The power of those words

Christine G. K. LaPado is a Chico musician and writer who contributes frequently to the Chico News & Review. We’ve pre-empted 15 Minutes this week to give her a chance to respond to From The Edge.

Related stories this week:
Reaction to the reaction of the use of certain words to describe others.

As a parent of a 6-year-old daughter with developmental disabilities, and as the author of a recent CN&R cover story on the heroic, physically disabled athletes at Chico State’s Ability First Sports Camp, I would like to say thank you very much to Stephan R. Wattenburg and Carl Ochsner for taking the time to craft well-written and well-thought-out responses to Anthony Peyton Porter’s column “Masochists” (July 19).

I, too, found Mr. Porter’s use of gratuitous slurs in reference to the disabled and mentally ill to be offensive and, to use Mr. Ochsner’s words, contributing to the degradation of civic dialogue. Why exactly did Mr. Porter choose to use the derogatory terms “tardos,” “cripples” and “crazies” when there are far less inflammatory terms available? And what did those references have to do with the subject matter of his column anyway?

This fall, I will send my daughter to her new school, where she will be mainstreamed for a portion of the day into a regular kindergarten classroom. Say she comes home crying because she is hurt that some child meanly called her a “tardo” on the playground.

Am I supposed to, as Mr. Porter seems to suggest, just (simplistically) say to her, “Now, dear, taking offense is simply a choice"? Of course not.

Most people would understand that my daughter’s feelings would be justifiably hurt and that the child who caused this hurt needed to be told that it is wrong to use such terms.

The point that Mr. Porter seems to overlook is that it is not just the word that carries meaning, but also the way it is used, the intention behind it. Put both derogatory word and hurtful intention together and you do have a weapon that is proverbially mightier than a sword.

Perhaps Mr. Porter has had to become inured to terms like “nigger” and “nappy-headed ho” because of his past experiences—I don’t know. But just because he, as a black man, seems to be OK with being referred to in derogatory terms, doesn’t mean that he should speak for others. Even the women of Rutgers, despite the fact that they are members of the same race as Mr. Porter, have a right to make their own decisions about what is right for them, as black women.

And Mr. Porter has no idea, apparently, what it means to be a member of the most unfairly picked-on and vulnerable populations in this country—the disabled and mentally ill—and seems to have no ability to empathize whatsoever. The fact that he—as a columnist who is read by many people, some who may go out and emulate him—seems to not realize how his language use contributes to the difficult environment that these populations are operating in is, frankly, astounding.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Porter uses the column that he is privileged to have to promote such narrow-mindedness. It’s a forum that could be far more responsibly, thought-provokingly and interestingly used.