantly Downs Syndrome students. And it was wrong that I did this.
I am sure that many of us as we reflect on life can identify many things we have done that we are less than proud of. Things that make us cringe about how we used language to not cement an attitude of otherness to a group or demographic of people.
I confess I have in the past been one to claim and label things as just being Politically correct. I have even in recent times, within the last 12 months written posts about it, I am ashamed to say. My thinking has moved on, and I have developed a greater understanding of the reality of ableism and privilege.
I am indebted and thankful for the postings of others in helping me grow along the way. There have been many, not least of which have been Amy Mikah Brown Âû, Autistic Hoya, and Cas at Un-Boxed Brain. I have not always been a good student in this regard. At times, I have needed to be dragged kicking and screaming and told in less than pleasant words that language and words I have used in fact ableist and not okay.
I writhed and resisted and called out unacceptable excuses like political correctness. I was wrong, I was immature, I was resistant to respectful language and I was advocating for a lack of dignity. I am ashamed. Today I saw this:
It stopped me in my tracks. It stopped me because it could have been me saying these things not too long ago. Again I felt somewhat ashamed. I thought to myself. Political Correct, what does that even mean. The term is bandied around so easily and without thought. It is mostly used as an excuse or justification when one is called out.
Occasionally I see the parliament on television, it makes me think there is very little about politics that can really be called correct. So what does this term politically correct actually mean. To this term, I now call bullshit.
I try now to not use ableist language. I try now to check my privilege and try not to trip over it. I fail at times, I probably always will. Especially in terms of ableist language. There are so many words in our everyday language patterns that are ableist. They don’t seem ableist at first, but that’s because we have forgotten how those words were used in the past to control and oppress groups of people. Like the word I used above beginning with M. But there are so many. Even the seemingly Innocuous word “Stupid”. Un-boxed Brain explains eloquently:
But, stupid is a commonplace word and I see it and hear it all the time everywhere. When I see it or hear it, and I know the person who has used it, I will point out that it is an ableist slur. Sometimes, people go “Oh, ok, I never knew that” and then they stop using the word.
Other times, it’s more interesting: They get defensive, they claim that there are so many offensive words that they don’t know about, so how can they be expected to be aware of all these things. They’ll say things like “If only there was a list of these words that I could refer to”. Well, there are. There are multiple lists. A simple google search using the words “list of ableist terms” will provide dozens of these lists. Here is one compiled by Autistic Hoya. – Source http://un-boxedbrain.com.au/2015/09/the-other-s-word/
That “S” word is one that is really hard to not use. I try. I know I will improve in time. As Cas, at Un-boxed brain points out there are so many of these words and this is no reason to bail out on the task. Because the task is key. It is critical in the quest to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect. When we are informed that a word we used is ableist it is not politically correct to stop using it and seek a different word to convey our thoughts. No, what it is is showing respect for people that have been on the receiving end of control and oppression by those wielding power and privilege.
I highly recommend you read this post by Autistic Hoya. I can almost guarantee it will make you uncomfortable and enlighten you on the language you have used or indeed do use, on a regular basis. I am far from perfect. I know I have a long way to go in my learning and maturation. I know I will make mistakes, I and I know I still have issues that are yet to be dealt with. I am after all a white cismale heterosexual male, an autistic one yes, but still one. I operate instinctually from a place of privilege and I must remember to check that privilege regularly.
No Mr Cleese, respectfully, political correctness is not killing comedy, but, ableism and privilege do continue to oppress and control far too many disenfranchised and disabled people!
I would here like to publicly apologise without reservation to any and all people I have hurt, or offended by way of my own ingrained ableism, by my own failure to see, acknowledge or check my privilege. I am deeply sorry for the hurt and pain I have no doubt caused you.
If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for sticking with it. Celebrate diversity and Destroy Ableism! Thanks.