Wednesday, March 6, 2013

That Word Is Not Yours to Use

TW:  Extensive use of the r-slur
I had such an able-bodied moment today.  I could not find my remote control for my TV!  And then I found it under my pillow all along!  I am so able-bodied.  Seriously, I'm such an AB.

That homework we had to do last night?  Oh my god, so able-bodied.  I mean, seriously.  Is that professor, like, able-bodied or something?  Only an AB would do something like that.

This school is able-bodied.  They cut all these programs and then decided to spend all this money building a new auditorium.  It's just able-bodied, in my opinion.

What's wrong with being able-bodied?  It has nothing to do with that.  What do you mean, it's hurtful?  It's just a word; lighten up.  I have freedom of speech, I can say it if I want.  You're too sensitive.

Starting to get the picture?

Replace all the instances of "able-bodied" with "retard(ed)" and no one would bat an eyelash.

Today is Spread the Word to End the Word Day.  Its sole purpose to eliminate use of the r-word - "retard".  Why?  Because it's derogatory to people with disabilities.  And not just people with intellectual disabilities - it's offensive to anyone whose disability makes them seem "not right", "not normal", somehow "off".  If you have trouble interacting with people, if you slur and drool and speak slowly, you are instantly marked a retard.

I've never been called a retard.  Not to my face, anyway.  I'm sure people say it and think it behind my back.  I spaz out and can't sit up straight and I talk too loud and I can't tell my left from my right.  I live with a pit of internalized ableism in my stomach; a deep-seated fear of being called retarded.  "Retarded" packs a punch that "stupid", "dumb", or "nonsensical" just doesn't do.

The thing is, unless you're someone who that label has been applied to, that word is not yours to say, not yours to use.  You are appropriating decades, quite possibly centuries of hatred and hurt and abuse hurled at the intellectually disabled and related communities, and distilling it to mean my teacher was mean to me or I forgot to do something or someone did something I don't agree with.  You are taking human suffering and turning it into a joke.  And that's not okay.

Reclamation is different.  If you take a word that has been used to dehumanize you and turn it inside out, it loses some of its potency.  But for you to reclaim it, it has to have been used against you in the first place.  And I'm not talking about your friend calling you a retard when you lose your car keys.  I'm talking about when it's loaded.  When it conveys all the disappointment that you aren't normal and all the expectations that you'll never BE normal.  When it's been used to tell you that you'll never have a family, have a job, be a true part of society.  Unless you've had that word pointed at you like a loaded gun, it will never be yours to reclaim.

So next time you feel the r-word rising to your lips, stop and think about how it makes people feel.  How you would feel if your identity was used to mean unintelligent, irrational, forgetful.  And then you damn well better pick a different word.  Because if you don't stop, you might just hear me one of these days say "That's SOOOOOOO ABLE-BODIED!!!"


Anonymous said...

Good post. I'd like to point out, I do know some disabled people who throw out AB(able bodied)or ableist out like a slur, like able bodied are somehow evil and that is just as hurtful. That might be a good thing to make a post about sometime :) I'm disabled but abled bodied people I know are often slurred at and it drives me nuts. I don't like using retard as an insult but I don't like when people yell at a writer for including retard in a script,show etc because when it is written into a story to make a point it is usually there to make a good point and PC shouldn't ruin a writers' work. Just my opinion.

Neurodivergent K said...

Anon, there's a difference.

It's called a power gradient.

I'm Autistic & able bodied. If people are throwing the R word around they can fuck right off and NEVER fuck back on again, bc they are punching down a power gradient. But if someone with a physical disability actually rants like in this post? I ain't bothered. Cuz it's not like there's systemic discrimination & dehumanization of people who get around the world like I do.

Brenda Rothman (Mama Be Good) said...

You are SO RIGHT! The r-word is about power and reminding others that they are Not One Of Us. There is no defense of it.