Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rights and "Politcal Correctness"

LGBQT rights.

Animal rights.

Civil rights.

Women's rights. 

These are just 4 groups of MANY in our country alone that are "fighting for their rights". We all know language that pertains to the three groups mentioned above, some language that is quite unsavory and "politically incorrect", and appropriate and approved terminology regarding these individuals/groups of people. Animals don't really care what you call them, but apparently there are people that stick up for them and their inherent "rights" as well. (I heard something about the whales at SeaWorld having a lawsuit or something? Odd.) Any way you slice it, these groups have been quite prominent in the media and news coverage over the past few years, trying to gain the respect and rights they feel they, as human beings, deserve. Now I'm not here to take sides on these issues, my purpose here is to highlight the terminology that is NOT APPROPRIATE to these groups. We all know the "bad words" that aren't okay to say regarding them. We all get that, MOST of us respect that and don't use offensive language that would offend anyone, and most of us wish no harm to these parties. I don't see anyone campaigning out there to PROTECT animal abuse, for instance.

No, these groups most definitely get a lot of attention in the media coverage. There is no shortage of articles regarding these issues, and if someone dare say one of the forbidden and offensive terms, by golly you're gonna hear about it! (and you should; that sort of behavior is not acceptable for anyone). But what about other groups? Sure, we have LGBTQ rights and civil rights and pro-choice/pro-life rights debates, and people are even fighting for animal rights now. But what about the groups that get under the radar, so to speak? Is there terminology still being used today that is strongly offensive to some people, but not being reprimanded and corrected?

Answer: heck yes there is.

Firstly, I'll address one group that is recently getting more notice and more respect, and is facing more reforms and revolutionary new ideas. You hear about it every so often, but definitely not as often as you'd even hear about animal rights. The group I'm referring to is the Special Needs community. These kids and adults don't always have a voice for themselves, so for many years, they have been treated as second class citizens. The individuals that were literally institutionalized were often times subjected to cruel experiments and trials, and were quite literally tested and used as guinea pigs in the early fields of modern day scientific brain research. (circa 1930's) Morally back then, people regarded them as "vegetables", and somehow justified treating them even worse than animals in "the name of science". I'm quite certain that we're all aware today that these individuals are not, in fact, "vegetables", but can be valuable and contributing members to society. Today more than ever, there are special programs and educational options for people with disabilities, so that they, too, can receive a normal and fulfilling education and learn to function socially, academically, and emotionally as best as they can.
While great strides have been made in the field itself, awareness of these individuals and giving them the "rights" that so many other groups fight for is not quite to my satisfaction. Once in a great while, you hear of some event for Autism Awareness. Which is great, don't get me wrong. What disturbs me is that for every Autism Awareness ad, about 15 of those horrid, depression-inducing Sarah McLachlan animal abuse videos air, sending viewers on a frenzied scramble to find the dang remote to change the channel to escape the torturously sad pictures of abused animals on screen. Anyways, I digress. Another thing that bothers me regarding this "subculture", or however you want to refer to it, is that the terminology is still largely unchanged. For people involved in the field itself, or with relatives that have various disabilities, or for individuals with disabilities themselves, hearing such obscene terminology makes us all cringe.
For example, the biggest offender: the "R" word. To us, the word "retarded" is just as appalling and wretched and absolutely EVIL as the "N" word to the civil rights movement, and the "F" word to the LGBQT movement. THIS NEEDS TO BE STOPPED. It is not okay to call ANYONE "retarded", whether they have learning disabilities or not. Let me repeat: THIS TERM IS EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE. DO NOT USE IT. It hurts my very core when I hear kids say this to each other, or if someone describes something as being "so retarded". A while back, people made a huge deal about the offensive phrase "that's so gay" (synonymous with "that's so stupid"), and the problem was largely contained. They ran ads on the TV about the saying, urging kids to be mature and not say the offending phrase. And guess what? I have not heard that phrase NEARLY as much these days as I did a year or so ago. (I spend a lot of time around kids/high school students, so I sort of know what goes on around them). I really wish someone would put an end to the R-word epidemic, as it truly is so hurtful to the individuals with disabilities and their families, and anyone that works with these individuals to hear that awful phrase. I beseech you, if you find yourself using the phrase, make a concerted effort to put an end to it. It's a bad habit, and even though you may not realize it, it's incredibly offensive.
Other terms to avoid? Mongoloid (referring to individuals with Downs' syndrome), Sevant (referring to "genius" individuals at high end of the Autism Spectrum), handicapped (this is a golf term, not a term to describe people. People have DISABILITIES, not handicaps. unless they're playing golf :) ) wheelchair-bound (instead use "person that uses a wheelchair" or something similar), autistic kid (this is another big one, it is a CHILD WITH AUTISM. Not an autistic kid), mentally retarded (went over this before, but correct way to say it is "person with mental disabilities"), a SPED/ED kid or class (It is not a SPED/ED kid, it's a kid that receives special education), etc. This is called using "person-first" terminology, meaning that the person is NOT EVER presented as a victim, but instead presented as a human being WITH a disability. It'd be the equivalent stupidity of calling someone a "glasses man" because he's wearing glasses. It's just not something you do in the regular community, and it's not something we should do with the individuals in the special needs community. There are many many more terms that need to be changed out, and slowly things are progressing, but I just wanted to try and raise a little bit of awareness to my friends and family members out there that may be unaware of this "group of people not receiving equal rights", unlike many of the more outspoken groups.

