If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me take you back to nearly six weeks ago when Grammy Award-winning singer-rapper Lizzo released “Grrrls” from her latest album, “Special.” Mixed with the catchy rhythm and strong words to which I could imagine millions of girls dancing it was an almighty slander; The word “spas”.
Short for “convulsive,” spaz is often used in an everyday sense as a kind of shorthand for someone who is losing control, on the verge of or in the middle of an emotional breakdown, or lacking in intelligence. But in the medical sense, someone like me lives with him spastic double cerebral palsy
(CP is an acronym), the word spastic means something completely different.
It refers to cramping, also known as a constant and never ending tightness in my legs and body that can be very painful, and shouldn’t be caused by anything specific, make my life difficult and become hard to manage in cold weather. It’s not fun, and it has no effect on my emotional control or my intelligence. However, for as long as I can remember, that word has been an insult in the schoolyard, used against me and against other people I know by those who may not have known what it meant but knew enough to use it as a weapon.
So, to hear that word in Lizzo’s song, and to see the very important space it takes up in conversations about representation and marginalization, it was both baffling and hurtful. It just didn’t make sense with the acceptance and body positivity she’s championed throughout her career. It took me less than five minutes Tweet
and published it, along with other disability advocates. I outlined why the word was painful and how I hoped it would work better.
Now, I’ve tweeted thousands of times over the years, but never got to tweet doing it: It has gone viral all over the world. If I had to guess why, it might be because I was very direct and clear, but I think it also helped that in 2022, the world is more open to learning and allies than ever before. He. She Made me in the international media
It made me a target of trolls. The disabled community made so much noise that Lizzo issued one of the best apologies I’ve ever seen and gave us all a head start on how to be an ally. After I got past the part where I might have tried to double down or get angry, I instead moved straight to learning and taking action publicly.
On her social media platforms, Lizzo said, “As a fat black woman in America, many hurtful words have been used against me, so I have far exceeded the power of words that I could have (whether on purpose or in my case, unintentionally). I am proud to say that There is a new version of GRRRLS with the lyrics changed.” She reissued the song without slander.
Then last weekend, I got a sarcastic mention on Twitter from a stranger, asking if I plan to call out Beyoncé as well for using the same slander. Confused, I did a search and quickly discovered the word hidden under sound effects on a song I co-wrote with Drake, called “Hot”. The song was featured on her new album “Renaissance,” the much-anticipated follow-up to the 2016 movie “Lemonade.” This time, the wound has deepened.
Have we not explained to all of us why this word is harmful? Didn’t the world hear us when we started a conversation with the music industry that the capable language wasn’t doing well? How could Beyoncé’s team, who has undoubtedly paid them to watch every detail of the music industry, miss their Lizzo moment? How did they not figure out that if they released the song containing this word, they would run into the exact same problem?
Despite the frustration and exhaustion of the ongoing emotional burden that accompanies being a disability advocate, I tweeted again
. I was less optimistic about a response this time, well aware of the untouchable mystery that follows Beyoncé. Her status as a pop music cultural icon has been attained by a few, and she has rightly earned it after decades of being at the top of her game artistically. But three days after I tweeted, my world exploded again Beyonce announced
She, too, will re-record her song without slander on another show of Expert Alliance.
Words matter. They always are and they always will. Language is one of the few tools in the world that most people can use easily and on more social media. That’s why it’s worth paying attention to how we use it. That’s why my mom always taught me that the pen is more powerful than the sword. If anything, this week has taught me that, thanks to social media and the power of well-crafted tweets, we can have access to the most powerful pens ever. That’s why I hope we can use this global interest to have a larger conversation about the inequality that people with disabilities face. From small things, big things grow.