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April 20, 2014
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The "D" Word


Perhaps Aaron McGruder first sensitized me to it: in his daily strip The Boondocks, would-be gangsta Riley frequently uses an epithet so awful that merely admitting the knowledge of its existence is enough to get one fired from many companies. Then I noticed men of American origin and African descent wearing baseball jackets with caricatures more extreme than those that caused St. John's University in Queens to change the name of their athletic teams and another denigrating term for those of African ancestry.


I encountered a similar sentiment at a 1990's era political rally, at which a number of wheelchair-bound persons wore buttons with the phrase "Crip Power". Short for "cripple", this word has largely been replaced by "handicapped", "disabled", and in PC ("politically correct") speak, "challenged". To me, "cripple" was a verb — something that a permanent injury did to someone, more psychologically than physically. These folk told me that using the word in a positive fashion was intended to take the sting from it, and turn it into a statement for rights and access (as in the Americans With Disabilities Act). Others believe that "cripple" was never meant to be pejorative, and that only using it in its proper context would restore its dignity.


Similar challenges refer to "the r-word" in reference both to mental ability and racial origin, and even controversies upon what description to give to indigenous peoples (or pre-European settlers, depending on your viewpoint). The absurdity of Political Correctness is that while trying to pointedly ignore our differences, we create new and more dangerous ways of highlighting them (I, for one, consider "the [blank] word" to be more offensive than the word it attempts to hide.)


What all this boils down to is "the d-word". Few of us will disagree that for now, the spectrum of our glucose-metabolism disorders should be classified "diabetes". "Diabetes" is an underspecified noun, covering everything from "prediabetes" and "insulin resistance" to specific genetic anomalies (e.g., MODY), complete autoimmune beta cell destruction, and a whole bunch of causes-and-effects in-between. The question becomes, "Under what term should we classify people living with a 'diabetes' diagnosis?"


While I personally accept the adjectival form of "diabetes" ("diabetic") as a medically-accurate and culturally-neutral description, its common use as a noun has taken on a denigrative tone — fueled by those who associate obesity with sloth, who consider its comorbid conditions to be self-inflicted, and who believe that anyone who is not physically and medically perfect has only him (or her) self to blame. This has made the classification "a diabetic" one of the most negatively-charged descriptions, and stands behind our Politically Correct "people first" language.


But here's the deal: we don't call a person being treated for carcinoma a "person with cancer". Neither the NAACP nor the UNCF has changed its name, though they minimize the use of the deprecated words and phrases. We can't avoid the use of the word "diabetic" as either noun or adjective. Education alone will not stop the pejorative use of "the d-word", nor change the set-in-stone beliefs of those who consider us the causes of our own medical misfortunes. But if we are willing to accept some controversy, perhaps we can — like the self-proclaimed "cripples" and "N–––as" — take back the power of "the d-word", make it into a call for medical research and a positive role-model for those of us living with glucose-metabolism disorders.

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Megan Holmes
Megan Holmes Megan was diagnosed in 2009 with Type I. As an RN, she was familiar with the medical side of her diagnosis; learning to be a good patient on the other hand, was and continues to be the challenge of her day to day life.   (Read More)
Michelle Kowalski
Michelle Kowalski Michelle Kowalski, a writer, editor and photography hobbiest living in Phoenix, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in February 2005. In January 2008, as part of her quest to start on an insulin pump, Michelle learned that she actually has type 1 diabetes.   (Read More)
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