Guess what word you’re not allowed to say anymore?
Here’s a hint: it isn’t the first dozen that leap to mind. No – on the scale from hurtful to hate crime, this one doesn’t likely appear to make the cut.
The girl power singer/performer Lizzo learned this lesson via Twitter last week, so you’re forgiven for not immediately knowing the answer yourselves. She wrote a song titled with a unique butchery of the English language called “GRRRLS”, wherein her poetry included the following:
“Do you see this shit? I’m a s**z.”
Still don’t know what the word is?
It’s okay! You likely didn’t know until today that it was considered a slur.
Lizzo was quickly educated by a vocal minority on social media that her use of the word “spaz” was ableist (before you leave to Google it, ableism is an umbrella term for discrimination in favor of able-bodied people) and in response she changed the lyrics to her song.
She kept the lines about literally dismembering a man by severing his penis (you’re welcome for the image, by the way), but she made sure not to offend anyone who might find the shortened version of the word “spastic” distasteful.
This is not the first time an entertainer has been shouted down for content that has offended a small but furious few, and it will certainly not be the last. But for a user of social media to have such immediate and powerful reach – on a celebrity, no less – highlights the kind of problems our young generation might be facing without us even knowing.
If someone with agents and a legal team can be reprimanded by a faceless Twitter user for a harmless (if maybe insensitive) word choice, what sorts of demands can be made of anyone else on the platform? Or any other, for that matter?
It’s important to remember that social media is a place of widespread bots and bad faith actors. That’s the swamp our kids play in, for better or worse. And that’s okay – as long as they’re aware of the potential challenges and pitfalls that can come with interacting with strangers online.
So this week it’s spaz, next week it’s dummy, the week after that you’re being told in Starbucks that saying “Can I have…” instead of “May I have…” is offensive to strict absolutists or some such nonsense. It’s a slippery slope, and it’s reality that’s happening now.
And if your kids are champions of inclusive language, congratulations. It’s a sign of compassion, if not a bit misguided in its execution. Talk to them about the reality – that it’s highly unlikely that they’ll go through life without hearing a few things that offend them, and that’s okay.