Opinion

When Beyoncé dropped the same ableist slur as Lizzo on her new album, my heart sank

It’s not very often that I don’t know what to say, rendered speechless by ignorance, sadness and a simmering anger born of bone-deep exhaustion. But that’s how I feel right now.

Six weeks ago I called out American singer, Lizzo, on Twitter for her use of an ableist slur (“spaz”) in a new song. That tweet of mine – which explained how the slur was connected to my disability, cerebral palsy – took me less than five minutes to write and it went viral, landing on the front page of global news outlets including the BBC, New York Times and the Washington Post.

Lizzo herself even took notice, changing the lyric and giving us all a masterclass in how to be a true and effective ally.

I thought we’d changed the music industry and started a global conversation about why ableist language – intentional or not – has no place in music. But I guess I was wrong, because now Beyoncé has gone and done exactly the same thing. In fact, she’s used the word “spaz” twice in a new song Heated, a co-write with Canadian rapper Drake off her new album, Renaissance, which dropped on Friday.

I found out by way of a snarky mention on Twitter asking if I planned to tell Queen Bey to “do better” like I had with Lizzo. My heart sank. Here we were again, but this time the stakes feel higher. Calling this one out is a whole other level.

Whenever Beyoncé so much as breathes it becomes a cultural moment. She’s often the blueprint for the music industry – with artists and entertainers following her lead. That’s the status she has earned after decades of a career at the top, never making the same move twice, seeming to play in an entirely different league to the majority of the music industry.

Beyoncé’s commitment to storytelling musically and visually is unparalleled, as is her power to have the world paying attention to the narratives, struggles and nuanced lived experience of being a black woman – a world I can only ever understand as an ally, and have no desire to overshadow.

But that doesn’t excuse her use of ableist language – language that gets used and ignored all too often. Language you can be sure I will never ignore, no matter who it comes from or what the circumstances are. It doesn’t excuse the fact that the teams of people involved in making this album somehow missed all the noise the disabled community made only six weeks ago when Lizzo did the same thing.

It doesn’t explain how millions of people have already heard this album and yet aren’t raising the issue, except to make fun of or degrade the disabled community.

I’m so tired. Disabled people deserve better. I don’t want to have this conversation again.

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