Ableist language in the name of this site?

[ETA: the site name referred to in this post is “Blind Privilege”, which was the original name of this site and domain. After this post, I changed both the site and domain name to “What Privilege?”]

Three years ago, I started this site. I’d heard “blinded by privilege” in a few places, and came up with the phrase “blind privilege”. It was available as a domain, so I bought it and started blogging.

Three years ago, I wasn’t very aware of able-bodied privilege, particularly in terms of specifics like ableist language. I mean, I was aware that being able-bodied gave me privileges, but I needed a lot of education on the ways in which society and individuals fail disabled people. I still need a lot of education on it, but I’ve gotten quite a bit since I bought this domain from people like Anna and Tekanji. My education on ableist language began one day when Tekanji objected to one of our posts referring to something stupid as “lame.”

I was content to take her word on it and stop using the term that way, but I also wanted to understand precisely WHY it was ableist, because the more I understand these things, the more likely I am to be able to figure out for myself when there’s something wrong with a term that’s new to me. There’s a great thread at Cerise about all this. Sometimes it’s something buried in the word’s history that gives it ugly baggage, and you couldn’t be expected to know it until you come across that history. Sometimes it’s a context you’re not aware of. Whatever the case, it’s privilege that isolates me from these words and the hurt they can cause, and the least I can do is find other terms.

And, on a side note, it’s true that some of these words are debatable, just like gendered slurs. For example, “bitch.” Does calling a man a “bitch” help neutralize the term’s slurring effect on women? What about proudly calling yourself a bitch because you are assertive and don’t take shit? I think there are valid arguments on both sides in some cases, but at least when you’re blogging for the world at large, get a thesaurus and avoid the problematic words. That’s my take. It takes work, and it’s not easy, but it really is the least privilege people can do.

Here’s what this is all leading to. A week or two ago, I was following links about the Feministing ableist language issue when suddenly it hit me: was “blind privilege” a gross example of ableist language? I decided I needed to research this, then got sick. Then Meg asked that very question just as I was getting well, which was a little uncanny. I did the research, and found the answer was yes, according to this blogger. When I chose this domain name, I was thinking of selective “blindness,” of not “seeing” a thing when it doesn’t convenience you to be aware of it. I didn’t realize there was anything problematic about describing that in terms of “seeing” or “not seeing” privilege. But RMJ is right. So is Chally.

I made a mistake. I didn’t mean to. I had no ugly intentions. But still, my privilege kept me from recognizing that a phrase I’d seen around the internet was problematic. Now I know.

My question to you is: what should I do about it? Changing the name of the blog is easy, and I welcome your suggestions for a new name. Changing the domain name is a good bit more difficult, but it can be done, more or less. Or would leaving the domain name the same but changing the blog name, and prominently linking a page that explains how it all happened be illuminating? Is there another solution I haven’t considered?

Comments

  1. says

    Oblivious privilege?

    I think leaving the domain name the same for a while with an explanation would be useful, but then it would get old and would need changing. Besides, you might as well road-test your new blog name for a while first.

  2. Anna says

    I’ve thought the title of your blog referred to the idea that people are ignorant to their own privilege. You mgith want to title it “Ignorance is Bliss” if that’s your aim.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    It refers to the idea that we are initially kept from recognizing our privilege by the hierarchical structure of society (everyone’s always looking “up” the ladder at those with more privilege), and also that sometimes we choose not to recognize it for our own convenience. “Blind” was the only term I could think of that conveyed both, in its metaphorical usage. (What I had in mind, in fact, was horse blinders, actually – they limit the horse’s field of vision to keep it from becoming distracted stuff other than what its masters want it focusing on. That’s very much the metaphor I was going for.)

    The discussion about this on my LJ has been interesting. It largely centers on the idea that “blind” does have other meanings, not all of which are negative or metaphors for something bad: “justice is blind” means that justice refuses to be swayed by the superficial – what we first see of a person, such as skin color or clothes that suggest social status.

