Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Danger: Words

Do you know what a “manic pixie dream girl” is? From my understanding, a MPDG wears polka dot dresses and drinks Hawaiian Punch from mint-green Fiesta Ware and dances on top of dandelions in the moonlight while listening to leaves fall. (I think.)

To more than one person who usesTumblr, “manic pixie dream girl” is a slur. An ableist slur.

You don’t know what “ableist” means?

Let’s explain with one of those word puzzles we saw in the SAT. “Ableism” is to disability as “racism” is to race.

Now, you may think you understand what ableism is. Making Helen Keller jokes. Not installing wheelchair ramps for your business. Mocking people for the mental illnesses that they did not ask for and cannot control.

Is saying “manic pixie dream girl” a mock? Who thinks of mental illness when they see “manic pixie dream girl”?

And what’s next? We won’t be able to say “Beatlemania” anymore?

Another example: some people (especially those on Tumblr) want us to stop saying “that’s so lame” because that’s ableist, too. Never mind that practically no one has used the word “lame” to refer to the disabled since…er…the nineteenth century? (Oddly enough, “that’s so lame” is the replacement for the now-vilified “that’s so gay.”)

Are you cringing yet? Here is one more: some people are upset at the lyric in “Amazing Grace” which says, “I was blind, but now I see” because it implies that being blind is a negative state. (Objectively speaking, it is better to be able to see than not. But that is a post for another day.)

When did people become so afraid of words?

Social activists of the old school demanded much – to be heard, to define themselves, to speak their history as they understood it.

What they did not do was demand the extinction of certain words. Remember Richard Pryor’s 1974 album, That Nigger’s Crazy? Or Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel Faggots?

The truth is, life has gotten much better for every group that was marginalized before the 1960s. Who would have thought back in 1960 that someone could be openly gay and still be a successful news anchor or talk show host? Or that courses on transgenderism would be taught in respectable colleges?

But instead of celebrating the ongoing milestones of acceptance, activists are diving further into outrage. I compare it to being lucky enough to be seated at a magnificent feast, but the only words coming out of your mouth are complaints about the crumbs on the tablecloth.

In the absence of real trouble, certain personality types will go in search of offenses to fight against. Now, I certainly do not want America to experience the distraction-eliminating problems that are occurring in other countries. I do know that it doesn’t take bombs or fires or riots to see what deserves our attention and what does not.

Words are powerful. Yet, the human spirit is even stronger. Don’t let the words of a dumbass – or even those of a smart person – decide your worth. And be sure of the intent before you cry “offense!”

This T-shirt designed by James Mitchell, available at We Love Fine, is the best possible ending to this post:

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