People who look like me could learn a thing or two from Lizzo

Would a white singer, particularly of the male persuasion, have acted with such speed and self-awareness?

James Moore
Thursday 16 June 2022 11:28
Comments
<p>Lizzo didn’t issue some half-arsed non apology</p>

Lizzo didn’t issue some half-arsed non apology

I have to admit, Lizzo managed to surprise me this week. The rapper and singer used an awful word in her latest single, Grrrls – s**z. Not everyone understands why it is a problem, as this episode demonstrates, so a brief explainer: it is most offensive to people with cerebral palsy, being derived from the (mercifully outdated) medical terminology used to describe a form of the condition.

The slur is also aimed at disabled people more generally and there are variations related to the unfortunate things a disabled body can do to you too. So, for example, the phrase “having a…” (but I really don’t need to go there, do I?)

Now, it isn’t remotely “woke”, or “politically correct”, or whatever term is preferred by right-wing knuckleheads and trolls (and jerks who would jump up and down screaming were an insult ever directed at them) to have a problem with it – because the fact is that it’s just plain nasty. It might not be quite so offensive in the US and Canada as it is in the UK; but that doesn’t change the fact that it is in those countries too when you consider its origins and the way it is used.

But (and this is the point): when that was made known to Lizzo, she acted with impressive speed. She didn’t issue some half-arsed non apology. There was no: “I’m sorry if anyone is offended by my lyric. This wasn’t meant. Hugs to the world.” Vitally, crucially: she changed the lyric.

For a celebrity to do that, and with such rapidity, is quite remarkable – though perhaps it’s less surprising if you consider the context. Lizzo said this in a statement, posted to Twitter: “As a fat Black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I overstand the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case unintentionally).”

That was well put because, well, shall we be honest here? Would a white singer, particularly of the male persuasion, have acted with such alacrity? OK, perhaps some would have. But many would have whinged and moaned and complained about everyone being mean to them, and then appeared on Fox News to grouse about “cancel culture”.

There are people who look like me who could learn a thing or two from Lizzo. In some ways, she may ultimately have done disabled people a favour – albeit unintentionally – by drawing attention to the issue, creating a conversation and raising awareness.

There’s a possibility that the word will be used less as a result of this. It isn’t quite a slam dunk, especially in Britain where the government indulges in shameless ableism – see my last column on Grenfell, and the failure to enact measures to ensure the evacuation of disabled people from high rise buildings – but if it does lead to a change in behaviour, it would be a comfort to those on the receiving end.

Why do I say that? Well, there are people out there who may have flippantly used the word in the presence of people who are hurt by it. And it is still used casually, including in Britain.

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I recently attended the London Sci Fi film festival (yes I’m a geek, sue me) where I witnessed an audience laughing loudly after a character – supposedly comedically – insulted a couple of her low-level criminal acquaintances as “S**z and Dave” in one of the films on show.

I nearly wheeled out there and then – I should have. It was a pretty awful film (I raised the issue with the festival and was told they would alert the programming team, which was welcome). But to the “woke is killing comedy brigade”, I like edginess as much as the next person, but if something like “S**z & Dave” is what you have you have to do to get a laugh, you ain’t much of a comic writer.

If Lizzo’s song, and her willingness to act on it, do cause people like the writers of this film to think a bit before they use the word, then so much the better.

If nothing else, Lizzo has at least shown there’s a better way to respond to this sort of issue than indulging in the standard celebrity dance, usually informed by overpriced publicists paid to tell people what they want to hear, with no interest in the welfare of people who society stomps on.

So yes, this was a surprise. But in a good way – which is rare. Good on Lizzo.

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