    I was expecting a stronger overall reaction than I’m getting against the title, and this is confusing me and making me wonder if perhaps it’s not as big a deal as I thought. I’m not arguing that’s the case, I’m just admitting to genuine befuddlement here (and I will certainly own that I dread changing the domain name because it’s a difficult process, involves a bit of expense, and always in my experience loses you a bunch of traffic that it takes at least a year or so to get back). Hmm.

  4. Anna says

    How do the people arguing against you changing your blog title feel about ableist language in general?

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m not sure, honestly – not something we’ve discussed before, really. But I meant even *your* reaction wasn’t as strong as I had expected. Though ultimately, I think the problem is… well, let me back up a bit. I’ll probably stick my foot way down my throat, but my goal here is to be honest about the process of coming to understand something I have the privilege of not having to understand.

    I totally got why “that’s so lame” is ableist once it was pointed out to me. I can’t think of a context in which “lame” doesn’t mean “bad” (other than when it refers to the disability). That makes the disability synonymous with bad in the same way “that’s so gay” makes homosexuality synonymous with bad. I get that.

    But “blind” is a word I’m used to thinking of in some neutral or even positive contexts – justice is blind, horse blinders, window blinds, blinded by a revelation. I am getting from things I’ve read that using “blind” to mean “not getting it” is similar to “that’s so lame” – that, I understand. I suppose my context looks like that, but in my head there is a (perhaps false) distinction, because my title was intended to imply that privilege itself is what “blinds” us to privilege. Um, if that makes sense.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    *nods*

    Okay. I’ll keep trying to self-educate on this. I think I started the post assuming that everyone would give me a consensus was on what I should do, and I would do it, and all would be well. I probably expected this because most of the online reading I’ve done on ableist language amounts to nothing more than lists of words people feel are acceptable and unacceptable.

    But it would be better if I really understood it, and I don’t. The word profiles on Disabled Feminists are quite helpful, and yet I still struggle with words that are ableist in some contexts and not in others. There are subtleties I’m just not getting… yet.

  7. says

    I did a google to see what else is out there on this, and what struck me right away is that “blind” implies understanding = seeing. Even people who can see just fine may not be particularly visual, instead perhaps preferring auditory or tactile/kinesthetic learning modalities. And yet we have this stereotype that visual learning is the norm. So using words like “blind” and “see” out of context affect people who are not strong visual learners as well as people who cannot see well or at all.

    Choosing a title that doesn’t refer to sight/blindness probably is a good idea in the long run.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Thanks, Anna, I found it very helpful. And I appreciate you leading me to it, because that’s the sort of thing one doesn’t find via Google.

    Then I did more research on changing the blog/domain name, and realized it’s less practical than I had believed.

    But I think I have a solution. I’ll implement it in the near future.

  9. says

    While I agree it is important to be mindful of the words we use as well as our own privilege (white, male, hetero, etc.) and how that may sway our choices, I completely disagree with the argument that the title of your blog is ableist.

    The word in question — blind — literally means “unable to see.” There is neither judgement nor malice in the word’s literal meaning, and I think one would be truly hard-pressed to show examples of such in the many metaphorical uses of the word (such as in your title).

    Your use of the title suggests an inability to see (or identify/recognize) privilege. So how is this ableist? Does this use of the word “blind” denigrating or dehumanize people who are literally unable to see? Does this use in any way rob another human being of their dignity? Is it stigmatizing?

    I would say absolutely not, and for me that is the litmus test: does the context dehumanize a group of people or rob them of their dignity? Does it perpetuate a stigma? The use of the word “retard” as a pejorative is a prime example of ableism; “BlindPrivilege” is a completely different thing.

    With almost any word or expression you can find someone that will take offence, that’s a given. Somewhere someone is going to have a problem with something. The offended author of the post has taken a decidedly narrow interpretation of things, latching on exclusively to the literal and ignoring the fact that much of the English language uses *metaphor* as a means — and a very effective one — of communicating!

