Opinion: I called Lizzo and Beyonce for song lyrics. They heard me

Editor’s note: Based in Sydney, Australia, Hannah Diviney is a writer, disability rights advocate and editor of Missing Perspectives, a grassroots global newsroom dedicated to tackling the marginalization of women and girls. You can follow her on Instagram at @hannahthewildflower or on Twitter at @hannah_diviney. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion pieces on CNN.


I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was 4 years old, but I could never have imagined then, a wide-eyed little girl fascinated by words and their power, that one day I would write, speak and be mentioned in the most famous media in the world. Well, at least not for that, anyway. But I guess that’s what happens when you call two of the biggest names in pop music, and they actually hear you.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me take you back to about six weeks ago when Grammy-winning singer and rapper Lizzo released the song “Grrrls” from her latest album, “Special.” Mixed in with the catchy beat and empowering lyrics I could imagine millions of girls dancing to, there was an ableist slur; the word “spa”.

courtesy Hannah Diviney

Short for “spastic”, spaz is often used in the everyday sense as a kind of shorthand for someone losing control, on the verge of or in the middle of an emotional crisis, or lacking in intelligence. But from a medical perspective, for someone like me who lives with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy (CP for short), the word spastic means something completely different.

It refers to spasticity, otherwise known as a constant, never-ending tension in the legs and body that can be extremely painful, doesn’t have to be triggered by anything specific, makes life difficult for me, and becomes more difficult to manage. in cold weather. It’s not fun and it doesn’t affect my emotional control or my intelligence. And yet, for as long as I can remember, that word has been a schoolyard slur, used against me and others I know by those who may not have known what it meant but did. enough to turn him into a weapon.

So to hear that word in a Lizzo song, knowing what an incredibly important space it occupies in conversations about representation and marginalization, was confusing and hurtful. It didn’t make sense with the acceptance and body positivity she’s championed throughout her career. It took me less than five minutes to write a tweet and display it, alongside other disability rights advocates. I explained why the word was hurtful and how I hoped she would do better.

Now, I’ve tweeted thousands of times over the years, but I’ve never had a tweet do that: it went viral, spreading all over the world. If I had to guess why it might be because I was so direct and clear, but I think it also helped that in 2022 the world is more open to learning and being allies than never before. It landed me in international media and made me the target of trolls. The disability community made so much noise that Lizzo gave one of the best apologies I’ve ever seen and gave us all a masterclass on how to be an ally. Skipping past the part where she might have tried to double down or get angry, she instead jumped straight into open learning and action.

In a statement posted on her social media platforms, Lizzo said, “As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had a lot of hurtful words used against me, so I understand the power that words can have (whether that either intentionally or in my case, unintentionally).I’m proud to say that there is a new version of GRRRLS with a change of lyrics.She has re-released the song without the slur.

And then last weekend, I got a sarcastic mention on Twitter from a stranger, asking if I was planning on calling out Beyoncé too for using the same slur. Confused, I did a search and quickly discovered the word hidden under the sound effects on a song she co-wrote with Drake called “Heated.” The song is featured on her new album “Renaissance,” the long-awaited sequel to 2016’s “Lemonade.” This time the pain just got deeper.

Didn’t we all just explain why that word was hurtful? Hadn’t the world heard us as we started a conversation with the music industry about ableist language not being acceptable? How could Beyoncé’s team, arguably paid to keep tabs on every detail of the music industry, miss the Lizzo moment? How had they not realized that if they released the song with this word, they would encounter the exact same problem?

Although frustrated and exhausted by the ongoing emotional toll that comes with being a disability advocate, I tweeted again. I had less hope for an answer this time, well aware of the untouchable mystique that follows Beyoncé. His status as a pop culture icon is achieved by few, and has been rightfully earned after decades of being at the top of his game artistically. But three days after my tweet, my world exploded again when Beyoncé announced that she too would be re-recording her song without the slur on another expert alliance show.

Words matter. They always have and they always will. Language is one of the few tools in the world that most people can use easily and even more so on social media. That is why it is worth paying attention to how we use it. That’s why my mother always taught me that the pen was mightier than the sword. If anything, this week has taught me that through social media and the power of a well-crafted tweet, we have access to the most powerful pens of them all. And that’s why I hope we can use this global attention to have broader conversations about the inequalities that people with disabilities face. Small things, big things grow.

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