Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Disability Unity and Acknowledging Systems of Oppression

Well, it's official. I have a cold. I'm pretty sure that I picked it up while at the cancer support group event on Sunday. It isn't exactly a surprise.

Immune-compromised body+large crowd=high probability of catching airborne viruses

Oh well! To tell you the truth, I'm still glad that I went. Even though it can be really difficult to get myself together and go out some place, I think that attending events like Sunday are important part of maintaining my mental health. It's a time when I can let my hair down and not have to worry about pretending to feel great when I don't. The members really do care about each other in ways that I don't usually see outside of that setting.

There are women wearing diamonds on their hands and ears, kids missing limbs, Nascar dads, emo-kids, and teens in hip hop gear, Asians, Latinos, Blacks, and Whites, Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, Buddhists, and atheists. Despite all of the differences between individuals, I have NEVER witnessed an argument take place--seriously, not even one. I'm sure that political affiliations vary within the group but it's never stood in the way of us getting together and supporting each other.

I know that none of these people exist outside of the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ablist systems of the world. However, there seems to be a greater awareness of how problematic these hierarchies are for everyone. On Sunday, one of the (white) mothers was talking with me about where we were considering sending our same-age daughters for high school and she brought up the fact that racism is a problem at the school where she had sent her older son a few years ago. I mean, how often does a white person in this country initiate conversations about race or racism outside of the context of claiming a person of color is "playing the race card" or engaging in "reverse racism"? It's certainly pretty rare for me to hear around here.

Right now I'm sitting here wondering about how disability unity affects the blogosphere. For instance, I can't remember ever feeling hesitant about bringing up something pertaining to race on the blog of someone who identifies as a person with disabilities. I can go to Crip-Power or The Gimp Parade and talk about being black, multi-ethnic, or middle class without having to worry about whether I'll be told that my issues are irrelevant or of less importance than what someone else is experiencing. Why is that? I mean, Blue is white and Miss Crip Chick is Korean but they seem perfectly comfortable with conversations about race even when it isn't involving to their own.

I've also never seen a blogger who identifies him/herself as a person with disabilities write blatantly transphobic, fatphobic, or homophobic posts. I've certainly met my fair share of non-disabled people who are marginalized in some way but still proudly cling to bigoted, hierarchical views (e.g. classist Blacks, racist lesbians/gays, and sexist heavy-set people). However, people with disabilities seem to be less likely to use their status as a member of a marginalized group as an excuse for engaging in the marginalization of others. What is it about disability that makes people with disabilities more accepting and more willing to acknowledge the significance of other forms of oppression?


Wheelchair Dancer said...

While that isn't exactly my experience.... I find that when I encounter other kinds of nasty prejudices among disabled people, I feel really hurt. Even if it is not directed at me. It's a thing from my childhood. I used to argue with my mother -- we're black, we can't be racist. Similarly, we're disabled; we're already at the bottom of the pile. Being an ally and conscious supporter is good for the spirit, soul, and the movement.



annaham said...

This is a very interesting post! As for your question, I don't have a coherent answer for you, but I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that many of us with disabilities have experienced grotesque marginalization at the hands of the able-bodied--for example, being told that our issues aren't important, or that our experiences of oppression don't count, or that we're focusing on the wrong things, or that we're being too negative or whatever. I'm not trying to say that my experiences are comparable to the experiences of people of color, however. On some level, I know that "the little things" can be intensely angering, and sometimes, the big issues (racism, sexism, homophobia, class bias, ableism) are made evident in very "little" ways.

An example: Part of the reason that I stopped going to meetings of the local chapter of a very prominent feminist organization was because of my fibromyalgia, and the fact that I had limited energy to devote to things. However, the emphasis in this particular group was very much on doing things *as* a group, and with some very physical activity as well (flyering, going to marches, et cetera). Unfortunately, the people in this group did not seem to be aware of disability issues, and "invisible" disability issues at that. It was partially my responsibility to bring it up, but with so much emphasis on "more important" issues, I did not feel that I was entitled to do so.

cripchick said...

ditto to what WCD said. in my experience the disability community as a whole and it's leadership are VERY racist VERY homophobic VERY misogynistic VERY intolerant. however, when we are building our own homes and our own communities, what we create is everything you said above.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me remember my father, who lived nearly all his life as a double amputee after losing an arm and a leg in an accident as a child. I don't know if it was because of the accident or just because he was born with a generous soul, but he was the most color/ethnicity/class blind person I have ever known. Even at the end, in the final stages of Alzheimer's when many people are stripped of their control along with their dignity, I never heard him make a disparaging remark about a single human being. I have had other elderly relatives about whom the same could not be said--after long lives of propriety and courtesy, they gave away their true feelings at the end.

In fairness to my father, I need to say that he never self-identified as disabled. I was a teenager before I realized that Dad attracted stares when we were out.

Lisa Harney said...

Bint, my experience is like yours, in the blogosphere. Most PWD bloggers get the intersections and the -isms.

I have little experience with any part of disability culture outside the blogosphere. I have seen some nastiness in the blogosphere, but it's mostly commenters at places like ballastexistenz, where people show up just to berate Amanda for having the wrong disability model, or something.

I admit, when I think of the disability community, I think of you, Ms. CripChick, Elizabeth McClung, Amanda Baggs, Dave Hingsburger, Shiva, and so on, which means my vision of the disability community may not be representative.

Anonymous said...

I'm new to disability issues and thinking about them and how I can be an ally to non-abled people, but I wonder if an answer to this question might be found in centralizing the body. For instance, I think what is underlying in a lot of forms of oppression is the idea that the body itself is somehow wrong, like, for instance, racist beauty standards that denigrate people of color's bodies for not fitting into white ideals, or transphobic attitudes that hate on ambiguous bodies cuz they don't fit into the gender binary, or judging queer lovers because their bodies together are not the right equation of love. So what I'm trying to get at is that I think racism, homophobia, male supremacy, classism, ableism, etc all stem from this idea that there is only one right physical body.

But what happens is that these attitudes towards the "other" become divorced from the body, like racist attitudes become about stereotyping black people as "lazy", Arabs as violent, and queer people as having the "wrong lifestyle," etc,. But that attitudes about non-able bodied people cannot be divorced from the body, in the same way. Maybe because for non-able bodied folks the body is always the core issue? Or maybe I don't understand disability issues (and other issues) enough to have a real argument here.....