Wednesday 14 May 2014

I Am a Crip, and I'm #DisabilityConfident of that

A disability consultant just put out the following two tweets under the #disabilityconfident hashtag

Disabled people - lose the 'c' word ('crip')! It doesn't empower, it undermines & reinforces neg stereotype. #noCword #disabilityconfident


'Crip' is as damaging to disability equality as the 'n' word is to racial equality. Language is the dress of thought! #disabilityconfident

I'm fully aware that 'Crip' is a controversial term for many disabled people, I fully accept people's right to feel uncomfortable with it, and its use, but when they start trying to tell us what we can and can't call ourselves, then I have a problem with them. I've self-identified as a Crip for the last decade, basically since my time on the BBC's Ouch bulletin board, which was the political awakening for many of today's online disability activists. By calling myself a Crip I put myself in the face of those who would denigrate us and tell them that they can hurl disability epithets all they like, because I'm proud to claim those terms for my own. Equally, calling myself a Crip is a form of group self-identity. It aligns me with every other disabled person who confronts those who would put us down, and turns the language of hate into the language of our resistance. So, yes, calling myself a Crip is part of who I am, part of my identity, and my identity is important to me, because denying our ability to self-identify is historically part of the infantilisation of disabled people that kept us as a 'pitied', 'childlike' minority for all but the last 50 years of our history.

So when someone in a self-appointed position tells me how I'm allowed to self-identify, I tend not to see that as remotely #DisabilityConfident (yes, it's one of those 'disability consultants'), and yes, I damn well have a problem with the arrogance of it.

It isn't even particularly well informed criticism, as we see with the statement 'is as damaging to disability equality as the 'n' word is to racial equality'. The reclamation of the N-word (I can't use it, I'm not entitled), is a huge part of the reclamation of Afro-American (in particular) identity from the forces of segregation and hate. The reclamation of the N-word, and the reclamation of language in general has been the subject of considerable academic research, which you can find in papers such as Linguistic Disarmament: A Philosophical Analysis Of Hate Speech And Reclamation Efforts, Not all are in favour by any means, but we are dealing with the assertion of rights by a victimised minority and we oppose or criticise that at our peril.

As 'Wobblin Wilma' notes in this Ouch thread there is an essay by Nancy Mair 'On Being a Cripple', which articulates a slightly different pro-Crip position and around which there has been considerable commentary, as here, but I actually prefer Wilma's own analysis which notes that the aggressively negative use of 'cripple' is a comparatively recent development that is ripe for reclamation. Or there's Chris Page in this thread saying '"Crip" is most used by confident Disabled people who refuse to be judged by outdated stereotypes of the benign, subservient disabled person.' which I absolutely agree with. But using the term doesn't imply we should use it to all and sundry, as is discussed in this thread. I'm in those threads as DavidG, but my position has moved on since the earlier posts and I've gone from being neutral around Crip to overwhelmingly positive about it - there are far too many people who oppose us and will hurl our disability in our faces as an epithet for us not to reclaim their language of hate. Having said that, sometimes I got it right: 'When someone else says 'Crip' they focus on our disabilities and what they imagine we can't do, when we say 'Crip' we parody their beliefs and emphasise our belief in our rights as an oppressed minority. By pre-empting their usage we remove the word's power over us. We turn insult into shared identity and experience.' And 'I'd say that, for those of us who choose to use it, it recognises our individual political identity. I loathe the term as a physical descriptor, but I love it as a political one. It says that I recognise the disablist society that discriminates against me and that I'm not going to take it.'

The offending tweets noted 'Language is the dress of thought!', which is absolutely true, language shapes the way we think, and that is what makes reclaiming language so important. Before the Civil Rights Movement, the N-word was hate speech, a term of utter disdain, reminding Afro-Americans that they might no longer be slaves, but that they were still regarded as barely second class citizens by the white power structures of the Southern States. But once the Civil Rights Movement took hold, once the language of hate was reclaimed, then the N-word became something different, it became an expression of identity, an expression of equality, and a statement that power was no longer something wielded against the Afro-American community, but something wielded by them.

If you try to stop me asserting my chosen identity as a disabled person, then all you're doing is declaring yourself as part of the problem, not part of the solution. That says it is time to take a look in the mirror and decide whether you stand with us, or against us.

So, yeah, I'm a Crip, deal with it.


  1. That first tweet is astonishingly insulting. "I know what's good for you and you don't so do as you're told." Er... no.

    1. Yes, I agree completely. And it's not the first time he's tried telling disabled people what to do, though he seems to have deleted the tweet where he told me that I should stop pointing out the weaknesses of Disability Confident as I was damaging disabled people's employment prospects.