I mistakenly told my step-mom I was writing a post on the disability movement, to which she said, “Isn’t that an oxy moron?”I’m thinking I should just quit now, and let that joke from Punny Punster suffice as explanation.
What, with all the recent noise around disableds and this jumble about “seeing the person first,(not the disability),” you’d think we have it all, right? But the gender/wage/inclusion gaps in relation to people with disabilities, as always, beg to differ.So why can’t we get it together and plow through with disability rights? I have a few ideas.
- That Thing You Can’t Name. Ableism has to be one of the most successfully subtle forms of oppression. My proof for this lies in my experience with compliments. Every since I can remember people have been telling me how goddamn pretty I am. As a little girl, before I really looked anything beyond generically white, people often also commented on how “bright” I was, when they were informing my mother how I’m going to break hearts when I come of age. The issue? Bare with me:…I’m pretty, but not that pretty. I’m kinda smart, but I’ve never had anything on Stephen Hawking (Brilliant wheelie in his own right). My point is that, more often than not, people overcompensate with compliments to make themselves more comfortable in my presence.
If my complaints about being pretty/smart dont persuade you, I’ll offer a third: Joy. I was raised heavily in the Protestant church. My family was doctronally Baptist, but we’d visit the Pentacostals every once in a moon, for a change of pace. Pentacostals are the division of Christianity that stereotypically “honks cuz they love Jeeeezus,” and as you can imagine, they’re very big on outward worship and extroverted forms of gratitude. When visiting, they’d always comment on how I have the “Joy of the Lord!” and sometimes tell me things like, how my beautiful happiness combined with God’s grace would lend a cure to my disability. Here’s my qualm: I was a kid. I was dispositionally happy, like many children from good families. My parents, for a span of my childhood, loved each other deeply. It would’ve been weird if I wasn’t happy. And yet, my happiness was pointed out in this, and many other contexts, right into my teenage years, before I caught the grumps.
In my experience, compliments as compensation mean usually only one thing: “You’re____considering.” “You’re pretty considering you’re disabled.” “You’re smart considering your brain damage” “You’re happy considering your body is in rebellion against you” But nobody actually says that last part of the compliment. They might not even consciously think it. And Voila, subtle ableism lives on, through that thing we can’t quite name.
And how can you begin to change what you can’t quite name?
2. Not Agreeing on Ideology. It seems there’s trouble in wheelie world. We can’t decide if we want a cure, if we want to morph into our own personal Rick Hansen Super Crips, or if we wouldn’t change a single spasm. Some of us even think our spasms are beautiful and believe disabilities are points of empowerment(I want what they’re on, thanks).
This means that there fails to be a common goal among disabled people. Now, many minority groups struggle with issues of denial and self-loathing at a certain point in their individual journeys, but I’m talking about end-goal, collective differences. Let’s compare, only for the sake of illustration: Virtually all homosexuals want to be able to live freely, with their partner of choice, without societal or familial judgement. That, on a somewhat large scale, is a pretty common goal of people who are gay. But wheelies, man….they want to be fine with their impairment, to overcome their impairment, and to have special accommodations for their impairment, all within the same breath. Across the board, I feel that disabled people (in my limited experience) can’t agree on how to see themselves or what they want in the end. And lack of unity….well, we fall. pun pun, punny pun pun.
Points 3 and 4 had me floating in the direction of negative internalization and blanketing of disabilities, both which I’ve discusses in my other blog, that I wrote before I unraveled. You can find it there, I’m so tired.
Of honorable mention is this relatively new discourse which attempts to view disability as natural/ a part of life. It’s a good try, but not strong enough to debunk our ableist belief system. Loss of white brain matter is not a natural occurrence the way that Race has no concrete attachment to any belief system. Disability is a much more difficult thing to combat. Must go to bed.
Happy Disability Day. Please, no head pats today.