Thursday, March 31, 2011

On So-Called Language "Policing"

basically, and i think rather predictably, i'm in the camp of "if it's your own experience, you can use it". Though when i do, i'm still mindful about it. i also don't believe there is any "policing" of language going on by disabled folks: we simply don't have that kind of systemic power and influence. But we certainly deal with the fallout when people feel ok using certain language, including the "othering" that happens happens to us, and frankly we already deal with enough of that as it is.

As a gimp, i use that word to describe myself, but if someone i don't know, someone not disabled, started using that word around me or about me? hell yeah id call that shit out. And if i demanded all disabled folks use it to describe themselves? Hell yeah i should get called on that shit.

The author of the original statement seems to think that gimps etc don't already have conversations about language all the time lol. We do, i know i do. And not everything should be a long drawn out "productive or meaningful discussion about the word or words in question". It becomes tiring and useless after a while. Especially when the constant refrain is: "you're policing me!" and "teach me!" and "no matter what, i'm going to keep using this word!". [Allow me to indulge with this little aside: Y'know, i definitely think there is space and time for learning conversations. i mean, how else do we move forward? What i try to do in my own life is build relationships in which we can ask tough questions, acknowledge what we don't know, be embarrassed if we need to, and move forward. Just sometimes? We can't always be doing that. Sometimes, it really hurts, and is so not a learning experience when you're on the receiving end of it. And sadly, so often, folks haven't learned a fucking thing except that they can continue to fuck up and hurt you and nothing will change.]

Because a word is culturally imbedded, doesn't make it open season on it. Using the writer's example (this writer is using this as an example without taking responsibility for it; certainly brought it into the conversation to prove some point), "ni__er" is "culturally embedded", can have "multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings", and "doesn't *automatically* constitute the oppression of anyone". 
But if i started using it? i would be prepared to get my shit checked or my face slapped. Yes, context matters, but that doesn't mean that in ANY context that word would be ok for me, a white person, to use. And it's not my place to demand that POC "educate" me on why.

Finally, the writer ultimately blames gimps for our own oppression with 
"you participate in a process (again, censorship) that actually threatens to strip even disabled people of the very language we might otherwise use to describe ourselves and speak about our own experiences." and "actually contributes to the systematic silencing (and therefore oppression) of disabled people" 

by fundamentally misunderstanding/ misrepresenting the process of reclamation by "othered" groups. This writer is attempting to strip gimps of our agency. 

And that sucks, in any context.


Here's  a link to the now-defunct Disabled Feminists site, with various posts talking about ableist (no need for scare quotes!) words:


Teresa said...

The link at the top of your post didn't work, but I think this is where this originally came from:

I'm guessing that similar conversations are taking place across the blogosphere right now, because I've started running across more posts now (like here: - particularly in the comments).

It seems to be coming down to two things - "YOU don't understand why my use of this language is okay" or "instead of shutting me down and making me feel bad, you should be educating me."

I especially like your point that these arguments ignore the fact that conversations about language DO happen, in communities that are negatively described by particular words and by anyone who tries to maintain a standard of inclusive and less harmful speech.

Also, why does the "n" word get pulled out every single time there's a debate about language? People treat it as an opportunity for a freebie in that regard and it really bothers me.

romham a bear said...

ah thanks for the correction!