Saturday, September 17, 2011

AlterNet's Ableist Language

Last week I sent AlterNet the following email:

I'm a big fan of Alternet and its sharp analysis of political issues. I really do appreciate the work you do here.

However, I'm troubled by the prevalence of ableist language on this website. Nearly ever article about the GOP seems to be headlined with the word "crazy", "lunatic", or equivalent. Conflating political extremism with mental illness is a trope that does a great disservice to people with mental illnesses, as well as failing to offer any meaningful critique of political extremists (who are often being irrational, greedy, mendacious, hate-mongering, and many other more accurate adjectives than "crazy"). Last year the (now sadly defunct) website FWD (feminists with disabilities) had a great post explaining this:

I hope you'll consider eliminating, or at least scaling back, your usage of ableist language in your headlines, because this is a great website but it really does bother me to see an otherwise progressive site perpetuate such a harmful and regressive trope.

Keep up the good work!

I was referring to headlines like Confessions of a GOP Operative Who Left “the Cult”: 3 Things Everyone Must Know About the Lunatic-Filled Republican Party and 6 Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Right-Wingers Are Blowing Your Money On. Search AlterNet for terms like “crazy” and “lunatic” and you'll see they've been doing this for years. It upsets me, and I finally decided it was past time to bloody well call them out on it.

The only reply I got was a generic thanks-for-your-feedback auto-response, so I don't know if my email was read or taken on board... but the AlterNet front page does not currently bear a single headline using the words “crazy”, “lunatic”, or “insane”.

I intend to keep an eye on this, of course. I imagine others have called out AlterNet on the same issue, and I'll be extremely chuffed if they've changed their policy. If you do see another headline there using ableist language, I urge you to email them about it (feel free to copy-paste all or part of my email).

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