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.

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