“The president is insane.”
“Jeff Sessions is a racist moron.”
“These idiots elected Trump.”
“Stupid people voted against their own self-interest.”
These statements probably seem familiar to you. Maybe you have said similar things yourself. I know I have. At a certain point, the words “moron,” “idiot,” “batshit insane,” “crazier than a shit-house rat” and even “fucktard” played a much bigger part in my language and mind than they do now.
The truth about these terms is that they are ableist.
Ableism is a widespread problem across pretty much all demographics, except for disability rights advocates and the people they have reached. As someone who is categorically insane (I have psychotic episodes and have been institutionalized numerous times) and grew up being called “dumb,” “moron” and “stupid” most days of the week, it came as news to me that my use of these terms was a problem.
Once I got over my defensiveness, I realized that these words were hurting me inside. My cooperation with ableism meant that I had taken up the mantle of the people who had abused me and was letting them rule the inside of my head. My work to move away from these terms has shown me the harm they do — not only to myself, but to other people and, more importantly, the cause of liberation for all people.
I felt entitled to use these words because they had so frequently been used against me, but the truth is that I was ignorantly complicit in degrading people very much in the same boat as me, many who lack privileges that I have. In this way, I was acting as an oppressor while, at the same time, devaluing my own worth as a human.
I did this because I didn’t know better.
Distancing myself from these terms is a task that asks constant vigilance from me, but being aware of them has shown me that when we use terms like these to dismiss our political opponents and enemies, we are doing a disservice to our cause and our rhetoric. More importantly, we are hurting people who have been abused with these words and ideas simply because of who they are.
I can imagine you, reader, pulling away from this argument. I can imagine you believing that I am going too far here. “But they are stupid! Trump is nuts and Sessions is dumb as a brick!”
I get where you’re coming from.
Those are ideas that perhaps have some basis in truth. But when we use these oversimplifications, we push rhetoric that separates ourselves from the problem. The problem isn’t us. It’s the dumb people. Is it? Do you think people with intellectual disabilities or autism are to blame? Do you think people who struggle to make it out of bed or hear voices are the real issue here?
I argue that the administration is calculating, racist and dangerous. I argue that Trump lacks empathy, is ignorant, is self-centered, misogynistic and even a crybaby. Sessions doesn’t have even a morsel of humanity. He is cruel and bigoted and has proven his ill-intent over many decades.
The terms above are accurate. They describe the reality of the situation and the ways I personally want to distance myself from the current political regime. Did it take longer for me to write that paragraph than many of the others in this piece? You can bet your sweet ass it did. Taking others into consideration in our language requires thoughtfulness and intention. It requires us to step back and really think about how we can better frame our thoughts and criticize things that are worthy of criticizing rather than using the first idea that comes to mind.
We have to make the effort if we hope to step forward into better days and better ways. Many white people use ableist language against other white people to distance ourselves from them, but the language is part of the problem. If the best you can come up with is “dumb,” you are being woefully uncreative, and you are avoiding looking at your own complicity in the racist, ableist, sexist and homophobic structures all around us. Your language is proof of that. When you point a finger, you are pointing three back at yourself.
I won’t say that your use of these words is “idiotic,” because that’s not the case. It is ignorant, though. It shows a lack of empathy. It shows a lack of perspective and a failure to consider that people with intellectual and emotional and mental disabilities are as much a part of our society as any of us are. Try thinking before you speak if you want to prove how “smart” you really are.