Discussing ableism can be very difficult. Too often, words and phrases that have a meaning within the disability community can be different outside of the disability community. It has been a struggle, a sometimes sensitive barrier that too many progressives decide isn’t something they want to approach. Frequently, progressives fall into using phrases to describe others that degrade or belittle them by using terms that imply they are disabled. In her song “Grrrls,” Lizzo fell into that trope by using a term that is common within our language.
Often when people refer to those who are neurodivergent or different, those who suffer mental or physical disability as less than others, it is done in an off-handed way. In many cases, people who use the phrases don’t realize the stigma those words can cause, and it is just a silent response that says: “Well, I guess it is this way.”
I grew up around physical disabilities and raised a son with autism, among other diagnoses. And this is how we define the difference between what makes someone an ally and someone who isn’t interested in listening. Lizzo is presenting the perfect example of what an ally looks like: She had made a word choice and didn’t associate it with the root cause. She was informed of the problem, took it seriously, and adapted.
This is something we can celebrate. There will be others who may want to bash Lizzo for using the phrase originally. Within the Twitter-sphere, we are seeing several, let me say, zero-follower accounts (I would say a large percentage bots, but who knows) contending that Lizzo making this change reflects that she is bowing out of pressure to a white community that is opposed to the language usage. This is the completely wrong message, and it doesn’t understand the reality faced by people of color with disability:
In the newly reworked version, available on YouTube, the phrase has been altered to “Hold me back,” and I would contend that not only do the new lines solve the ableism problem, they also give the song a much better flow.
This is what understanding is about. It is okay if you make mistakes; Most of them are unintentional. In many cases, we are all on the same side. When artists listen and look for the best solutions, you know that you are presenting an example of what to do in advancing understanding.
Lizzo herself faces her own derogatory, hate-filled rants against her. Willingness to understand, and to develop and grow together help all of us succeed.
Role models make mistakes, but they are the ones who pick themselves up, listen, and get help from others. Lizzo did exactly that. Kudos to her, and the message she sends about ableism.