WARNING: The language below may prove offensive. Or not.
Below are some comments I’ve seen or heard made in the last week or so.
“Do some disabled people look for things to be offended by?”
“Why bring in mental health language when insulting someone?”
“I am a mentalist”
“Mad Nad strikes again”
“Is Nad Mad or just Bad?”
“All these campaigns against stigma are doing us no favours”
“A little wit or humour goes a long way in anti stigma ads”
“The disabled are an easy target”
“I find it offensive”
“Are these the retards on twitter?”
“Get over it, if being insulted is the main issue, you aren’t suffering enough”
“£105 BILLION a year spent on fruitbats, windowlickers and mongs.”
“This is bonkers policy on the hoof, they are mad”
“Misguided isn’t same as having mental health difficulties”
“No offence meant”
“people trying to terrorise others for use of bonkers are barking in fascist rather than mental health way”
“But then, if you don’t challenge the “small stuff”, how can you expect to get people onside to change the bigger aspects of Disablism?”
I believe in free speech. So I guess I must also believe in the right of people to be offensive.
The question is, how do we respond to offence?
If we believe in free speech, surely it works both ways. We have the right to feel offended, and to express that feeling.
But do we sometimes go too far in expressing our offence? Do we need to temper our response depending on who offended us?
Is offence caused in the workplace, or by a person in authority over us, different to offence caused by a stranger online, or more equal to us? How about offensive comments not aimed specifically at us? How about offence caused by the media?
Do we have the right to assume that just because we have been offended by something, that that means it is offensive to others?
Do we need to challenge every person or institution who offends us?
Are we offended too easily? Do we need to develop more of a sense of humour? Do we need to lighten up?
In challenging an organisation which has offended us, are we speaking only for ourselves, or for all disabled people? Do we have the right to assume that just because we have been offended by a statement, that the statement is offensive to others in similar situations to us?
Do we have the right to campaign for others to have their freedom of speech restricted in order to be less offended ourselves?
Is concentrating on our offence doing us any favours, or are we just turning ourselves into caricatures?
Are people with different types of disabilities more likely to be on the receiving end of offensive language? Is it more socially acceptable to offend those with mental health problems than physical disabilities?
Is challenging offensive remarks making it easier or harder to reduce discrimination against disabled people?
Should we move on, and focus on other issues that affect our lives? Like benefits cuts, lack of treatment, fewer job opportunities, poor physical health and higher mortality rates, poorer housing, lack of visibility in society, people or organisations speaking for us when we could be speaking for ourselves?
Or is it just part of a continuum of discrimination, one thing leads to another; insults lead to stigma, leads to fewer job or training opportunities, leads to less money and social mobility, leads to poor visibility in society, leads to poorer housing, leads to poorer physical health, leads to higher mortality?
Another question: In using terms such as mentalist, crip or nutter to describe ourselves, are we reclaiming offensive language, or are we muddying the waters, and making it easier for others to use the same language against us? Do we benefit from following the example of the LGBT community, where the word ‘dyke’ or ‘queer’ may be used by LGBT people to describe themselves as a way of disempowering those who would use it as an insult?
Even if we are not doing it so self consciously or politically, do we get offended by being called something that we might call ourselves? In calling ourselves a word used by some as an insult are we really reflecting our own poor self esteem, or is it just a handy shorthand or way of lightening the mood?
Please don’t assume that I have any answers to the above questions or particular opinions. Its just something I’m thinking about, and I’d like to hear what others think. I believe its important that we discuss these issues, and don’t just let charities and disability organisations speak for us. So please comment. Thanks.