September 26, 2014
ESEM Paper 4
Crippling the Norms
When my friend broke her left leg in ninth grade, she was temporary nicknamed The Ninth Grade Cripple or NGC for short. Boys would run up to her in the halls or when she hobbled up the stairs and taunt her—as if being called a cripple was a bad thing. What my friend learned from her experience as the NGC was that calling a person a cripple was an insult; the word should only reference people who negatively stood out due to their physical disabilities or deformities.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, cripple is synonymous to inferior. The official noun definition is “one that has lost or never has had the use of a limb or limbs or has lost a greater part of such use” (Webster’s Dictionary). The noun cripple first showed up in 950 AD in the Bible when it was used by Luke in the Gospel of Luke to describe a paralyzed man. Cripple comes from the Old English word crypel, which came from the Germanic word krupilo. The Oxford English Dictionary defines krupilo as “to creep…in the sense that one can only creep”. Nonetheless, the noun cripple gives a sense of deformity and inadequacy.
While cripple has evolved as a word that is used to spite and hurt those within the disabled community, it is also a word to profess pride and strength that brings about change. In Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride, Clare talks about the physical reaction he has to the word, “Cripple makes me flinch; it too often accompanied the sticks and stones on my grade school playground” (83). To Clare, cripple has a negative connotation, but he continues to say, “…but I love crip humor, the audacity of turning cripple into a word of pride” (83). Like my friend, Clare was bullied in school. While my friend’s physical disability was only temporary, Clare had to and continues to live with his throughout his life. However, unlike my friend who saw the word as stifling to her self-worth, Clare sees the word as something he can use to defy societal standards and norms. He and many other participants of crip humor create a juxtaposition of the meaning of the word cripple—giving a positive and presumptuous connotation to its existing degrading and demeaning connotation. Clare quotes author Nancy Mairs, “People—crippled or not—wince at the word cripple, as they do not at handicapped or disabled. Perhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer….As a cripple, I swagger” (82) to demonstrate the pride that the word is able to give to the disabled community. Mairs is strong and wants the world to view her as strong, which is not a view that the able-bodied world gives to handicapped people. The crippled person’s strength comes from overcoming discrimination, bullying, or physical barriers to continue living in this abled-bodied world. When a crippled person is in public, he or she risks being stared at by adults and children alike. Because of the extra and potentially negative attention people with disabilities receive, a disabled person in public must be strong in both his or her mental and physical selves. In many cases, people with noticeable disabilities must be emotionally stronger than the abled majority.
For those who cannot bring themselves to be proud of the word cripple, they “are trapped by their internalized oppression” (109). To be negatively affected by the word causes the person to fall further into the trappings of the world. By allowing the word to bother the person, the person is allowing the world to dictate how the person should feel about his or her disability. Not only will the person have to overcome the judgment of the world, but she will also have to deal with being chained to the negative connotation of the word. The word cripple will become like a crutch to the person and will further support the negative thoughts the world has to the person’s disability. Sadly, the people who cannot embrace the word or find self-worth will not be included in being the center “of defining disability, defining [their] lives, defining who [they] are and who [they] want to be” (106).
The world constantly is at works to marginalized people who cannot fit the mold of normality. To find pride in the word and “stare down the bully calling cripple…to say ‘Yeah, you’re right…I’m a crip. So what?’ undercuts the power of those who want [the disabled community] dead” (109). The insult cripple is meant to bring down and isolate people. People who throw the insult around intend to be malicious and calculated in hurting those who have a disability that they, the disabled community members, could not help. By owning the insult and turning the insult into a positive defining factor it becomes a strong defense against the pickings of the world. Clare explains that “people who have lived in shame and isolation need all the pride [they] can muster, not to mire [themselves] in a narrowly defined identity politics, but to sustain broad-based rebellion” (115). Cripple is a word to help defy societal norms, to see the people described by the word as strong, and to instil pride and unity among the less advantaged people. It allows people affected by the negative and hurtful reality of the world to band together. Clare concludes his chapter Queers and Freaks by saying, “whatever we name ourselves, however we end up shattering our self-hatred, shame, silence, and isolation, the goal is the same to end our daily material oppression” (118).
BibleGateway. BibleGateway, n.d. Web. <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%205:24>.
Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride. Cambridge: South End Press, 1999. Print.
Gove, Philip Babcock, ed. Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Springfield: G&C Merriam Company, 1961. Print.
OED. Oxford UP, n.d. Web. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/44529?rskey=mRDVYK&result=1#eid>.