That’s “Doctor” Little Crippled Girl to You

23Oct08

I had a phone conversation last night with a law school classmate I haven’t talked to in about three years, which raised a couple interesting points from my perspective. The first was my long-buried indignation at the entire law school environment, which while fascinating is not suitable material for this blog, especially since it would not be hard for an intrepid Google-user to figure out exactly which elite law school I’m excoriating.

The second, which is more relevant to people who are not me, was his obvious discomfort that I refer to myself freely with various non-PC epithets, such as “the little crippled girl,” or that I joke about telling nosy strangers that “it’s contagious, and now you have it.”

(Irony: he verbally flinched at “crippled” but didn’t bat an eye at my other epithet-of-choice, “gypsy.” Not as on top of the PC bus as we thought, hm?)

This discomfort, I’ve noticed, seems to transcend race and gender, so I can only assume it’s a class and/or education (read: class) thing. And I find it offensive as hell, because it’s simply another version – this time dressed up as “caring” – of the age-old attempt of the privileged to define the non-privileged.

Or, to put it more simply: Who are you, O able-bodied man, to tell the crippled chick what she can and cannot call herself?

For what it’s worth, there are plenty of things the PC call the disabled that are much more offensive, to the disabled, than “crippled.” “Handicapable,” for instance. Or “challenged” – cripple-Jesus is my witness, I hate the word “challenged.” The implication, of course, is that our worth is measured only to the extent that we “rise to the challenge” – that we walk again, or run a marathon, or get a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

But it all points to the same problem, which is that the people outside the category still think they have some right to define those of us who are in it. Only this time it’s even more insidious, since the “otherers” think they’re doing us a favor by using “sensitive” words like “challenged.” They don’t realize, and would be terribly offended to hear, that their actual treatment of and attitude toward the disabled hasn’t changed at all. Whether “crippled” or “challenged,” we are still “other” and still subject to whatever words someone else chooses to call us.

None of this is to say, of course, that I would call a seven-year-old girl on elbow crutches “the little crippled girl.” Of course not, no more than I’d call the local librarian a “stone-cold nigger” even if my best friend introduces himself that way. To do so would be both to deny the girl and the libarian the chance to choose their own descriptors and to lump both parties in with a larger non-privileged group – which is the first step toward “otherizing” them. But if I’m a little crippled girl and my best friend is a stone-cold nigger, well – fuck you, elite America, if you can’t take a joke.

And that’s Doctor Little Crippled Girl to you.

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