On changing the name to What Privilege

A few months ago, we had a discussion about whether the original name of this website, Blind Privilege, was ableist. As is typical when someone raises a question like this, there were several people who agreed with changing the name and several who thought it wasn’t necessary. And a few who thought it was ridiculous to even consider changing it.

This prompted me to do a lot of reading and research online. There are a number of worthwhile opinions on both sides of the fence – for example, if you ask a group of women whether the term “bitch” (as a slur against a woman) should be eliminated, you might get the following answers:

  • Yes, completely. You’re comparing a woman to a dog!
  • No, it should just be applied equally to men.
  • No, when someone calls me a bitch, I thank them, thus turning the phrase into a compliment and ruining it for them.
  • It should be eliminated in some contexts, but not others.

All of these are sound opinions. I’m sure I could have found some visually impaired people who didn’t mind me using “blind” as a metaphor for ignorance. But you know why that wasn’t the point? It took me months to get this. One day, I was thinking about which terms were permissible to describe people who don’t bother using their brains when they should, and I discovered to my shock there isn’t one. “Stupid” describes someone who lacks cognitive capacity. There’s no shame in that. I want a term that shames someone who has cognitive capacity but refuses to think out of laziness and irresponsibility. The problem is not simply that “retard” or “idiot” are ugly because they refer to actual neruological conditions and “stupid” also technically refers to someone who lacks some cognitive ability; it’s that English doesn’t even bother having a word for people who can’t be bothered to apply their cognitive ability.

Question: what does that tell you about English? Answer: that we, as a culture, think the best way to insult someone who deserves an insult is to equate them with a person who has a condition and does not deserve insult. That’s pretty sick.

“Blind” is the same raw deal. No matter what anyone thinks of it, it’s using a condition that does not deserve insult as a way of insulting people who don’t have that condition.

It took me a long time to come up with an equal or better name that had a nice ring, but I finally did. Here it is.

Comments

  1. Jen says

    English doesn’t even bother having a word for people who can’t be bothered to apply their cognitive ability.
    My mother said the word ‘fuckwit’ is reserved for these people. So there you go. :)

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    LOL! Unfortunately, there’s an argument to be made for “-wit” terms being derived from half-wit, which is definitely a slur, so while I’ve seen some anti-ableists recommend those terms as alternatives to “stupid” or “moron” or “idiot”, others have argued they are ableist.

    “Asshat” kind of approaches what I’m looking for, now that I think about it. As long as the person I’m speaking to/of understands it means one’s head is up one’s ass. :D

  3. Jen says

    I always considered ‘fuckwit’ to mean a specific type of wit rather than level. So rather than it meaning ‘half wit’ or ‘low’ wit, it’s more like ‘you have a fuck-like wit’
    Sort of like ‘dick head’?

  4. Iseryn says

    Closest I’ve seen are wilfully ignorant or wilfully oblivious, since they carry both the lack of awareness and the choice in it.

    I’ve also seen “don’t use the sense God gave them”, but that’s a bit lengthy and something about it discomforts me though I’ve yet to figure out what that is. I can’t think of a single word that covers it.

  5. Isabel says

    ““Asshat” kind of approaches what I’m looking for, now that I think about it. ”

    Please don’t spread this incredibly annoying term any further.

    “As long as the person I’m speaking to/of understands it means one’s head is up one’s ass. :D”

    There was a great line in one of The Slits albums, “Untie your mind from your behind”

    “wilfully ignorant ”

    Sometimes we just need two words. Although sometimes ‘disingenuous’ works.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Isabel, then what do you suggest as a noun to describe someone who’s willfully ignorant? “Fool” is the only word that comes remotely close, and it gets annoying just having one word to use in every single instance.

  7. Anne says

    I <3 you. Thank you for opening my eyes in many ways and causing me to think over my actions and choices. I grew up constantly using "gay," "retard," and most recently "lame." And I LOVE the word lame. Trying to get myself to not use all of these has been difficult, but I just can't really justify it. Sure, I don't intend to insult anyone actually described by the words with my usage of them, but that's not the point, is it? The point is, just as you've described, is that that's the point. I don't intend to insult them, and yet I am using those words, and using them as though it's a negative, bad thing.

    Lame is being particularly difficult. As I said, I really have loved that word. I loved it and used it all the time and never even put two and two together. And I have a brother crippled by an injury. And event hen my privilege led me to not even getting it.

    People might tell you it doesn't matter, you're not intending it that way, the meaning of words change, whatever. I think an excellent dissection of this topic is the South Park episode about the word Fag. Though I ultimately come to a different conclusion than the SP guys, I really am glad people think about these things, especially in a mainstrem forum.

  8. Eme says

    I use half-assed (thinker, job, etc), or half-asser for short. It implies that someone is not putting all their effort into something.

  9. Fryonic says

    “a word for people who can’t be bothered to apply their cognitive ability.”

    hmmmmm…… do you think the phrase “willfully ignorant” would describe that situation?

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    Fryonic,

    In some cases, definitely. But there are also people who know the facts but simply refuse to follow logic if it doesn’t take them somewhere emotionally comfortable, and that’s not ignorance so much as… emotionally driven selfish refusal to apply standards to their own brain fruits? LOL, I dunno, it would just be nice to have a snappy term like “stupid” that implies a refusal on the person’s part to do what they can and should, rather than a lack of ability (which isn’t the case).

  11. Karen says

    i know this is an old post and don’t mean to necro, but for what it’s worth:

    since you bring up the word “idiot” – the archaic use in Athenian Greece denoted an uniformed and uninvolved person who took no interest in public life and didn’t participate government. A poor citizen, if you will.

    It’s unfortunate that the word changed over time to connote diminished intellectual capacity and then evolved, becoming a demeaning insult (similar to the word “retarded”), because the archaic meaning of “idiot” surely fits some modern behavior. ;)

    another fwiw: – I think the name change shows that you are serious about equality and care about other people.

    linkys:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiot
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/pzgmkf8 (Greek to English Lexicon entry for “idios”)
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/nswe4wn (Greek to English Lexicon entry for “idi?t?s”)

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