The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Beyoncé used ‘ableist’ slur in a new song. After uproar, she’s deleting it.

Beyoncé used the same word Lizzo removed from a song released in June

Beyoncé appears at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles last year. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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Hannah Diviney found herself clashing this week with a different music superstar — Beyoncé this time — over a different song on a different album. But it was the same word that drew the disability rights advocate into the fray for the second time in as many months.


In June, Diviney’s criticism of the “ableist slur,” at least in part, led Lizzo to apologize and rerelease her song “Grrrls” without the word. In a tweet at the time, Diviney — who has cerebral palsy — explained that using the word to describe erratic behavior disparages people who experience actual spasms. Later, Diviney would say that by changing the lyric, Lizzo had given “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,” Diviney wrote Sunday in an opinion piece that originally appeared on Hireup, an online platform for people with disabilities. “But I guess I was wrong.”

Fans told Lizzo a word in her song was offensive. She changed the lyrics.

On Saturday, Diviney was eating dinner with family when she noticed a “snarky mention” in her Twitter feed, asking whether she planned to scold Beyoncé to “do better” as she had with Lizzo, Diviney told The Washington Post in an online message. Confused, Diviney started digging, eventually learning that Beyoncé had used the words “spaz” and “spazzin’” in “Heated,” a song co-written by Drake.

“My heart sank. Here we were again,” Diviney wrote in her op-ed.

About seven weeks before Beyoncé dropped “Heated,” Lizzo had released “Grrrls,” a song in which she describes going “off the deep end,” The Post reported. “I’mma spaz; I’m about to knock somebody out,” she sings.

The next day, Diviney blasted Lizzo and implored the artist to “do better.” Lizzo got the message, quickly apologizing in a statement and announcing she’d changed the lyric.

That heartened Diviney. She’d criticized a powerful person, who instead of hunkering down or lashing out, not only listened but made a concrete change. To Diviney, that was evidence that she and other disability advocates were winning hearts and minds and primed to keep doing so.

“It’s not every day the change you effect in the world is globally tangible and recognisable,” she told The Post early Tuesday. “For me getting that response from Lizzo suggests people are more open than ever to conversations about inclusivity and representation of people with disabilities.”

Then came Saturday night, when she learned about “spaz” popping up yet again in Beyoncé’s new album.

Diviney said she “spent the rest of the night processing and figuring out how on earth I was going to respond and whether or not I was brave enough to call out someone as untouchable and enigmatic as Beyoncé, especially knowing how passionate her fans are.”

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Lizzo is famous, but Beyoncé is on another level, Diviney said. The 28-time Grammy winner has spent decades atop the music industry. She’s an unrivaled visual and musical storyteller who’s always trailblazing artistically and “often the blueprint for the music industry,” Diviney wrote in her Hireup opinion piece. And she’s used “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,” Diviney wrote, adding, “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.”

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

But Diviney did. She wrote the op-ed. She called out Beyoncé on Twitter. She did the TV and newspaper interviews. And she weathered the vitriol hurled her way by trolls. She posted a screenshot of one tweet that taunted her by saying, “You’ll never walk,” to which she replied: “Laughing so hard I’m crying. … Is that supposed to be news to me or???”

Beyoncé’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post early Tuesday or answer whether the artist had known about Lizzo’s “spaz” lyric. But one of them told Insider in a statement that Beyoncé would change the lyrics.

“The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced,” the statement said.

Diviney woke Tuesday morning in Australia to the news, which brought back the afterglow she enjoyed in the wake of the Lizzo affair.

“Waking up this morning to hear @Beyoncé has heard and recognised the disabled community’s call to remove ableist language from her music is an incredible feeling,” Diviney said on Twitter. “Where she leads, the music industry follows.”