Blogging Against Disablism

2 May

I wrote this last year for BADD and it’s still true. I want to highlight it again in light of what’s happening in AZ, the fact that the Atlanta protest had just a handful of black folks and others marching in solidarity with an almost entirely Latino crowd, and the fact that movements really need to figure out how to connect to each other. I hope this piece will ring a little less true 2011.

So I’ve been reading the blogs for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009 (2010) and I’m overwhelmed with the daily violences enacted through ableism. So much of ableism seems to be connected to a capitalistic understanding of the body, i.e. the body is a tool for generating capital in the world as constructed by temporarily able bodied people. There’s no understanding or room for folks who challenge the very structure of our social structure with the ways they move (or don’t) through the world.

I’ve been trying to imagine a different world, one in which “work” was not assumed to be a requirement for anyone. Instead of thinking in terms of what people can do, it would be about how people care for one another and the earth. How can we each do a bit to care for each other and help sustain each other and help sustain the things that help sustain us (plants, animals, ecosystems, etc.)? A radical decentering of humans is necessary, and even how we understand humanity has to shift too right?

Critiques of temporarily able bodied or nondisabled bodied folks fears of disability, particularly drugs and disability, really reached me. I wonder about my own problematic beliefs about drugs and my desire not to use them, my own belief in an evil consumerist big pharma selling sickness to the world. And I wonder if this might be a both/and. That I am both ableist in my thinking that I’m a wimp for needing tylenol for cramps every month but biomedical interests need some serious critique for testing in Africa, patenting plant compounds that indegenous communities have been using for centuries, and over medicating the world. Isn’t some disability the by product of oppressive capitalism and other isms, like racism, sexism, and ageism?

As today was also May Day, Labor Day, International Workers’ Rights Day, I was thinking about the connections between the two and how these blog communities seem so segregated. Race is rarely mentioned in these disability blogs. Class, gender, and even sexuality come through more clearly than race. Yet if we investigate, we see that most of these bloggers are white. Most of these bloggers live in the US and UK. White is a race. Race matters. This always makes me wonder.

I have a lot of people in my family with disabilities, though none of them would consider themselves disabled. In talking with another radical woman of color, it seems that disability is so the “norm” in our communities, it’s often not marked as an identity unto itself. I often wonder about what a release it might be for women of color to see disability as a framework that intersects with race and gender, to not always feel the need to keep fighting, even when it hurts, to let go of the ways that we as cis and trans women of color in particular, have taken up ableism in ways that reproduce harm to ourselves and the communities we “work” so hard and care for. Why does disability mostly look white?

And while it seems so necessary, to bring these movements and experiences together, to use an intersectional lens, I think it’s so important that we don’t flatten out difference when we look for similarities. I think we are so use to ticking off that ever expanding list of race, sex, class, gender, sexuality, age, dis/ability, indigeniety, etc. we forget that intersection does not necessarily mean equal or parallel. While there may be no hierarchy of oppression, I think that there are ways in which our tendency to compare racism to ableism to sexism to homophobia can make us miss the nuances and the unique ways each of those plays out in the unique constellation of individual lives.

This is why I’m so excited to be a part of this blog community. I think this is proving to be a space where we all see the situatedness of our analysis and yet we still reach for each other and understand the value of each others’ standpoint. I’m ever hopeful these days and I thank you all for contributing to my optimism.

3 Responses to “Blogging Against Disablism”

  1. May Tulin May 3, 2010 at 7:56 AM #

    Hi there,

    An old professor gave me the link to your blog and I find it so exciting. Through engaging with gender studies major in college, I’ve found it compelling to link the theory and history of identity-based liberation politics with my extra-curricular work with Best Buddies (horrifically problematic name, across-the-board semi-functional program, terrific idea if we reconceive of Anthony Kennedy Shriver’s problematic and insulting statements to a framework of desegregation). I’m writing an essay this morning – due in a few hours, I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it justice until I hopefully put it into practice next academic year – about how bringing queer individuals with different abilities into the current wave of GLBTQ activism can be a liberating way to pull up the intersectional “root” of oppression, as Sojourner Truth described intersectionality long before Kimberle Crenshaw. At the same time, we run into problems regarding GLBTQ models of sexual liberation and different models of consent/cognition – that I’m still working around, and haven’t found any models from other scholars for conceiving of, if that makes sense. It’s all to say I’m excited to have found your blog, and would love to learn more about the work already being done branch of radical activism.

  2. May Tulin May 3, 2010 at 8:09 AM #

    Hi there again,

    I just reread that comment and am horrified at the incomplete sentences. In sum, the comments I might contribute for further thought are:

    I agree with you on the need to bring together activism across these different “-isms.”

    I also have observed the whiteness of disability, because I come from a white, middle-class suburban family and all of the group homes I have visited or worked in are mostly white. I have wondered why, and not been able to allocate time within a feminist-centered undergraduate course of study to studying this.

    I see a model for intersecting liberation within queer and disability-centered activism by inviting the with young adults I know with different intellectual ways of engaging the world into current ENDA/gay marriage activism. It’s interesting to think of the identity politics of activism as liberating in and of themselves, without even achieving our legislative goals. I’ve personally found the language of identity politics so liberating, and I think it provides extra-curricular identity and imagination to individuals with different abilities, from me to my peers who are in a different school. So I’d make this a call to queer activists, and white queer activists, to reach out to people with different abilities if they’re really going to put in practice an anti-humanist model of reconceiving of human subjectivity/worth.

    However, your last point is spot on regarding respecting the particularities of these identity politics, which is why this intersectional activism has -got- to be taken up by queer/white activists with a certain degree of privilege. As Eve K. Sedgwick pointed out, we have to take into account the differences of people. Thinking about “intellectual disabilities” queries our enlightenment models of intellect, age, and consent. We can’t just transfer GLBTQ models of sexual liberation to facilities for individuals with different intellectual engagements with the world. But how do we go forth? Any ideas?

    That’s where it takes activists like us to start this work and take it from theory to practice.

  3. mb May 4, 2010 at 8:07 AM #

    thanks for your thoughts May! I know of queer disabled people of color who are working through these issues now and creating their own models of liberation that speak to what they need. Two blogs I recommend are http://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/ and http://blog.cripchick.com/ Both of these radical women of color are talking about these issues in the most profound ways. They are definitely activists that are charting their own revolutionary paths in regards to these issues.

    In particular, on the cognition/consent front I’d suggest you look at the work of disability scholar Eunjung Kim http://womenstudies.wisc.edu/professional-pages/eunjung.htm

    Oh and if you talk to any of them say i sent you🙂 I think it’s happening but its just not known to people. Sometimes I think that’s good, for movements to build first and then use the media but it can make it difficult for folks to find each other. If you know any disabled queer people of color looking for online community, tell them to contact mia at miamingus at gmail.com

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