There’s a difference between calling someone a disabled person and calling them a person with a disability. This should be a no-brainer, but some people just don’t get it. When you refer to someone based solely on what makes them different, then you are taking away that person’s identity. I mean, I’m disabled, but there is so much more to my personality than just “being the disabled person”. Sure, being disabled is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me.
Unfortunately, society is now so charged up with being overly politically correct that it feels like you’re constantly walking on eggshells making sure you use the right term. I have been guilty of being agitated with people referring to my mobility cane as a “stick”. I mean, its proper name is a cane, but people who call it a stick aren’t trying to be assholes; they just don’t know any better. I don’t think it’s beneficial to lose your head over semantics, as tempting as it may be. It’s impossible to win someone over when you constantly have to correct their ignorance. People will see it as you being too sensitive, even though you’re trying to educate them.
A much better approach would be to simply use the terms you feel comfortable with, and if people don’t catch on, then there’s really no point trying to educate them. One example that always gets under peoples’ skin is “African American” vs “Black”. Seriously, I’ve had so many white people get angry no matter what term I use. I find it ironic that white people are the ones most upset about this topic. Anyway, being a white man myself, I know enough to know that not all black people are descended from African, thus, not African Americans. I feel like the terms can be used interchangeable. But, if I refer to someone as “black” and they say, “I’m actually African American”, then it’s only polite to respect their choice of words.
What is important is to not let our labels define us. Any marginalized group gains power by defining what they are called. It can sometimes be easy to fall into tribalism based on labels. The worst is when people pervert the usage of intersectionality and use it to create an oppression hierarchy. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in the minority group your part of. The only problems occur when you identify yourself as nothing but that minority.
A clear example of this is during the 2016 election when Hilary Clinton’s main campaign platform was, “I’m a woman. I will be the first woman president”. Ok, fair enough, but what about your policies and your ideology? What was presented was just well rehearsed talking-pointed and platitudes. If I want to support someone for president, it should be based on that person’s policies. The fact that the person would be the first female president is just an extra bonus since we should look at people beyond just their labels.
I earned my M.A in English Lit from Gardner-Webb University in 2019. My writing mainly focuses on disability positivity. I enjoy sci-fi, fantasy and classic rock. Oh, and I’m also a part time phone sex operator. So, that’s a thing.