Pictured is disabled people Shelby and Stephen who talk about Grrrls by Lizzo

‘Lizzo’s response should be a precedent’: We spoke to disabled people about her song ‘Grrrls’

The song featured an ableist slur, and Lizzo has since re-released the song and removed it

Lizzo faced a mountain of backlash following the release of her new song ‘Grrrls’, which featured the use of an ableist slur in one of her lyrics. She has since rereleased the song and removed the word. Originally the lyrics were: “Hold my bag, bitch, hold my bag / Do you see this sh*t? I’m a sp*z.” In the updated version of the song, she sings: “Hold my bag, bitch, hold my bag / Do you see this sh*t? Hold me back”. Lizzo was criticised by disabled people and advocates for the use of the slur in her song.

Along with rereleasing the song, the popstar has issued an apology to her fans for the use of the slur. She said: “It’s been brought to my attention that there is a harmful word in my new song ‘GRRRLS’. Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language. As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I overstand the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case unintentionally). I’m proud to say there’s a new version of GRRRLS with a lyric change. This is a result of me listening and taking action. As an influential artist I’m dedicated to being part of the change I’ve been waiting to see in the world.”

Before Lizzo had changed the lyrics in her song, we spoke to two disabled activists, Callum Stephen and Shelby on their thoughts towards the use of the slur and how we can begin to educate those on ableist slurs and rid them from our vocabulary.

Shelby shared that the slur is damaging because it is used “as a derogatory way to describe disabled people.” Shelby said: “A lot of us grew up being bullied with this word in school and it has caused trauma and been abusive for years.” Callum Stephen said that although the full word has medical connotations, “decades ago it was hijacked and used to create the abbreviation ‘sp*z’, which to this day is used to mock people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.”, he said.

Callum felt strongly that if the slur was kept in the song, the kind of message it would send to disabled people would be a mockery of their disability. He said: “The message that this would send to disabled people across the world – especially those with cerebral palsy – is that their disability is something to be mocked, and that the mockery and bullying they have faced and continue to face doesn’t matter and is ripe to be used for entertainment. That is heartbreaking to me.”

Shelby believes that by following disabled content creators on social media “of all intersections” people can begin to educate themselves on ableist slurs. She said: “We’re always creating content about ableism and things people shouldn’t be saying that negatively impact us.”

Callum thinks open and direct conversations about the slur are the way forward to educate people. He said: “Twitter is a powerful platform and the slur has began trending in the UK. The key is for everyone to learn its origins and understand how damaging it is to the disabled community, regardless of any other casual uses it may have. There are more than 171,000 words in the English language, so I’m sure a talented songwriter like Lizzo can find another word that would convey the loss of control feeling many of her fans believe she is trying to convey.”

Since Lizzo has re-released the single, people are pleased she has listened to disabled voices and not denounced their criticisms. Callum said: “I think Lizzo’s response was a model response; she listened and speedily changed the lyric without being defensive or gaslighting the disabled community and released a heartfelt statement. Lizzo’s response should be the precedent. I’m proud of her and excited for her album.”

Shelby shared that she is “so happy” about Lizzo’s decision to remove the slur and change the lyrics in her song.

Featured image credit via Instagram @shelbykinsxo and @autistic_callum_.

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