Monday, October 24, 2011

Just Don't Use That Word.

Two stories, both from this week, both illustrating how far we need to go in terms of the general public acknowledging that developmentally disabled adults out in public are, like, a thing:

Friday I went rock climbing. The facility has started charging an obscene amount for equipment rental, so my friend and I hit the discount outdoor supply (yeah, this city is so awesome that we have one of those). The guys in the climbing section were awesome-they even found a harness to fit me (I'm in a weird 'tweener size range). They were great, especially given that it was towards closing time on Friday and they were suddenly confronted with several people who all had drastically different needs.

So anyway, even though I was dropping a substantial chunk of change, I was pretty pleased. Then we go to check out & the chick at the register calls her machine r*tarded. Really? Really?! I could feel my climbing buddy wince from 10 feet away.

Don't use that word. It's ableist and unacceptable and hurtful. Oh! but it doesn't mean that! she says. It means slowed down and the meaning has changed and she grew up with foster kids and "worked with those people" and endless stream of justification.

Yeah, no, lady. And developmentally disabled people may be dropping $120 in your store right now and may be very much reconsidering that choice. The correct protocol is to apologize and STFU. And if you call me hun again I am going to slap your face off. The only thing that kept me from walking out was the knowledge that the shoes alone usually run around $200.

Then there was Sunday. As I've blogged about before, I swing dance. I have made some very good friends dancing, and it partially fills a gymnastics-shaped hole in my life. Anyway...

This very nice guy who's been dancing forever brought his nephew or cousin or something (younger male relative, in his earlyish 20s I'd guess). The kid kind of rubs me the wrong way, but whatever, right? There are lots of decent people with whom I just don't mesh, personality-wise. So this dude comes out to Denny's with us after the dance. We played this ridiculous game, Quelf the Card Game-as opposed to Quelf the board game-which involves doing silly, silly things.

Dudeguy pulls a card and says "I won't do this. It's r*t*rd*d." Don't say that word. It's bigoted. "Can I say 't*rd*d?" Well, not if you don't want me to think you're a bigot. Don't spew that hate in front of me.

Insert his not knowing what ableism is here (it's like sexism or racism, except against people with disabilities!). Insert "but I didn't know anyone here is disabled" as a justification here (because it's totes OK if no one is there to be offended, amirite?). Yeah, dude, I'm autistileptic. Nope, your claim of "borderline autism" doesn't impress me-you're still 100% ableist asshat and there's nothing that will justify that.

The guy asked if I'd be offended if he carved "fuck your god" into his arm. Non sequitur much? At this point other people are telling him to just stop, and one friend pointed out that I'm an atheist, if he was going for shock value with that one. I really don't care, it's his arm, though I do wonder what the purpose of doing that would be.

Then we get more word vomit of the R word & "well I don't know what other word to use!" Um. Bullshit. There are lots of other words and after you call me an fing r I have no reason to educate you-you are not worth my time after that. The guy just won't stop with the offensive and my friend tells him he is no longer welcome at our table-I was ready to leave at that point, but apparently I wasn't the one being an asshat?

This guy then goes around with the card that he insists playing would make him look like...well, that word (as though there is no worse fate than the late night crowd at Denny's wondering about you!) and he asks the waiter and all the stoners and other assorted riffraff that frequent Denny's at 1 AM for an adjective that describes the action on the card (please note that I absolutely without reservation consider my group part of that riffraff as well).

He. Asked. The. Waiter. To. Justify. His. Ableist. Hate. Speech.

The waiter was having none of it, fortunately, so this guy just stood at the side of our table for an hour while everyone ignored him. And on his way out he made sure to be vaguely threatening while using the same word about 10 times in one sentence.

But still. Hate speech. He fought that hard for his "right" to use hate speech.

My friends are awesome and wonderful, I must point out. There are so many similar situations where being not-ok with that word is somehow embarrassing or something, and they were pretty solidly "just stop, dude", which is just a symptom of their amazingness.

But this isn't the kind of thing that should happen at all.

In both these situations, people felt they were entitled to use words that the communities they are used against have explicitly said they disapprove of. And then when I, a member of said group, said "that isn't cool" (and according to witnesses, in the kind of way that isn't even offensive, since argument from tone is so damn popular), they felt they had a right to argue their right to use That Word, even though they'd never dream of using similar slurs, because they somehow have the right.


It is not ok to use my people-yep, we're all stuck with each other-as your insult. And you sure as hell have no right to try to argue that because you know a disabled person or don't know that someone is a disabled person it's ok. Your bullshit, it is not flying here.


Unknown said...

I still can't get my sister to stop using it. It is very distressing.

ther1 said...

This kind of stuff is so common many people consider it "normal." I expect crap like that to happen when I take offense at ableism. To me that's the saddest part of your stories.

Neurodivergent K said...

I live, absolutely LIVE, for the day that someone who isn't me (or one of my close friends who knows better) says "Oh. mygod. I cannot believe you just SAID that!" to one of these people. You know, the day it's as socially unacceptable as racial slurs.

Anonymous said...

I know of people who use the R word without thinking of it being offensive, and they have worked with developmentally and intellectually disabled adults so they should know better.

BiolArtist said...

I got in a fight online with some jerks in the DIY Biology list--including a member of the Board of Directors of my local DIYBio group--over this kind of ableist bigotry. I was appalled that a board member would consider it "edgy humor." I'm wondering what kind of ableist hive this place is, considering another board member had a hissy fit because I requested she ditch the air fresheners that gave me migraines.

This kind of nonsense is even worse because they are desperately trying to get new members. I know someone who runs social groups and after-school programs for kids on the spectrum, who would love to work something out with the lab. But if they're going to insist on things being sensory unfriendly and throw around the R Word, that just won't fly.

Heldenautie said...

Time to institute Fist Behavioral Modification. You know, it's the behaviorist program where someone says bigotted things and I hit them until they stop, either from realizing that it's the only way to make me stop hitting them or because I've knocked them out. I'm not picky... it's the result that counts.

Jim said...

I liked this post.

I've grown up a lot since college, but I can totally see myself in the role of asshat in this scene. I argued to argue. I was immature and arrogant and ignorant. And now I'm less of each.

The potential happy ending is that if the guy is even moderately self-aware, he'll learn from this, think about it, and maybe be impacted by it positively.

In *my* past, the argument was about the word "niggardly", which, as a young collegian, I was prepared to argue etymologically (is that word? ironic if it isn't) until I was hoarse. I just didn't get it. It didn't matter that it wasn't derived from that other word, or that it had no racial connotation. . . it was offensive because it was soooooooo similar to it. In my pedantic zeal, I forgot my humanity. . . or maybe hadn't developed it yet.

Anyway, good blog.

Jessica Morton said...

Great rant! I feel the same way about people using the word gay as a derogatory term. The same can go for attacks against women too, when people say things like "You throw like a girl". Using the word gay or retarded to insult something or someone implies that you think there is something wrong with and that it's bad to be homosexual or mentally challenged. Whenever I hear someone use those words in a derogatory way, I am going to say that it personally offends me.

Monica said...

Have you seen this? It's awesome: