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Upworthy, Duke, and Ableist Slurs

Upworthy, Duke, and Ableist Slurs April 21, 2014

I recently came upon an Upworthy article that asked the following question:

Which one of these is not like the others:

1. That’s so dumb.
2. That’s so stupid.
3. That’s so annoying.
4. That’s so gay.

To me the answer was obvious: The first two are ableist slurs and the last one is a homophobic slur. Only the third one does not personal characteristics like sexual orientation or physical or mental normatively as derogatory slurs. Given this introduction, I assumed the article as going to take on everything from ableism to sexism to homophobia. After all, that would make sense in an article titled “Some Words Are Up To No Good, Even If They Seem Harmless. Think It’s Time To Get Rid Of These?” But I was wrong.

According to the article, “that’s so gay” is the one that’s not like the others. Apparently “that’s so dumb,” “that’s so stupid,” and “that’s so annoying” are totally the just like each other—no difference at all! Except, you know, not. The article promotes a Duke University student campaign against saying things like “that’s so gay,” “no homo,” “bitch,” or “man up,” but both the article and the campaign puts calling people “stupid” squarely in the okay category.

I find this profoundly disappointing.

We seriously need to find new words to use. I work hard not to use ableist slurs, and I’ve realized in the process just how pervasive they are. Moving away from ableist slurs has forced me to be much more precise in my language. But in the end, I think that’s a good thing, especially in a world that has become so polarized that actual discussion can be well nigh impossible.

Come on, Upworthy and Duke University. You’re better than this.

Update: I had no idea my post would ignite so much debate in the comment section! I understand that not everyone agrees with where I draw the line on slurs, epithets, and insults. This is one area where I tend to be a stickler in general. But I respect disagreement and I am open to various counterarguments. So by all means, debate away!


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