    “When I say that I must open my eyes to oppression, I must see my own racism […] what am I saying about the people who are literally blind? Are they included in the discussion of working towards a better world…?” Is she also offended (on behalf of those who are literally unable to see) by the calling of the sheet of plastic we use to block light from passing through the windows a “blind”?

    Her overall point about being careful with our use of language is a just one, however she picked the wrong target to use as an example.

    (And if I were to say “but that’s just *my* point of view,” would that be ableist of me?)

  10. Broomstick says

    Wow, this is such a dumb, pointless point. I am not Blind or Retarded or whatever (I am Deaf), but people get so uptight and offended over everything.

    There is no such thing as “ableist” language. Sure, there’s racism, sexism, and homophobia, but it ain’t on the same level as ableism. Yes, I have the right to say this because I am non-white, female, and Muslim (as well as DEAF).

    Quit trying to please everyone. Write what you want and if others get offended, that’s their own goddamned problem. Oh sorry, was “goddamned” politically incorrect and offensive for Christians?

    Get over it.

  11. Stacy says

    “but at least when you’re blogging for the world at large, get a thesaurus and avoid the problematic words.”

    No. Write what you want to write, and the devil take the hindmost. Self-censoring because you might offend someone is the sure sign of a scared writer.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    Stacy, if we’re talking about ideas, I would agree. But we’re talking about words that convey them. There are a lot of reasons to seek out the very best possible words to use rather than just accepting the first ones that came to mind. It’s nothing to do with fear,

  13. Kascendant says

    I only recently found this site, but in reading about this discussion (as well as other threads) I wanted to say how much I admire the spirit behind so much of what you present. I’m finally saying it here because these few posts seem to illustrate the division I’m thinking of very clearly.

    Some people interact with the world as if everything and everyone is trying to control them. They resent being told that their method of expression is unecessarily hurtful because they can’t separate their ideas from the presentation of their ideas to others.

    (I know there are no absolutes, “two kinds of people” or anything here. I’m just hitting the edges of the seesaw.) There’s the base assumption that someone saying “your use of that language is hurtful” is fundamentally manipulative, that it’s said with the intent to control, not out of any genuine response.

    It’s the idea that if you aren’t meaning to be offensive, and someone is hurt, that any discussion of it exists only to shame you and control your behavior.

    You and a number of others here very much seem to come at all of this from exactly the opposite direction. You operate from a fundamental honesty of intent that allows you to take others as whole people, whose opinions and responses were not created merely to impose limitations on your expression.

    I know that sounds simple, but there are so many people who can’t seem to cross that distance. They simply can’t seem to understand that choosing to carefully craft your words for minimal avoidable harm has nothing to do with censoring your opinions or “allowing yourself to be controlled by others.” It’s about a personal choice to make actual decency, not a semblance of righteousness or a fear of backlash, the controlling factors for any attempt at communication.

    It’s a quality I admire very much. I appreciate your example.

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    Kascendant, thank you very much.

    There’s the base assumption that someone saying “your use of that language is hurtful” is fundamentally manipulative, that it’s said with the intent to control, not out of any genuine response.

    It’s a convenient assumption because it means you don’t have to do or change anything in response. I just trashed a comment on this blog where someone said I was complaining just to complain. That’s really the same silencing tactic, really.

  15. Palaverer says

    I disagree with your reasoning regarding the use of the word “lame.” One of the definitions of lame is “weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory; clumsy.” This is an adjective that can be used of anything that fits that description, not just a person who has diminished use of their legs. To describe something that fits this description as lame is in no way comparable to describing it as gay. What is comparable is describing someone who shows a “merry, lively mood” as gay because that is one of its definitions.

    It is also comparable to using a phrase like “fat chance.” This is in no way a slur on obese people because in the context it has nothing to do with them.

  16. Jennifer Kesler says

    There are better and lengthier descriptions of why “lame” is ableist than what I posted in passing here, and you really should check them out before coming to a conclusion.

    You’re thinking it’s about the *intentions* behind the word, and whether it’s *intended* as a slur on the people it describes in other contexts, but that’s not the issue at all.

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