Saturday, July 11, 2015

White Folks In The Western World Don't Need People First Language

Lately, I've seen people posting this article by Colin Cameron called "Why we are disabled people, not people with disabilities", but no one has challenged its premises. It is being accepted by all of the folks I've seen who posted it without any commentary. This isn't surprising given that it reeks of privilege and privileged folks don't have to worry about suffering significant consequences when they contribute to the marginalization of those below them in, especially in Western hierarchical societies. I don't have that option in this case. So, I guess I should start digging into this mess of an article.

It fails to acknowledge the origin of "People with Disabilities". People-first language exists because of the dehumanization we experience. When I say that I'm a WOC (i.e.Woman of Color), it doesn't mean that I'm "disavow(ing) both deviance and race" as Rod Michalko claims. It is asserting my humanity. Likewise, PWD (i.e. People with Disabilities) has nothing more to do with the medical model of disability than WOC is a part of the medical model of gender or race. I am not a Colored Woman. There is nothing that necessarily changes for the better if I switched from PWD to DP (i.e. Disabled Person). Non-disabled people will still think that the "disabled" part of DP means that we are disabled by our conditions instead of by society. This still has to be explained regardless of whether we call ourselves DP or PWD.

If disability was the only marginalization that I faced, then I might be tempted call myself a Disabled Person, but it isn't. I'm Black. I'm Indigenous. I'm a woman. I'm queer. I can arrange these identifiers as I deem necessary given the context of what I'm expressing. I'm not disavowing deviance. I don't even have that choice. In the Western world, only white cis men can choose whether or not to be seen as deviant. Even the cartoon used in the picture depicts whiteness as the default for PWD. If I was Cameron, Michalko, or the person in that cartoon used in the article, I wouldn't need to use people-first language, because my humanity would be already assumed by virtue of my whiteness. When I come into a room, I'm Black even before anyone knows that I'm disabled. Even someone who uses a wheelchair can be seated on something else, which means their disability could be nearly or entirely invisible to the naked eye.

However, my Blackness can never be hidden. I am deviant by default. I needn't worry about anyone wondering whether I acknowledge my deviance. The fact that I get up and face this white-dominated patriarchal society around me means that I choose to assert my deviance in a society that still refuses to even see me as a person. My never-invisible Blackness means that in the Western world I'm not assumed to be human. This is evident from the way that society treats POC (i.e. People of Color). Even among PWD, we are more likely to be victimized by law enforcement, ignored by medical professionals, and chronically unemployed. Because we aren't perceived as humans, this society doesn't think that we deserve these things that white people can feel entitled to.

Michalko and Cameron don't have that struggle. They can move through the world with nothing more than ableism as an obstacle to complete integration in the accepted identities in the Western world where he lives. They are both affluent white settlers on Turtle Island. That, combined with their perceived gender, puts them at the top of the social hierarchy here. There is nothing about having disabilities that prevents them from standing on the necks of Indigenous folks, including those who have disabilities. And so, they do. However, I'm not going to aid them in that effort. I'm not going to ignore their world's responsibility to acknowledge my humanity. When they convince their fellow white settlers to acknowledge my humanity, then I can stop insisting that they need to acknowledge it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Freedom To Be An Artist Doesn't Come Cheap

The Atlantic has produced a very thought-provoking, but not altogether surprising article about university education. In Rich Kids Study English, the writer discusses the connection between parental income and the majors that college students tend to choose.

I think most of what this article points out is absolutely true. Although, I wonder if the process might be more elongated in POC families. We have more than just financial obstacles to overcome (e.g. racism, misogynoir, colonialism) in the wealth accumulation process. Because of the majors chosen by my family, I wonder if separating these statistics by race would show that it tends to take more than one generation to reach the financial security that frees young people to pursue majors in Arts and Humanities. I am a poet, but even I wouldn't have dreamed of majoring in English or any of the Performing Arts. I majored in Biology. I have cousins who are doctors, teachers, fire department captains, and small business owners. All of them have degrees, but chose majors that were likely to provide a more direct path to particular careers. My dad majored in Computer Science. My child is majoring in Fine Arts. Ze can do that because ze is the fourth successive generation in hir families to attend college and that has given hir a level of security that makes homelessness, joblessness, and hunger things that ze knows ze will never have to face.

To be quite honest, it doesn't exactly matter what sort of degree ze gets. Ze is the oldest grandchild in my family and hir dad's family. My dad has made it clear that if my child gets a degree (in anything) and is willing to change hir surname to his, then ze will inherit his business. I don't think that most 1st generation college students can relate to something that bougie. The surname issue seems a bit trivial to me, but that's mostly a part of my bougie "Black hipster" rejection-of-all-things-bougie-while-still-benefiting-from-the-perks-of-classism. My father is absolutely serious about his surname stipulation. I'm fairly convinced of what this article posits because I think if all or even most 1st generation college students could get a degree in anything and have an established business handed to them when their grandparents die, there would be a significant difference in what they choose for their majors.

The article in the Atlantic also mentions "the possibility that children from higher-income families were more exposed to the sorts of art, music, and literature that colleges deem worthy of study, an exposure that might inspire them to pursue those subjects when they get to college.". I think there's some truth in this, too. My siblings and cousins were definitely exposed to more of these things than our parents. I have a brother and a sister who are professional musicians. One has several degrees, but the other didn't go to college at all. He didn't have to. It's ironic that, even though he never spent a day in college, he spends some semesters teaching courses to music majors. How many people without degrees and without parents with degrees are likely to end up teaching at the university level? However, he was in music programs ever since elementary school and had private music tutors on top of that. My child spent several years attending a pre-school run by my university with excellent arts programs. Even before kindergarten, hir talent in the visual arts was recognized and cultivated. As my child got older, ze went to arts-focused summer camps and visited museums and galleries on a regular basis. The children of my siblings and cousins are also being exposed to the same sort of cultural enrichment. Their bedrooms are covered in water color paintings and craft projects that they and their mothers created together. A couple of them are already in instrumental music programs and performing solos at their spring concerts.

They are unlikely to be affected by the fact that music programs are being eliminated from public schools around the country and those that barely hanging on now have fewer instruments to lend to those students who can not afford to buy one. Those who allocate money for public education don't seem to think that arts are essential for the development of poor children. Heck, they don't even think that these children even deserve facilities that aren't crumbling and lacking air conditioning. Those children from families with more money can afford to counteract the effects of these growing trends. I went to a high school without central air conditioning (Some teachers actually purchased room units to cool their individual classroom). However, I was in the Gifted and Talented program (which more affluent and well-connected families have an easier time getting into) and we had a separate building on campus and it did have central air conditioning. It was actually my family's choice for me to go to the neighborhood school, because I was accepted into one of the more elite magnet schools in New Orleans. I didn't suffer from going to a public school in the way that some students did.

I don't anticipate things changing very much in the future, at least not for first generation college students. Instead, I think the general consensus is that university education is becoming less available to poor students and those without university-educated parents. That may not directly affect me or my child, but it will affect our lives because of the reasons why university is becoming less available. People of Color, queer people, and disabled people are more likely to be affected by the ways that this society is pushing folks into low-paying occupations with little to no job security.