content warning: this post contains a metaphor involving spiders. This post is technically in response to an old issue, but its points still need to be expressed. So i’m posting it anyway.
it is possible to be disabled and ableist.
ableism is an aspect of systematic oppression. the thing about systems is that they are complex – they are like spider webs that stretch out for miles and all of the strings intersect with each other. a single movement on the web affects the entire thing. something gets caught in the web – a minority in this case – and as it struggles against the strings to get free, it can shake the careful balance of another into the sticky strings and get them caught as well. as it struggles, it can also alert the majority to the presence of those caught in the web, dragging their comrade down with them. maybe the first is aware of this, maybe they aren’t. but either way, by not having been careful and considerate they too can contribute to the downfall of another, even in their struggles against the same web.
systematic oppression is so prevalent that it seeps into every aspect of daily life. the majority, those in control of the system, in turn have control over dozens of things that we interact with throughout our lives: the media, education systems, our families and friends. perspectives that are prevalent in the societies we live in are taught to us continuously throughout our lives by our families, our communities, television and internet ads, even casual conversation spoken by strangers as we walk down the street. from a young age, prevalent perspectives start to become drilled into our minds, affecting how we think about ourselves and others. we are the products of our civilizations. and unless we find ways to contest them, many of these perspectives become harmful. oppression shapes us into weapons, and boy do we use them well.
This is why it’s important to always be aware of our privilege, even within our own communities. If we don’t, we can do or say things that negatively impact our peers. Unknowingly, we could be contributing to the same harm that is brought upon them from outside of the community, but from within our own safe spaces. These are the spaces where we’re supposed to feel like we can get away from that – they’re supposed to be safe for a reason. When people of our own community can’t acknowledge their internalized ableism, it shows others in our community that nothing is ever safe. How do you think it feels, to not be able to trust anyone? It’s hard enough not being able to trust people that aren’t part of the community, people that don’t get it… how are we supposed to feel when we can’t trust the people that are supposed to get it?
The reason i get on people’s cases so much about language and behavior is because communication is the focal point of society. Everything we do to interact with other people is a form of communication. It doesn’t just have to be words, either – body language is another means of trying to communicate, or get one’s point across to another. Imagery is a form of communication. art, music… whether it has words or not, it attempts to convey emotions or concepts to its viewers or listeners. Communication, paired with psychology, directly influence how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about others. It influences how we interact with others and our overall behaviors in response.
Systematic oppression is in itself a form of communication. It is communication that tells people of minorities the dangerous and harmful viewpoints that people of the majority have of us. It is what tells us, in an incredibly complex way like the threads of the spider web, that we are worthless, unloved, unwanted, dirty, broken. Slurs are an extension of this, because they mean all of these different kinds of words and concepts in a small little package aimed straight at your heart. They are designed to damage us. They are designed to be weapons. That is why they hurt so much, because they are the development of a system that wants us locked away, made prisoners of their demands or dead. They are some of the many tools created by this system to control us and our emotions, to put us in our place. They are code words for every nasty thought that bigots have of us. And because of how language is learned and grows in cultures, these slurs become so commonplace that they infest our safe spaces. Actively or not, the majority’s system of oppression is taking advantage of the way that language is learned and shared in cultures in order to distribute these weapons to more hands. To cause more damage. And it’s “easy” to hide it under the guise of the “evolution of language”…
but that doesn’t change the impact it has on people. It doesn’t change the harm it does to people’s minds and hearts. It is the origins that matter, not necessarily current usage, especially when current usage is defined by the majority – after all, they’re the ones in power and have access to these lovely things called dictionaries and these are supposed to be our rulebooks of language, people’s emotions and histories be damned. The origins tell us the context of how they became common, how they became instilled in the minds of our peers and our children. The context tells us the damage it does, and why it hurts so.
So the next time you think to yourself “it’s just a word, it means something different now” when someone tells you something is a slur, remember these words i have told you. Remember the spider’s web and how it impacts us all. And remember that history has power… and there are people that want you to forget that fact.