The Audacity to Name-Call: Even Whoopi Was Called “Dumb”!


“dunce” “olodo” “iti boribo” “mugun” “ode” “dumb” “stupid” “alakori” “slow” “unintelligent”

Every society has names for people who have difficulties reading or writing. Sadly, most are quintessentially cruel. I don’t know all of them, but I recall some of the labels given to children in my early-life schools in Nigeria. They were the children who failed every exam and repeated academic years. They were severely punished by teachers and ostracised by children. Even their academic successes were dismissed as “weak passes”. Whoopi Goldberg reported that she was called “dumb” and “stupid” because she couldn’t read and write as a child.

I was never academically outstanding. I was an average student who just managed to pass. Nonetheless, I saw myself as lucky because I wasn’t one of the “dumb” ones. This was irrespective of the fact that I never passed any maths or science exams. I could read and write in English, and that was all that mattered. That was all it took to cover up my academic flaws. Conversely, I have a very close family relation who was one of the labelled children. She couldn’t read or spell, she had delayed speech and failed lots of exams. I remember she verbally spelt her name correctly, but couldn’t write it on paper. We teased her a lot and I vividly recall the anguish on her face then. At some point, we came to the conclusion that she just wasn’t ‘intelligent’ enough to hack the English language.

lessons learned…

I held that thought until I started my nursing degree in Manchester. I saw English students who like her, couldn’t spell, read or write without difficulties. I was shocked because I figured that since English is their first language, they should be able to read, spell and write in it. They were Dyslexic…I was told. I had never heard that word before! “Aha!” I thought. Another western trick to mask their “Olodoism” (Nigerian slang for ‘dumbness’). My skepticism grew more when I found out that the students were given extra time to submit assignments and write exams. I even befriended one of the girls, just to prove that I was right. She turned out to be one of the most intelligent people I ever met. She told me that words appeared “funny” to her, and that she sometimes spelt words backwards. Indeed I had a jolting eureka moment. I realised that the labeled children from my past may have been dyslexic as well. I can’t even begin to describe the guilt I felt about my attitude towards my relation’s learning difficulties. So it had a name…Dyslexia!!!

some science…

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that mainly affects the way people read and write. It is usually caused by inherited differences in the parts of the brain which process vision and language. Dyslexia is likely to present from birth, and has life-long effects. People who are dyslexic have difficulties with phonological processing, rapid naming, working memory, processing speed, and the automatic development of skills that may not match up to an individual’s other cognitive abilities. It is resistant to normal teaching methods, but its effect can be managed with individualistic interventions which include the use of information technology and other pastoral support.

some of my thoughts…

Dyslexics’ problems stem from societies misunderstanding and prejudice against the condition. It Is important to know that some very successful people were diagnosed with dyslexia. With the right support, it does Not limit a person’s ability to reach his/her full potential. For example, that relation of mine later graduated with an Honours Degree. I don’t need to explain Whoopi’s achievements. Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise, and Richard Branson were all diagnosed with dyslexia. So, please pause before you mock that spelling on social media sites. Read all about dyslexia. Educate others on it. Tell your children about it. Seek an assessment if you suspect you or your child is dyslexic. And finally, please desist from using labels that hurt.

Listen to Whoopi Goldberg speak about her experience with dyslexia.

Info credits and more Information on dyslexia can be found here.

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