It never fails. When the progressive press features an image or story of yet another Sarah Palin, Duck Dynasty, Tea Party, Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, the insults flail. The fact that they’re being insulted isn’t the problem, though. It’s how they’re insulted – using terms consisting of words like ‘stupid,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘schizo,’ ‘insane,’ ‘dumb,’ and ‘pussy,’ or variations on slurs like ‘r*t*rded’ or ‘c**t.’
It’s not these words are too mean to these politicians and talking heads. No, what these public figures do and what they say actually hurts people. They need and deserve a talking-back to – and the harshness of the vocabulary or tone is nothing compared to the harshness of the harm that they are causing. The person whose head is being stepped on has every right to scream, yell, punch, and bite the person stepping on her head. And conservative reactionaries can continue to call us “intolerant” all they want – but there is no cause to tolerate harm, oppression, and bigotry. Why should anybody tolerate stepping on heads? When liberals call for tolerance, what is meant is that different types of people should be tolerated to live peaceably in society. Bigotry and anti-people policies strike against both the peaceability and the people who struggle to remain in a functioning manner in society, whether they be homosexual, feminist, poor, immigrant, black, and/or women – or they have mental/physical/developmental disabilities, etc. And that brings us back to our main topic.
We shouldn’t use language that describes oppressive people as lacking intelligence because it is unfair to those with cognitive and learning disabilities to be compared to Sarah Palin. Should people with psychological disorders have to deal with the indignity of not only the NRA blaming them for gun violence, but also of being compared to Glenn Beck?
It’s not fair because such exchanges further stigmatize and marginalize oppressed people. Having less intelligence or knowledge does not make one a bigot. Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson has a Master’s in Education, remember. The people who made and who dropped the Atomic bomb in several cities in Japan – killing millions – were also extremely intelligent. But not necessarily moral. And anybody remember Jason Richwine, the Harvard-educated author of a report for the Heritage Foundation that said Latino immigrants will make the US a poor nation? When criticized, he kept leaning on his doctoral work at Harvard – which said that Latinos are stupid – and “the stats! the stats! they don’t lie!”
But xenophobes and bigots do lie. They can’t face a reality where they and their experiences are not the center of the universe. So they convince themselves that the truth is a lie and the lie is a truth. They are not usually ignorant in general; they’ve chosen something to be stubbornly ignorant about.
The problem, though, isn’t that Richwine or Robinson or Bachmann aren’t smart enough or educated enough (Bachmann also has higher degrees, remember), it’s that they direct their energies toward hatred for people. After all, we know several people with below level intelligence quotas (as how they’re typically understood) or with learning disabilities who are full of love, kindness, generosity and no ill-will. Beck, Palin, and Pat Robertson don’t necessarily have psychological or emotional disabilities or disturbances, either. In fact, most people with psychological, emotional, and developmental disabilities are not – regardless of what the NRA says – a danger to society. Rather, they are much more likely than the general population to be in danger of others. So this idea that ‘crazy’ people are hurting us needs to die.
We also shouldn’t let bigotry or bigots off the hook. If we blame their hatred and antagonism on disabilities, we claim that they have little recourse and that they cannot help to be so vicious. But they can. They will need to be held accountable for that which they do, and those who are not responsible – people with disabilities or disorders, those who are not book smart – should not be held liable or in similar light. When we call Sarah Palin “dumb,” we are suggesting that there is something wrong and inferior about not having a high intelligence, and that she can’t help but be a cruel bigot. What does that say about how we value those with developmental or learning disabilities?
Additionally, I just don’t think that the body parts of women should be used to show displeasure – as if those parts make women weak or inferior. Likewise with the various terms and slurs used to describe non-straight people.
So what should we use in replacement? That may be the hardest part. I have some suggestions. Of course, I’m sure you do, too. You may use in combination:
- Hannibal Lecter
- Ted Nugent
- Assholy (this is for the Religious Righters)
- He/She Who Shall Not Be Named
- White Supremacist
- Limp Bizkit
- Amon Goeth
- David Hassel-off
You get the picture… This year, I suggest we take a bite out of ableist language that stigmatizes and hurts people with disabilities.
*These terms are suggested by the great Son of Baldwin and are more implicational than the ableist term -phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear of and often needs medical/therapeutic care.
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