Autistic Hoya gets it right once again.
Trigger warning for ableism and ableist slurs.
I say “crazy” and “nuts,” etc. Most people I know with mental illness use these words, are ok with people using these words, and in fact find them very useful as long as they’re used the “right” way (as in, not to categorize a human being’s thoughts as not valid or worth caring about, simply by virtue if the fact that it’s that particular human being wins thinking them). These words preceded the modern concept of mental illness and describe a useful range of concepts that many people with mental illness NEED to be able to express.
Sorry it’s just… this feels roughly equivalent to being schooled on prior first language. I know it’s not intended. But that’s what it’s like to me.
I feel similar about that half of the post. I’m a former mental patient, as are most of my friends (and some currently are, too) and we use these words.
Besides that, I am one of the very few people who can say that within the last two decades, idiot is a word that was actually written on my diagnostic paperwork. As in idiot savant qualities. And I am not offended by most usages of idiot, stupid, etc.
Here is a rough guide to what I find offensive, and what I don’t. Note that what I find offensive isn’t the word itself, but the intentions and concepts beneath the word, that the particular context reveals.
The r-word is a slur all but a tiny percentage of the time. Idiot and stupid are not usually slurs, though some people treat them as such.
When people clearly use the word idiot the same way they use the r-word, I have problems with it. Like, when they make their voice grow dull, flap their hand against their chest with a bent wrist, and use the word idiot. In that context I see it (and any other word, no matter how innocent in other contexts) as clearly ableist.
I consider it wrong to use them to taunt people. Especially disabled people, or in contexts where people are using them to compare others to disabled people. And most uses of “village idiot” offend me.
I don’t consider “That was a stupid thing to do,” or “Geez I’m being an idiot” or my mom’s favorite “You did a stupid” to be a problem whatsoever.
I see other people using these words in conjunction with making IQ jokes and other things that make it clear how they’re meaning them. I don’t consider that okay. Especially because they’re confusing having an intellectual disability (or hell, any IQ in the double digits for a lot of these assholes) with being stupid. Most intellectually disabled people are not stupid. Many people with high IQs are stupid. Using stupid in the way these people use it is offensive to me, and one reason I can’t tolerate the skeptic community.
So basically, with things like idiot and stupid. Anything that uses them to be cruel to people, I’m not going to like, because I don’t like cruelty. Anything that ties them obviously and directly to disability and makes them clearly an insult at the same time, or uses them to mock disabled people, I’m not going to like. Anything else, I don’t generally mind.
But really importantly: I’m not the ultimate decision-maker about what’s right and wrong. I’m capable of judging these things wrongly. And that in itself is something that people who say “If I tell you it’s wrong then if you do it again you’re being ableist” aren’t admitting to.
I’m also disturbed by the way the post is directed at disabled people ourselves. Not because ableism isn’t rampant among disabled people — it is. But word usage is completely the wrong way to measure it.
There are a lot of people who have serious trouble applying new word usages and getting rid of old ones. Most have some kind of language impairment. Some don’t. Either way, it is not always easy to spot who these people are.
And anyone in this group of people is going to have a hell of a time changing their language usage. Many of these people are in the very categories that this “you can’t use this kind of language Or Else” stuff claims to protect.
Yet under the terms of that post, it’s wrong for such people to use words like stupid, idiot, nuts, and crazy in the ways that they always have. They likely will have trouble switching from retarded to intellectually disabled as well. Even though they mean the same things anyone else does by changing words.
I’m able to change words a little bit but not a lot, so I know what this is like. There is no word list in the world that will teach me how to stop using stupid, idiot, or crazy, and that’s assuming I should even want to. I’ve watched people saying “Yu don’t know what else to say? Here’s a list of words that mean the same thing. Now you have no excuse.”
Oh yes I do. None of the words on that list ever mean the same thing to me. No, I don’t mean ignorant, I mean stupid. There’s a difference. (The idea that some people don’t think there’s a difference scares me a little.) And even if I wanted to, I couldn’t keep that word list around, in my head or otherwise, every time I use language.
And you know what? Words are not the problem. I know, people say words reveal underlying ideas. But actually many times they don’t. And when they do, you have to take context into account. Without context, with just the words alone, you can’t tell what the person was thinking. Over half the conflicts I get into online involve someone assuming that my words reveal my thoughts without taking into account anything else, including my language impairments.
And to me what the problem is, is the underlying thoughts. You can change the words without changing your underlying thoughts at all. Which allows people to hide in plain sight of people who think language reveals thoughts. And you can change the underlying thoughts without changing the words. A person who does that will needlessly get in trouble with people who think words reveal thoughts.
With the most extreme examples of both situations here. There are people who I would far rather spend time around, who refer to me by a slur. And I would rather spend time around them than some people whose language usage is perfect by these kinds of standards.
And by a slur I mean like retard. Not like idiot, which I don’t consider a slur at all. There literally exist people I would rather call me that, than some people who would refer to me as autistic or developmentally disabled or whatever other term is considered the right one these days. Because there are actually some people who use very offensive language and mean nothing by it. And there are people who use all the right language to conceal the fact that their actual attitudes to disabled people are horrible.
There are people in my life who are totally accepting about me being gay. On a very deep level. Who also happen to tell queer jokes and say other things that sound very offensive on the surface. There are other people who say all the right things who have never accepted that I am gay, who have told me I just think I am because of social skills delays, and who have indicated through the years that deep down they think I’m straight and that my straightness will come out if they just wait long enough. Three guesses which ones I’m more comfortable with. And it’s not the ones with the perfect language.
This is all because language truly is a superficial guide to reality, and always will be. It skims the surface. Sometimes it can reveal deeper things. Other times trusting to it will only obscure things. And the fact that it sometimes reveals deeper things is a poor excuse for making blanket statements about what is and isn’t offensive language usage. A few things are that extreme, that you can condemn them nearly across the board. Most things aren’t. And the actual deep things in the world are completely beyond words.
I never thought I would long for the days of the Ableist Word Profiles, but I do. That’s because they clearly stated they weren’t there to try and force people to talk different. They were just there to make people think.
Something else to make you think:
I find the origins of words very interesting. One thing most people don’t notice is the origin of many ways to describe being impolite. Rude. Vulgar. Common. Base. Coarse. Dirty. Rough. Crude. Low. Sordid. Lowbred. All of these words can be tied in some way to the lower classes, or their presumed living conditions.
And while I probably wouldn’t use lowbred or common, there is no way on this planet that you could get me to refer to all these words as classist slurs, tell everyone not to use them, and then say that now that everyone’s been informed, any use on their part is classist. (And if anyone does so based on reading this, I will scream.) Idiot, by the way, was a class-based term and later an insult, before it ever became a diagnostic term.
The origins of word usages are interesting. They can tell you a lot about the prejudices of the society that came up with those words. But I’m not going to decide someone is ableist because they say something was a lame excuse, a vulgar word, a crazy day, a rude statement, or a dumb idea. Not even if some disabled people have warned them already or given them a long list of alternative terms. And that’s beyond the fact that some disabled people reclaim this stuff.
I just… I can’t get behind that half of the post at all. The part where people distance themselves from people with psych conditions is absolutely true. The part about how it’s wrong to use certain words and if you do it even after a warning you’re ableist, isn’t. Or only partially is, in some circumstances. There’s a ton of ableism in disability communities, but this isn’t the way to find it.