if you’re ever sitting around feeling like “oh my god i’ve wasted my life i could have been LEARNING things or DOING things all this time” i promise you have been learning and doing things all this time, i promise you have some kind of skill or knowledge that you didn’t have a month ago or a year ago or 5 years ago, even if its something really small like you’ve gotten better at drawing something you like, or you memorized fictional stuff that’s important to you, or you learned a dance move, or you figured out a way to not lose your keys, or you’ve learned your alcohol tolerance, or you’ve practiced your jump shot or painting your nails a new way. i promise you’ve learned something even if it’s just a lot of small things. you’re doing great buddy
the one thing that has stuck with me every day since my English teacher told me it in middle school is:
"When referring to someone, always say who they are before anything else about them, because being a person always comes first"
Instead of saying “the mentally ill man,” say “the man with a mental illness”
Putting someone’s characteristics (especially negative ones) before them is dehumanizing and rude. Don’t do it.
A lot of people are super not okay with this, though. In the disability community I know more people who hate it than like it. And while it’s given as a general advice tip, it’s usually referring to disability and/or neuroatypicality (perhaps there are others who hear it a lot, but I am not aware of them.) So in that specific context, saying “especially negative ones” is particularly offensive.
Because of course the example is something like mental illness. No one says “it’s dehumanizing to call someone an ignorant person! They’re a person who exhibits ignorant behaviour!” which would be an actual negative trait. Even about more neutral things, no one says “person who is tall” or “mother who stays at home,” because being a tall person or a stay-at-home mom aren’t seen as unhuman things to be.
You know people are human; if you need someone to say “they’re a person! don’t worry! treat them respectfully! they still deserve nice things! …with schizophrenia,” because as soon as you heard “schizophrenic” you would have failed to realize all that on your own, you’re gross and changing your language isn’t gonna help you.
There are lots of descriptors that almost everyone (who speaks English) accepts as stand-ins for “person,” some of which are marginalized and some (most?) of which are not. Woman, man, student, teenager, firefighter, daughter, athlete, baker - these are all traits of a person, not their actual personhood, but we use them as nouns to describe people.
And like, a lot of marginalized people have trouble with others reducing them to that characteristic, like “the gays” or “a trans” or “an autistic” (although some will also be okay with that,) but only one of those examples has people rushing to say, “they’re people, but it’s not enough to make sure you call them people - you have to call them people before you say anything else, or I might forget they aren’t just autism mimicking the human form.”
To imply that it’s necessary to use the adjective after "person" to maintain their humanity, but only apply it to certain adjectives, is to say those things are just less human. It’s not dehumanizing to be mentally ill. It’s not dehumanizing to be D/deaf or chronically ill or dyslexic or a wheelchair user. It doesn’t have to be separate. It’s not the entirety of a person, but it’s still a part of them, and it shouldn’t need to be minimized to view them as equal.
Granted, some people are much more comfortable being referred as people with disabilities (for example,) and that needs to be respected. Always listen to people when they tell you what makes them comfortable. But know that this isn’t a “safe” way to talk; that people can be hurt by it, and with good reason.