Just to be clear – I’m not Ableist

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.

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4 thoughts on “Just to be clear – I’m not Ableist

  1. This story illustrate my position on ableist language. There was a lab assistant in our department who everybody called Sheik. I discovered that his given name was Kbir but people found that difficult to say. Sheik was his family name. He told me he preferred to be called Kbir, so I made an effort to learn how to say it, and called him that from then on.

    People were not wrong to call him Sheik, and he certainly wasn’t offended by it. But respecting how people want to be addressed makes them feel valued, part of the group. It’s a small courtesy, just like saying hello to a person serving you in a shop, asking them how they are.

    With reference to the word ‘dumb’, I found this:

    … the word “dumb” has a disability-specific history (referring to people who cannot speak, and often used to refer to Deaf people), whereas the word “obtuse” does not (deriving from a meaning of “beating against something to make it blunt or dull”).’

    So why wouldn’t you use ‘obtuse’ in place of ‘dumb’ if you had the opportunity? Just like using Kbir in place of Sheik. ‘Dumb’ isn’t wrong, but avoiding it demonstrates kindness and care about people who cannot speak.

    1. But you’re neither mute, nor obtuse. And you’re not checking this out with a mute or an obtuse person to see if there’s any offence taken by them when I use the word dumb.

      I’m perfectly able to determine whether I’m being offensive to a person – and by saying US sportscasters have said something that is dumb, the only people qualified to bring me up on my use of the word in context would be a US sportscaster. When they do – and I won’t hold my breath – then I will apologise to them.

      Dumb isn’t a word that gets asterisked out in newsprint. It’s not referred to as ‘the d-word’. Until it is, then for me, it’s fine to use. If you decide that for you, it’s different, then that’s fine. I respect your choice for you. My choice for me is going to be far less restrictive – but I suspect no more offensive.

      1. Actually Jeremy, your position is unnecessarily restrictive and patronising in that you are arbitrarily deciding what less-able people should be offended at. Mine allows them the freedom to show and state offence at whatever they want. Or not. I would question your use of the word ‘progressive’ in this instance, but that would no doubt trigger a whole other discussion.

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