Thursday, April 29, 2004

What did you just call me?

Nice to see some debate going on the tagboard now, and to show I'm tuning in, I want to pick up on A7X's recent comment:

A7X: political correctness is fascist! if i want to say spastics society then i bloddy well will. i don't need some hippie telling me its not politicly correct.

Well, one thing is true, at an individual level it is very difficult indeed to stop people calling other people offensive names, as we saw with Big Ron. Of course, there are some situations in which people have the instrumental power to prevent this. Here, for example, I can delete anybody's comment that I find offensive. As a teacher, I could have you expelled if you persisted in using language in my classroom that is not respectful of other people. I could also take disciplinary action against members of staff who used offensive language. I like to think that I'm helping to make the world a more pleasant place for us all, but you can call me a hippy if you really want to.

The other thing that is true in all this is that the language itself is a slippery thing. It simply isn't a fixed and certain thing, and what one generation finds offensive, another will reclaim in a positive and powerful way. Take the word "gay", for example. It used to be a dreadful insult; then it was an expression of defiant pride; now it's simply a factual description. The word "bitch" can still be used as an insult, but take a stroll through Brighton's North Laine and you'll find all kinds of t-shirt shops offering young women the opportunity to walk loud and proud with the words "tart" or "bitch" emblazoned across their chests. The band Niggaz With Attitude took a deeply racist insult, turned it on its head and made it cool, a name you might want to be called.

And so back to A7X and the Spastics Society. This charity finally changed its name to Scope in 1994, after much protest from disabled people about the offensiveness of the term "spastic". The trouble was, though, that changing the name didn't change the charity's equally outmoded attitudes to disabled people, and now, Dr Laurence Clark, a disabled person with cerebral palsy, is campaigning against those attitudes and practices through his website, In the name of his website we see another example of language being reappropriated by its "victims" as a linguistic act of power.

Check out the link to Dr Clark's website and see for yourself. Once there, click on the link to "Why call the site"

Dr Clark's website


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