Saturday, 22 October 2011

Why language matters

This week Ricky Gervais caused a twitter storm by suggesting it was OK to use the word "mong" because noone thought it was insulting to disabled people anymore. There was a rightly outraged response and as this excellent blogpost demonstrated, many who didn't find it funny at all. It seems the debate then rather deteriorated into a bit of playground namecalling, which didn't help matters. However, it does seem that, thanks to a number of comedians having sensible conversations with Mr Gervais, he has softened somewhat. In fact, we've just seen this one and it does seem that Mr Gervais genuinely didn't think the word was offensive anymore. We're glad to see him enter into thoughtful debate, and  hope parties on all sides  have learnt something.

Language matters. The old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" is only true if those names don't have any power to hurt. And that's only possible if the people being called the names have an equal status with the name-callers. Which is clearly not the case for people with disabilities who never start from a level playing field, and despite the progress of the last century are facing an unprecedented government attack on their rights at the moment. Disability hate crime is on the up, fuelled by the government targetting those on benefits, ignorant comics and the disablist rants of the likes of  the Daily Mail (In a rare move, they had to apologise for this one, as they completely misunderstood the basis of mobility allowance, but that hasn't stopped them from continuing to attack the "benefit scroungers" on a regular basis).

Today, as thousands of disabled people and their supporters take to the streets for the Hardest Hit protests, we have a choice. To continue to believe that those who object to the use of a word are just humourless, politically correct dinosaurs. Or to stand alongside them and challenge anyone who perpetuates the evil lie  that people with disabilities are a drain on society's resources .

When one group in society is not considered as equal as another, the whole of society suffers. Language ALWAYS matters. We should  be careful how we use it.

No comments:

Post a Comment