Opinion: I called out Lizzo and Beyonce for song lyrics. They heard me
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me take you back to roughly six weeks ago when Grammy-winning singer and rapper Lizzo released the song “Grrrls” off her latest album, “Special.” Mixed in with the catchy beat and empowering lyrics that I could imagine millions of girls dancing to was an ableist slur; the word ‘spaz.’
It refers to spasticity, otherwise known as a constant and unending tightness in my legs and body that can be extremely painful, doesn’t have to be triggered by anything specific, makes my life difficult and becomes harder to manage in colder weather. It’s not fun, nor does it have any bearing on my emotional control or intelligence. And yet, for as long as I can remember, that word has been a schoolyard insult, used against me and other people I know by those who might not have known what it meant but knew enough to weaponize it.
And then last weekend, I got a snarky Twitter mention from a stranger, asking me if I planned to call out Beyoncé, too, for using the same slur. Confused, I did a search and quickly discovered the word hidden under sound effects on a song she’d co-written with Drake, called “Heated.” The song’s featured on her new album “Renaissance,” the long-awaited follow up to 2016’s “Lemonade.” This time, the hurt went deeper.
Hadn’t we all just explained why this word was hurtful? Hadn’t the world heard us as we started a conversation with the music industry that ableist language wasn’t OK? How could Beyoncé’s team, no doubt paid to keep their eye on every music industry detail, have missed the Lizzo moment? How had they not worked out that if they released the song with this word in it, they’d run into the exact same problem?
Words matter. They always have and they always will. Language is one of the few tools in the world most people can wield with ease and on social media even more so. That’s why it’s worth paying attention to how we use it. That’s why my mom always taught me the pen was mightier than the sword. If anything, this week has taught me that thanks to social media and the power of a well-crafted tweet, we have access to the mightiest pens of all. And that’s why I hope we can use this global attention to have bigger conversations about the inequalities disabled people face. From little things, big things grow.