One of the things I have always found odd in my life is being offended on behalf of another, second-hand offense, if you will. I also wanted to start this post by saying that I am one of the biggest advocates for free speech.
When I was younger, I thought it was ‘normal’ when people would get upset over something they had heard or seen another person say or do. Having a disability often meant that people would make inquisitive comments. I look back on a lot of these moments and see them for the questions that they were, simply inquisitive.
They wanted to know why I walked the way I do, have the posture that I have, carry myself in the way I do. The problem was that many people, including family members, didn’t realise that I didn’t mind, as long as I knew that I was telling people the correct information too. Often being asked questions like, ‘Why do you walk like that?’ is frowned upon, but if you phrase it in a polite way, there’s no issue there, and everyone has the right to say that they don’t feel comfortable with telling you.
By far one of the best questions I overheard between my mum and sister when I was little was ‘When’s *birth name*’s poorly leg going to get better?’ I wouldn’t have minded telling my sister that I was born this way and it wasn’t going to improve, but my mum instantly said, ‘You can’t just ask these things!’.
An even better example of my sister making a gem of a comment about disability was when I was seven years old in Disneyland, making my sister five. She was riding in my wheelchair after her legs got tired from walking around the park all day and I was walking beside her when she suddenly exclaimed, ‘We’re so lucky *birth name* is disabled!’, I giggled, I couldn’t help myself, it was laughable! Straight away she was told off and she said, ‘but it’s true, we wouldn’t get through all the queues and meet all the characters or anything!’ and she had a very good point, in Disneyland the perks of my disability are so much more obvious! I look back on this memory and smile, she’s found a positive in my darkness, how can you scold someone for that?!
Not every person will be forthcoming to you with their issues, but others will be happy to tell you. The only thing is the way you phrase things.
Rather than asking, I have had this observation made on my first day on a particular ward in a psychiatric unit, ‘You walk pretty weird, don’t you, Kian?!’. This is definitely not the way to introduce yourself or start a conversation! However, one of the main issues I had with this particular was how people reacted, a friend instantly interjected with, ‘You can’t just say that!’. I was just ready to repeat my life story for the 200th time! I replied, ‘I have cerebral palsy,’ and the person instantly apologised, feeling embarrassed that he’d just told a disabled person that they walk weird! I looked to my friend who stuck up for me, and told them that they didn’t need to, and that they had no reason to be upset. I can stand for myself, even if it is a bit unsteady!
Unfortunately I am not only part of a single marginalised group, I am disabled, mentally ill, transgender with a boyfriend! Now, I know that I am, for sure, still in a privileged position for multiple reasons, but it means that people both online and in real life are still there to criticise you, make fun of you and get offended on your behalf. Mental health patients I have met make some of the edgiest jokes out of everyone! Disabled people make the best disability jokes! As long as I know my boundaries and my audience. This is the key with any statements that may cause offense or be personal towards others. Sometimes you don’t know what another person is going through, and that’s okay, you can’t always predict how another is going to react to anything you say, but as long as you don’t purposely say something again, there’s nothing wrong with just apologising and moving on.
Emotions are not things that you can hold for someone, nor are they something you can project onto another person. If someone were to make an edgy joke towards me or in general about something I am first-hand personally affected by, it should never be another person’s job to get upset about it for me, unless they also have those personal experiences, whether they be first or second-hand. Otherwise, if you have never been a part of it, how could you possibly be offended?
The dictionary defines offense as follows: ‘annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself.’. Yes, that is correct, for ‘oneself’, not each other. Nothing is inherently ‘offensive’ just because it’s edgy, there has to be context and it has to effect people on a personal level. I could say Monopoly is offensive because I have personally experienced bankruptcy, for example.
Now, some reading this might think of me as an absolute hypocrite, and you would probably be right, as there is one particular social media site that is a complete minefield when it comes to Social Justice Warriors, being offended on another’s behalf and spreading misinformation. Twitter is almost on par. For quite a few months I became completely enthralled by the world of social justice and feeling the need to tell people that particular things are things to be completely disgusted by, when they don’t even have anything to do with me. I have called out posts, jokes and things that people say, and I have no right to do so. In fact, I often went overboard and perceived certain things to be offensive when they were actually just light-hearted. In this modern day society, everyone seems to want to cancel each other and there’s no need!
Now, this is not to say that people shouldn’t call out things that other people have said, that isn’t the case at all. I would encourage any white person to be anti-racist. In the UK, we have a list of protected characteristics, including race, religion, gender, sexuality and disability. This means that these people should not be discriminated against. The problem with today’s society is that we often don’t know where the line is drawn between making mistakes, phrasing things in the wrong way and making jokes versus being openly discriminatory.
I know this was long and heavy, but I hope you can understand my views on these issues.