Friday, May 27, 2011

Slurs Are Slurs But Are Not Other Slurs

So, Glee is doing things again – or so I thought. Sigh. I have not talked about Glee here because I do not watch it. Yes, I am aware of it as a subcultural phenomenon. That fact actually upsets me somewhat – I find their treatment of the issues of people of disabilities to be atrocious and disgusting. I know stupid, hateful people I can hang out around if I want to feel that way, thank you very much. So no Glee here, outside of watching clips to share solidarity with the people that are hurt when they watch it.

On Twitter I saw that Elon James White had tweeted about an article describing Glee’s latest screw up.

I completely agree that these slurs are not equal.

Now normally I am in the first wave of people to jump on Glee’s ass and point and laugh at the hole. This is not Glee’s project, though, it is the R-word’s project, part of the foundation that supports the Special Olympics, so I took a breath, went to their site, combed through it,  and thought about it some more…

My brain pan, let me open it for you.

First, I think that both the creators of the clip and some of the people decrying it seem to be ignoring all of the intersections at play. There are people with intellectual disabilities or neuroatypical lesbians, gays, Germans, Latina/Latinos, and blacks; I want to acknowledge that here.

Second, I went through their available content, and I think their point is poorly made but valid. The point is not a moral equivalency, but a resultant equivalency, I think. I believe that what they wanted to do was show people that may not otherwise consider it that this slur also delivers that sick, just punched in the gut feeling. That this word instantly conjures up a history of discrimination and oppressive so odious that even now people refuse to acknowledge that it even exists... if they even know about it in the first place.

Third, it is hard not to feel alienated by the line of reasoning used by some critics. Apparently, some folk feel that “retarded”, and likely also “lame,” “gimp,” “crip,” etc., are just not “as bad.” This is exactly the same wrong reasoning the commercial itself uses! The fact that there is no moral equivalency works both ways – it is hate speech. It hurts. That purpose is to wound. Do not try to feed me that “Oh, but I don’t mean it that way!” bullshit – if it was not meant negatively, you would not be using it to describe something you view negatively, okay? Okay.

For those of you thinking that “retard” and “retarded” simply do not have the same impact because they lack history, you are mistaken.  Retard is a word that went from a specific diagnosis to slur in our most recent century – but discrimination against folks with mental disabilities has a long and sordid history. This is just one of the more recent slang insults used in conjunction with a fear and hatred that is so old and so widespread that the origins of it may never be found (the above link sites the first technical writing about it to 5 B.C.E.).


(I am not even going into all the bullshite that still happens today to people with disabilities: the discrimination, the forced treatment, the "good cripple" and super-crip memetic weapons, the "mercy" killings, the astonishing rape, abuse and murder statistics, "angel babies," and so on and so on... The fact that this is still mostly invisible disgusts me.)

People perceived as being outside of some generally accepted social norm of mental capacity and thought have been discriminated against forever – tactics have extended to banishment, forced sterilization, torture, and even death. And until fairly recently (historically speaking) other “trouble makers” such as homosexuals, uppity women, and political minorities (to name but a few) have been labeled mentally incompetent in order to silence and discredit them while also subjecting them to the same treatment.

Forth: remember what you learned about the Holocaust? Do you remember learning about the six million Jews, a terrible atrocity that should have never been allowed to happen, right? Right. But you should have also been told that the grand total of people slaughtered was closer to ELEVEN TO SEVENTEEN MILLION.  I am not even going into the military and civilian deaths caused by the war itself; just about purposeful exterminations at this moment. All those other people included, but are not limited to the following: homosexuals, political dissidents, other religious dissidents, Romani, and… people with disabilities! It is a sorrowful thing to see all of those people forgotten almost every time the Holocaust is mentioned. I will never, ever degrade the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust – I want people to remember that they were not alone. 

Are disability slurs the same as racial slurs? No.

Are sexual orientation slurs the same as disability slurs? No.  

Each slur is unique, designed to hurt one specific group of people in specific ways - to justify atrocious treatment with little to no guilt on the part of the abuser.

Do they all carry long, dark histories of discrimination, oppression, and murder? Do they all carry the inherent intent to dehumanize, to "other", to separate?


They are all wrong.

Thank you for sticking with me through this piece, I appreciate it. Please do not see my limited linking above as a indicator of sparse information - there is plenty out there if you make even a basic effort to look for it. I am just out of spoons...


  1. I know there are those that would say we're too sensitive, but your outrage is legitimate. Actions are determined by thoughts and thoughts are affected by the words we use. Saying a slur is "harmless" is misguided at best. Thanks for sticking up for all of us.

  2. @Lunabug - Thank you for taking the time to read and respond, I appreciate it.

    I wanted to focus on and highlight one group's pain without doing so at the expense of other people. People harmed by the other slurs (and some of them harm me personally)used in the commercial are not being challenged here - but I think if we could acknowledge shared harm we may be just a little better off than we were before.


I will get to your comment as soon as possible! Moderation is to guard against some of the vile things that happen on this series of tubes...