Another group near and dear to my heart, you've heard me rant about it before, but ADOPTION. Now I speak of this on a much, much lighter note, although there are still some serious concerns about this as well. Orphans. Where do people get the idea that all of us are orphans? Ignorance, the media, who knows for sure. Charles Dickens had a huge part in this, I imagine. BUT nevertheless, if you hear that somebody was ADOPTED, DO NOT ASSUME that a.) they are an orphan,  b.) that they came from an orphanage in a distant country c.) that they know, or even care about, their biological families, d.) that they were adopted when they were 6 years old out of some orphanage e.) that they secretly resent their "legal" families and want to run away back to their biological parents and/or their original non-existent orphanage.
You have no idea how many times I've had conversations about ALL of the aforementioned assumptions with naive people. And that's fine, I don't expect everyone to understand what normal adoption looks like. It's just always sort of odd to me when people either imply or ask me explicitly if I know my "real" parents (don't ever call bio parents "real" parents; our "real" parents are our legal parents. End of story.) or want to go find them, or if people ask me if I'm an orphan, or any number of the cliche questions people ask. Curiosity is curiosity, but it always astounds me when a seemingly sensible person asks such absurd questions like "what chores did you have to do in the orphanage?" etc.
Terminology for this group isn't as blatantly offensive as with the other group, but obviously, we don't like to be called "orphans", because usually, we aren't. Oh yeah, the term "forever family" really bugs me, too... You've all seen those Sarah McLachlan commercials for animal abuse that I mentioned before, the really depressing ones. The ones where they show pictures of brutally maimed and abused animals with the words "I just want a forever family/home". Okay. That language is appropriate for animals. They're animals. People? No. That creeps me out. That's Sarah McLachlan's gig, that "forever family" thing. We can't apply that to people now; it's just creepy. A child in foster care is in need of permanent residence. Not a "forever family". The child in foster care is not a puppy, or a kitten, or a cabbage patch kid. It's a human child. The term "forever family" sentimentalizes the whole issue, and injects unnecessary emotion into the process. You go to the pound and find a dog to "adopt" into your forever family. Do you go to a foster care clinic (or maybe in some people's terms, an "orphanage") and go through rows of kids, deciding which one to adopt into your "forever family"? Chances are no, you don't. Hopefully you think that's as creepy as I do. You don't "pick" a kid. You adopt them. Into your permanent residence.
I think i've gone on about that quite enough now haha... But seriously, folks. We're not orphans. We're not all related. We don't want "forever families". We're human beings, usually not orphaned, most of us have never set foot in an orphanage. We don't ask "please ma'am, i want some more" in british accents (well, some of us do within our own group as a joke. But that's an insiders only thing, y'hear me? haha). Point is, we're all just normal kids living normal lives with our "real" families. End of story. :)
"'forever family' is my gig, yo. Find another catchphrase, you street urchins!" 

::disclaimer:: sarah mclachlan does not claim that "forever family" is her gig, nor does she refer to adopted children as street urchins.::