In everyday conversation, I’ve almost completely stopped using intelligence referencing ableist slurs. I think I’ve slipped up once or twice here or there, but overall it’s one of those things where I catch myself before I (as an example) refer to someone as stu*id. It’s important to me to not use such language for two reasons:
- To characterize someone as stu*id, idiot*c, or r*tarded based on their behavior or something they’ve said is to attribute the words or deeds to a lack of intelligence. Pretty much no one is capable of making snap assessments of the intelligence of others, so right there is reason enough to stop using these slurs as they impugn the intellect of their target. Moreover, using such language is inaccurate. For example, there’s a YouTube vlogger who records himself eating some of the hottest peppers out there. During a super slow period one day last week, I had a guest show me one of the videos. Some people look at the dude and think “He’s fucking stu*id for eating those peppers”. I posit that it has little, if anything to do with his intelligence. In fact, it looks to me like he’s a dude who knows that there is an audience for outlandish, outrageous, and even potentially dangerous behavior. I suspect he’s doing it for the hits and/or the attention (no idea if he makes money off his videos, but if he does, that fits with my theory). What he’s not doing is eating these ridiculously hot peppers bc he lacks intelligence. “Foolish”, “Outlandish”, “Bizarre”, “Potentially Hazardous”…these are all words that better (and more precisely) describe the actions of hot pepper eating YouTube guy.
- Splash damage is a real thing and its worth avoiding the use of language that causes it. In the context of ableist language, splash damage is caused to unintended parties through the use of ableist slurs. As mentioned in #1, to call POTUS45 an idi*t bc he wants to build a border wall is imprecise (ignorant, laughable, or absurd are terms that more accurately describe him), and of course we can’t assess his intelligence based on his support for that inane wall. But using an ableist slur to describe him is metaphorically throwing a wide net. To call him an idi*t is draws an implicit connection between his idea (the wall) and the speakers’ assessment of his intelligence. Basically, it’s saying “you came up with this horribly racist idea bc you’re not smart”. Chitler is not the only one affected by the slur bc there are people who have lower than average intelligence as a result of cognitive impairments or deficiencies. These are people who are already treated horribly by society and face stigma and discrimination bc of their cognitive disabilities. We shouldn’t compound that by implicitly claiming that harmful or bigoted ideas are the result of cognitive impairment.
Like I said, for the most part, I’ve eliminated such words from my everyday use. There are times, however, when I read something that is just so mind-boggling that
out of sheer reflex, certain terms spring to mind (although that’s where they stay). Maine gubernatorial hopeful Shawn Moody recently uttered some words that had me reflexively grasping for some of those old, abandoned slurs. He thinks teachers should use fire extinguishers to stop school shooters (yes, you read that right):
“When you think about commonsense things, practical things we could do like, right now, there are fire extinguishers, dry chemical fire extinguishers in every commercial building, school, almost within a hundred feet of wherever you are,” Moody said. “If anything happens, a teacher, anybody can break that glass, set the alarm off, grab that chemical fire extinguisher and spray it towards somebody. And I’ll tell you right now that could put them to their knees.”
Moody’s “solution” doesn’t employ reason or logic and can best be described as blithering nonsense. If a shooter has his sights on a teacher or a group of students, will he grant the teacher a time out so they can reach the extinguisher, right before unleashing a hail of bullets?
Or maybe he will play even more fair and let the teacher reach the extinguisher, pull the pin, and reduce the distance between themselves and the shooter to anywhere from 8-12 feet (the standard range of a chemical fire extinguisher), all before unleashing a hail of bullets on the teacher?
Or maybe the shooter is going to give the teacher a fighting chance, by allowing them to get the first shot. The teacher could then aim and release the chemicals–at the shooters face! With his vision partially obscured, the shooter unleashes a barrage of bullets that…guess what? Kills anyone in the line of fire, which includes the teacher.
Of course, you can’t count on the shooter playing fair, so its safe to assume that if he sees you, you’re dead. Knowing that, does it make sense to try and run to the nearest fire extinguisher, knowing full well that you have to get up close and personal to the shooter before you can even use your repurposed weapon?
That’s not all however! Moody’s “solution” fails to account for a third option when faced with a situation you cannot cope with: dissociating.
Under such unnerving circumstances, “freezing up” or “numbing out”—in a word, dissociating from the here and now—is about the only and (in various instances), best thing you can do. Being physically, mentally, and emotionally immobilized by your consternation permits you not to feel the harrowing enormity of what’s happening to you, which in your hyperaroused state might threaten your very sanity. In such instances some of the chemicals (i.e., endorphins) you thereby secrete function as an analgesic, so the pain of any injury (to your body or psyche) is experienced with far less intensity.
(Much of the criticism leveled against Scott Peterson (the sheriff’s deputy on duty when the Parkland shooting occurred) comes from people who likely aren’t aware of the flight-fight-freeze response. Hell, many of his critics seem either unaware of the flight response or at least unaware that even trained officers and soldiers are still human beings who have the same responses to dangerous situations and that fighting to overcome those responses takes time and ongoing training)
There’s little in Moody’s proposal that makes sense. His suggestion sounds like something a child might put forth as a solution. I can understand a 6 year old putting this idea forward. But Moody is many years removed from 6. Viewed in a different light though, it’s possible that his idea wasn’t meant to be entirely serious, so much as it was meant as a distraction. Like the rhetorical equivalent of HEY LOOK, A SQUIRREL!, mean to keep people from thinking about actual gun control ideas and policies that do produce results. Hmm, I wonder if Moody has received any financial support from the NRA…
(oh, and btw, even if Moody’s scenario worked exactly as he described, bringing someone down to their knees doesn’t prevent them from firing their weapon…)