Here’s The Ableism We Disguise as Empowerment

stichhappy

In social justice circles, the phrase, “Take your power” is thrown around like a hot potato, encouraging people who have historically faced oppression to “speak up,” and “take their space.” Most of time, these sayings are meant to allow people ownership of space/time/rights that have been previously taken from them. While born of good intent, a closer look depicts a whole whack of ableism/problematic implications. Here’s why:

  1. It suggest that we’ve been denying our own agency & ability this whole time.Telling someone to take their power implies, oh-so-subtley, that we’ve been neglecting what’s been right in front of us all along. It implies that something about us needs to change, which goes against ideologies behind most social change movements.

It also assumes that power-taking is an option for everyone, which simply isn’t true. People who have experienced life times of trauma or abuse may not know how to take their power–or, might have no interest in doing so, as it is not how they have learned to navigate their lives. We need to allow room for these realities in all SJ movements.

2. It wrecks collectivity. As a kid, I had trouble speaking at an audible level.This meant that I just whispered everything, and most people never caught a damn word. I also didn’t use a wheelchair at school at first, so I frog-hopped everywhere. Combine the two circumstances and you’ll know what Kristen Age 4 was doing with her life: Crawling around Kindergarten class, whispering to kids, and hoping that someone would hear her. Soon enough, the other kids got tired of bending over to  listen, and everyone just started crawling, some whispering with me. No one thought anything of it, until one day we saw my mom standing in the door way of the classroom with what she called “happy-tears” in her eyes. Apparently something special had happened, and it made her cry.

That’s what collectivity looks like. It doesn’t necessarily mean shouting commands from the rooftops. It doesn’t mean taking space, or power. It means adapting, so that a person can be however they want.

Another thing: my whispering gave my excellent hearing, and my dad called me “Big-Little Ears,” for a little while. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get to live in a much quieter world for a few years.

3. It re-triggers. You get why, yeah? It seems absurd sometimes to ask someone who has been dominated or oppressed to take power. In doing so, you’ve become yet another person telling them what to do and how to do it.  Especially in the realm of people with disabilities ( both physical and invisible), who have often gone through life feeling different, not good enough, not normal, and maybe out of control of their own circumstance. These feelings of difference and loss of control can very frequently be related to experiences of violence as well, so the very last thing they probably want to hear is how to act or behave in a more acceptable way.

4. It re-enforces dominance. And by proxy, that we take dominance as the most acceptable form of taking control, negating and excluding all the other ways to do so…..

Angry wheelie out.

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve never thought about this in quite this manner – so thank you for making me take some time today to do just that. As someone who always felt she had power, I have always found those who tell me to “reclaim my power” a bit suspect. My power was never taken away from me. Others just didn’t always want to adapt. Fine with me – I chose those who did. But my actions aren’t what is comfortable or best for everyone else – as you so rightly state in point #4 above.

  2. “It suggest that we’ve been denying our own agency & ability this whole time.”

    “…you’ve become yet another person telling them what to do and how to do it”

    I have a rule about not giving advice, with this one exception- empowering people through encouragement to take back their power/time/energy, etc. I never even thought about how I had become the one taking their power from them, and how I was actually treating them like idiots, even though these were the very reasons for not giving anybody else unsolicited advice.

    I previously followed your blog under a different handle, and I’m glad to be back reading your insights. 🙂 Cheers, kdub!

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