Posted by: Dissol on Sep 08, 2011
Recent news got me thinking.
We have had the Julius Malema using all sorts of derogatory words (& songs) for a while, and finally the ANC has decided to take him to task over this (and other issues...like demanding regime changes in Botswana...of all places!). Then Darren Scott comes along and uses the K word, and he faces the music (loses his radio jobs, and is put on leave from SuperSport - which will probably mean he will miss the RWC at least).
Now, I have been hearing all sorts of nonsense from people at both ends of the spectrum, trying to downplay one, and exagerate another... Clearly Malema has said some pretty offensive things, and the K word in South Africa is possibly the most offensive word of all. Yes, I understand it only means unbeliever to islam orginally, but it has to be viewed in the context & history of South Africa.
The problem is that people try to view the issue in totally simplistic terms, and things are rarely that clear. It has to be viewed in context, and with some knowledge. We have to apply our minds, and often we then find that the actual issues are blurry, fuzzy, and much more difficult to explain in the simplistic terms of Twitter, FB, or call ins to talk radio. A comment from a NZ rugby commentator was amusing though - "a South African rugby commentator is thought to be racist - really? And that is news? It is a bit like an Australian rugby commentator being found to be sexist...not really news is it??"
But I got thinking. I am used to being called names. Being a Scot, who lived for many years & went to school in England meant plenty of name calling. Being a non-Yorkshireman, but living in Yorkshire, meant a few more. Moving around a lot, often meant I was an outsider - in fact I think it is fair to say I have never been an insider! This meant a lot of name calling. Then I became disabled, and I was exposed to a whole new level of name calling, many are very demeaning, even from people who do not mean them to be. Cripple, wheelchair bound, vulnerable, handicapped, etc. But as with Malema & Scott, context is everything. Usually people do not mean to offend, and there is a huge amount of ignorance around disability. I really don't like people shouting at me, and speaking slowly, as if the spinal cord injury has also injured my brain. I find it offensive when people assume that I cannot live & work independently. I get annoyed when people express surprise that I can drive myself, run my own business, or lecture at universities. It can be actually demeaning when complete strangers patronise me, or call me "brave", or suggest that I am being punished by their god for something. But all this has to be viewed in context, and it does not help to respond angrily. Usually it is merely evidence of ignorance, or in some cases some deep seated prejudice. You have to learn which it is - the first can be addressed with information and education, the latter probably is best ignored (life is too short to try to change the minds of idiots.
But I would suggest that the sort of verbal abuse that many people with disabilities have to endure on a daily basis, is much, much worse than any offense that the mouths of Malema or Scott have ever caused. We need to look at things in context, and be sensitive to how some words are perceived. A friend, or another person with a disability may refer to me as a crip, but that does not immediately bestow the right on a stanger to follow suit. I can tease my wife with sexist jokes, as she knows I am not a chauvinist, but I would not repeat them to women I don't know well.