Q:I'm the one who told you stupid is ableist. It's been connected to developmentally disabled people for a loooooooong time. Personally, my mom always called me stupid for not being able to fold clothes right. I used to repeat questions automatically. All of my autistic traits have always gotten me called stupid and i'm not the only autistic one with these experiences. Typically it's people without developmental disabilities who question the connection with the word.
As a social justice activist, when I interrogate language, I don’t do so as a means of eliminating words from use because the words themselves are harmful, or because individuals have had experiences that make those words uncomfortable to them. I do so as an accessible stepping-stone to discuss the systemic oppressions that marginalized people face. The word themselves are ultimately superficial symptoms. For example, calling a mentally-ill person “crazy” would have far less negative impact if mental illness weren’t culturally stigmatized. The overuse of “crazy” may support that stigmatization, but it doesn’t CAUSE it. It’s just one factor of many that needs addressing.
Your personal example, while heartbreaking, sort of bears out my point. I could make the same argument against the use of the word “cow”, having been called a fat cow for most of my adolescence and even in adulthood, by all sorts of people. I’m not about to make that argument, for two reasons. One, it’s not all about me. Two, “cow” ain’t the problem. There are lots of appropriate uses for the word “cow”. The problem is a social environment that deems it acceptable to harass people because of how they look or how they think or whatever makes them different.
This is not to say that language isn’t important; it is. But we can’t let social justice activism get stuck on language if doing so means ignoring the enormity of the institutionalized systems that cause the language to be so loaded in the first place. If cultural forces of marginalization were kept in a giant warehouse, focusing on language would be like standing around arguing about the color of the siding on the building. Yes, it’d be ideal if we all agree on a context we can live with, but we can’t let that discussion prevent us from going inside and getting to work.
You might think all this is a crock of shit, and you are absolutely entitled to that! I am by no means telling you that it is wrong for you to hate the word “stupid”, or even to explain to people why you would rather they not use it. I encourage you to draw whatever boundaries you deem necessary to thrive in this difficult and often hostile world. I am sincerely sorry that my use of the word upset you, and I will continue to think about my use of that word, as I do with lots of words.
I am bound to mention, however, that you may have more luck in future if from the start you are clear about which word you are discussing, and why you find it problematic, rather than leaving it to people’s imaginations. I actually spent several minutes wondering if it was my use of “overthinking” that was troubling you, because you didn’t bother to specify what you found ableist.
As I said in my subsequent responses, you don’t have to be polite, or kind, or even forthcoming, but you do have to be clear if you expect people to understand what the heck you’re calling them out on.