The past few weeks have seen me involved in some very interesting, very detailed, and very heated conversations on Facebook and on friends’ blogs regarding the subject of Ableism.
You may not know what this means – I admit I had to look it up.
Ableism means using language that discriminates against disabled people. In the past, this would have included terms (from my days at school back in the 70s) such as ‘spastic‘, ‘spaz‘ and ‘Joey‘, after Joey Deacon – a well-known television presenter and suffer from Cerebral Palsy – to indicate stupidity and lack of intelligence in the intended target . At the time, we were just being thoughtless kids. These days, however, such things simply wouldn’t, or shouldn’t get used as insults, and we all get that.
The accusations thrown at me haven’t been about this, however. They started when I described a phrase created by a US sports media company as ‘dumb‘. Which it was – in the ‘idiotic’, ‘ridiculous’ sense of the word. However, this has been the catalyst to a raft of statements being thrown at me, describing me as a ‘Great White Male‘, a throwback, and a bunch of other things. All for using a word in context and conforming to one of its accepted dictionary descriptions.
These people – the ‘anti-ableists‘, if you will – believe that ANY term, that could possibly be discriminatory to ANY person, at ANY time, should be banished from our speech. This would mean you can’t describe anything as ‘crazy‘, ‘lame‘, or any one of a thousand other terms. Including ‘dumb‘ – unless of course you’re using the word to describe someone without the power of speech.
My position has been misinterpreted by many – including someone who thought I should liberally sprinkle my language with the worst racist terminology possible as a test to see whether people take offence. So I want to set out my position clearly.
I am NOT ableist. I do NOT agree with the deliberate circumvention of language in order to offend people.
However, I am also not an ‘anti-ableist’, in that I disagree fundamentally with the supposed restrictions on speech that have been leveled at me and others who sprang to my defence.
If I can be described as having a stance, it’s more likely to be an ‘anti- anti-ableist‘.
The people picking me up for what they see as misuse of the word ‘dumb‘ are not mutes, nor have they checked this with mute people, to my strong understanding. The people responding to the conversations who might get offended by use of the word ‘lame‘ – due to disablilities they have – actually stated that they are not offended by this, as they don’t see the connection between themselves and the use of the word in context. It’s this perceived third-party offence that is all pervasive throughout the liberal end of society that actually offends me. and something that I am trying to eliminate from my language and behaviour.
So, when councils, company management, or organisations start talking about the ‘holiday season’ or – God forbid – ‘Winterval’, I will send them a Christmas Card, wishing them the merriest of Christmas. Because changing behaviours or speech because you think someone you don’t know, and haven’t spoken to, might be offended by something somebody says, is in itself offensive to me. There. Notice has been given, so please stop doing it.
Again – I’m not saying that anybody should deliberately offend others. What I AM saying is that the freedom to hold a position, to be a part of this great society we live in, and to live a life to the fullest, includes an implicit clause that means you won’t like everything you see and hear – much as others won’t necessarily like everything you say or do. And not to make judgement calls on what others may think, and not to get offended on their behalf. Disabled people, mute people, whoever – these people are more than capable of getting offended – or not – on their own. They don’t need others to do it for them, because that’s far more demeaning and patronising than anything I may cause by saying that American sportscasters say dumb things.