Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009. I was unsure what my contribution should be and had been considering a blog about what phrases like 'managing' or 'coping' really entail in relation to living with a disability. However, after events of this week a subject presented itself.
On Wednesday I wrote a blog about disablist language. I misread a phrase in a blog on Liberal Conspiracy and wrote my own blog to say I found the language offensive and disappointing, especially on a site supposed to promote liberal values. I did misread the phrase, we all make mistakes and misinterpret things, particularly with the written word. As it lacks the inflections and nuances of spoken words, the background which gives them meaning is more difficult to discern on a page. The phrase had been written as 'brain drain mongers' and instead of the intended meaning of monger as in fishmonger or warmonger I misread the phrase to read 'braindrain mongers'-as in only someone as stupid as a 'monger'* would think that. Like I say, I misread it. Easy done, I offered my apologies to the author of the post, but he was neither offended or upset, why should he be?
He was in the minority though as lots of people were very upset. With me. For having the temerity to suggest that language has the power to hurt. The furious comments under the original blog were deeply depressing as although I'd made a mistake when I misread the phrase, the commenters proved the point I was trying to make. That generally people simply do not consider language which is offensive or derogatory to disabled people in the same way they recognise the power of offensive or derogatory language when it comes to race, gender, religion or sexuality.
I was lambasted for making such a 'retarded' comment, held up as an example of everything wrong with political correctness, mocked for my evidently New Labour sink comprehensive education** and various other comments in that vein. I was particularly bemused by the comments relating to making such language illegal or banning words. Some of the commenters headed over to this blog to make sure I knew exactly how stupid I was, and that I had wilfully and deliberately misinterpreted the words.
One commenter made the point that all I had done was to express my disappointment with words which one human being had used which had been hurtful towards another. No more, no less. I didn't call for anything to be banned, legislated or made illegal. I didn't mention political correctness or suggest any form of legal resolution to such issues. I simply stated my disappointment. I'd like to thank the author of that comment as (s)he just got it. They got the point that language can hurt, can be oppressive or derogatory and that it is important to choose our words carefully. They saw that it's important not because of rules or regulations but because it's simply one human being saying to another 'your words hurt and harm me'.
*When I was growing up 'monger' was a commonly used derogatory expression for someone with Down's Syndrome. It's still a word frequently used in the area I live to describe something or someone as particularly stupid.
**Amusingly as my entire education was at a grammar school during the previous Tory govt