Discrimination and Language

By: A.C.

This week saw the Mayor of Swindon stand up in his Council Chamber and use offensive terminology about Downs Syndrome that I thought went out in the 1960’s. His defence was that he grew up in a society that was used to using such terminology. The links to the story and to his resignation are on our Facebook Page.

The Mayor seems to want to tar a whole generation of folk with his excuse that the word he used was just part of his growing up and learned vocabulary.

I have no idea where he grew up, but it certainly was not anywhere near my 1960’s Scottish home. The offensive word used had already been replaced by Downs Syndrome when I was but a wee laddie. My mother, who was disabled, made sure that I did not use such bad language. It was regarded like swearing in her presence.

She had a mystically powered right hand, with which she could give me an altered consciousness, by shifting time and space. I had no need of psychedelic smoke in the Flower Power heyday, for an out of the body experience. So powerful was this right hand – it could knock me into next week. So I was very careful how I used terminology around her. People say that we learn prejudice at home. There must be a simple Truth in that general belief. I learned not to discriminate or judge others at a very early age, by having my parents make it very clear what was acceptable and what was not.

There have been two very sensitive programmes dealing with friendship and love amongst the disabled recently. Call the Midwife dealt with love and pregnancy in an institution. The other is a documentary which was on BBC 3 ‘Growing up With Downs’.

The use of racist, misogynistic, homophobic or other bigoted terminology by apparently unreconstructed politicians, institutions, and our peers, influences what happens on the streets in hate-crime.

We can already see what the public are thinking of disabled people, for example, in the constant barrage of newspaper stories, or TV documentaries about benefit cheats, disability, and welfare reform.

Propaganda is a useful tool in convincing the populace for the purposes of introducing a policy, that certain sections of society are parasites and bloodsuckers. It is up to us to be courageous and express disapproval of such prejudice and fight it wherever we meet it.

Congratulations are due to the campaigners who raised the issue and forced the Mayor to resign.

It would seem that humans still feel the need to oppress their fellow humans who are different in religion, race, colour, gender or ability and some actually believe that they have been given the right to do so by their subscription to writings, books, systems of belief, and political systems that humans believe to be correct.

We can all identify with difference when we were at school. The bullies liked to pick on those who were fat, thin, tall, ginger, foreign, or they found something to pick on because the victim was just “different”.  How many people looked the other way when that happened and just hoped that they were not in line next? How many stood by and watched as the unfortunate was mercilessly bullied?

That simple type of thinking The Mayor of Swindon used; that because it once was ‘ok’ to use derogatory and offensive terminology toward fellow human beings, because everybody else allegedly did when he was growing up, is what makes for passive oppression and discrimination in every sphere of society.

As Edmund Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

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