Terminology is contentious: I’ve been chatting a lot over the past month about offensive language used in every-day conversation and within films, TV and other media:
Non-disabled people saying “That’s so r****ded” or “You’re such a s*****c”
Straight people using homophobic or transphobic language “That’s so gay…you homo” or “You look like such a t****y”
Sentences starting “I’m not being racist but…” Erm… actually, you are being racist.
Political correctness is not always seen as a good thing. Words get used without any acknowledgement for their etymology and such become commonplace, despite reinforcing negative images of difference. However insignificant you think the language you’re using is, it’s important to consider the legacy you’re leaving around you, as we all learn what is acceptable from our peer-groups.
Language is powerful, it can be used as a tool and it can also be used as a weapon, whether intentionally or not.
Reclamation of words is something I wholeheartedly embrace and support: Krip-Hop Nation has done just that. Founded by Leroy F Moore Jr, an expert, writer and activist in race & disability, Krip-Hop Nation is an international collective supporting and promoting “Hip-Hop artists with disabilities and other disabled musicians”. Leroy has spent over 13 years unashamedly challenging assumed perceptions of what disability means. He is also an advocate for sexuality and gender. As a black disabled writer and music-lover, his words are much better than mine so please go check out his columns in Poor Magazine. Leroy is also the co-founder of my new favourite thing: Sins Invalid, a performance project on disability and sexuality in San Francisco – if you ever get a chance to see their work, go! Leroy F Moore Jr is changing the world one person at a time.
Hip-hop has a long history of giving disenfranchised individuals the tools to express their ideas with strong voices. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, hip-hop was the soundtrack of a creative revolution. Some styles of hip-hop have now become mainstream, so this genre and legacy is the perfect route to challenging the music industry and general public to acknowledge the talents of disabled and deaf musicians. If we see hip-hop as the voice of the disenfranchised, it could then be argued these musicians in particular, through being unaccepted/disrespected by society, hold more authenticity than successful hip-hop artists making music now about how they struggled 20 years ago.
This brings us to the first of my profiled artists: one of Krip-Hop’s crew, Lady MJ Warrior. A veteran of the Drum ‘n’ Bass scene in Birmingham UK, she has been spitting and singing live for years and is working towards self-releasing a new single and video very soon. Together with Leroy and Binki Woi, a German rapper/singer and Krip-Hop Nation member, Lady MJ set up MCees with Disabilities. Armed with her lyric-book, her warrior helmet and a keenness to develop her voice as an instrument, Lady MJ collaborates with producers to constantly evolve. Her music is definitively urban, definitively UK in sound.
Hip-Hop is all about words. Words and beats.
Use of words brings up the issue of visibility versus equality. When can artists just be artists instead of disabled artists? When can a person just be a person? Labels are useful to fight against inequality and to endorse pride but isn’t the end game not to use labels at all? Real equality will happen when people are assessed or valued for what they do and what they say rather than the boxes in which everyone else decides to put them.
And the next time someone says the R word or the S word around you, or says something is ‘crazy’, ‘lame’ or ‘dumb’, ask them what they mean by it.
I wonder if they can justify it to you. I couldn’t.