capriuni: Text: If you want to be a Hero, be Good to the Storyteller. (Default)
In his recent book Disability Rhetoric (Critical Perspectives on Disability), Jay Timothy Dolmage makes the following distinction between disablism and ableism:

Disablism, broadly conceived, negatively constructs both the values and the material circumstances around people with disabilities. Ableism, on the other hand, positively values and makes able-bodiedness compulsory.*


Disablism, in other words, is what leads to sympathetic treatment in the media of parents who murder their own disabled children, because of course, they were too heavy a burden to care for. And ableism is what leads to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) – which forces autistic children mimic neorotypical people (often through electric shock and withholding food) – to be considered “therapy” rather than torture. Like the filling and bread of a sandwich, the two ideas are not exactly the same, but neither can they exist in isolation.

From here on, I’ll be focusing that second aspect of ableism as Dolmage defines it: the idea that [full ability] is, in our societies, “compulsory.” At first glance, it may seem absurd – the hyperbole of a bleeding-heart radical. After all, for many, “a sound mind in a sound body” is impossible, and can’t be enforced. But what can be (and has been) enforced is full access to the rights, privileges, and protections of human society. Come up with an arbitrary standard of abilities that “everybody” has, and you have a means to measure the quality of any person’s humanity. Once you have that, you can claim a rational, (supposedly) justifiable, reason to write laws against them.

Bigotry is the bedrock of nearly all social injustice. And ableism is the toxic sludge poisoning the ground in which human societies are rooted, allowing a wide range of oppression to flourish. And, as long as ableism remains unacknowledged and unchallenged, it also weakens our fight against it.

There are two main misconceptions about bigotry that get in the way of people recognizing both the reality of ableism and the harm it causes.

The first is that bigotry is nothing more than a prejudiced, mistaken idea about someone, based on their perceived identity (“All white people love mayonnaise”). But in actuality, bigotry is the systematic combination of belief and policy used in order to enforce the status quo for the privileged classes and deny others their rights. No white person has ever been denied a job because of their preferred condiments. On the other hand, the belief that women are both more irrational, and less able to control their impulses than men, led to policies allowing banks to deny women the right to open their own checking account without their fathers’ or husbands’ permission (source).

The second misconception is that, in order to be “bigoted,” an idea must be false (“All black people are less intelligent than whites”). This forces marginalized people to spend their time debunking lies, focusing all our energies on trying to prove we’re smarter, stronger, and more capable than our oppressors say we are (“Do twice as much, twice as well, for none of the credit”), instead of focusing our attention on changing the actual laws and policies that are used against us.

And it’s this second misconception that makes ableism – the idea that a measure of a person’s ability is a valid reason to deny the value of a person’s humanity – that makes it such an insidious force against our fight for universal justice. Because disability exists in every community. Some women are frail. Some blacks are intellectually disabled. And so these are the people shunned by their own communities (and it’s often our elders who bear the worst of this). Ableism allows our oppressors to “Divide and conquer.” And because every person who’s alive is at risk of becoming disabled, it plants the seed of doubt in the back of the mind: “What if ‘they’ are right – what if I am too weak, or not smart enough?” undermining the strength of our convictions.

But if we can, collectively, recognize ableism for the false and arbitrary standard that it is, then bigotry will no longer have the power to distract and divide us:

Whether or not I measure up to your standards is irrelevant. I do not need to be as strong, or as smart, as you claim I must be I am still a human being. And my life matters. My humanity is valid. And I – we – deserve justice.

The "*-Ism" Tree

[Image description: A black and white tabloid sized poster in the style of an educational diagram, showing a tree and its root system, combined with text.

At the bedrock level: "BIGOTRY: Beliefs and policies which work to exclude people from full membership in human society."

In the root system: "ABLEISM: Judging the value of a person's humanity on the basis of ability."

The trunk has two forks; the left-hand fork is labeled "RACISM:" and leads to an example racist belief in its cluster of leaves: "Blacks are Less Intelligent than Whites, but they are More Athletic"

The right-hand fork is labeled "SEXISM:" and leads to two clusters of leaves. The main cluster reads: "Women are Weaker, & Less Rational than Men;" the secondary cluster reads: "Gays are effeminate. Lesbians are emasculating."

The top cluster of leaves centered between these two branches, with a freely curving arrow pointing down to each half, reads: "Claims about Ability used to Pass Judgment on People's Humanity (This is ABLEISM)"

Description ends.]



*(Kindle Locations 504-506). Syracuse University Press. Kindle Edition (copyright 2014)
capriuni: Text: If you want to be a Hero, be Good to the Storyteller. (Default)
Tonight, on the PBS program This Old House, the team of home renovators congratulated themselves on dismantling the ugly and cumbersome wheelchair ramp which the current owners of the house in question didn't need, and replaced it with a much more beautiful and welcoming brand new set of stairs.

The documentary that aired in the very next hour focused on the work and life of African American painters, and the struggles they've personally had to wage against racism in the professional Art World. The injustice of Segregation and Jim Crow laws, which codified in writing where individual people were allowed or forbidden to enter was mentioned more than once.

. . . . . . . . .

I trust you, Gentle Reader, can see where all the irony quotes should go without me actually typing them. Do I trust rightly?
capriuni: "Random" in mixed fonts, with "Stuff" in French Script on a red label obscurring a common obscenity. (random)
(I've come back to edit the bullet point about Chuck -- rereading it, I realized I had so many thoughts, I left key bits out of a key sentence)

  • Okay, so I cut my own hair, Friday night, and was tweaking it through the weekend... which meant I was spending more time than usual looking closely at my face in the mirror. And I noticed something.

    You know that the our faces are naturally asymmetrical, right? And that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the face? Here's a Web page that talks about that: Face assymmetry.

    ...Anyway: after looking at my reflection for the umpteenth time Saturday night, I noticed that my left eyebrow is markedly arched, and my right eyebrow is flatter and tending toward furrowed-ness. It's as if the analytical side of my brain is looking at the world and saying: "Grr! Eedjits!" And the creative side of my brain is looking at the world and saying: "Oh, Really?!"

    It struck me as highly lollerous. And yes, I LOL'ed.


  • I had a meta dream, this morning. I dreamt that I had a weird dream, and I ended up explaining my weird dream to people in my dream, and explaining how I thought my weird dream was giving suggestions for what we should do next (also, one of the characters in my dream was. Oh, and for some strange reason, Danny Rebus (from the new version of The Electric Company) was one of the people I was working with... (Here's His page on the Electric Company Website).

  • My cat Amanda is being particularly talkative today: walking around the house loudly declaring ...something... to the world at large like a Shakespearean actor doing a soliloquy.

  • (I almost put this one in things making me happy list from May 31, because I like it when the lightbulb clicks on about something. That 'aha!' moment feels good. ... Except this time, that light also illuminated something unpleasant. So I left it out. And I'm sticking it with "random" instead)

    I recently realized something about why I find Chuck so entertaining to watch, and while I will probably miss it when it's gone: For what's not in it: Disability.

    Now, I was actually surprised when this notion clarified in my mind (as if floating slowing from the murky depths of a silty pond, until it bobs up on the surface, all shiny like). Normally, I despise the erasure of "my kind of people" from the world, but the lack of disabled people from even the background crowd scenes means that in the entire four season run of the show (So far, I hope this post doesn't jinx this) means I could sit back, relax, and not worry that I'd have to watch any of the following plot points:

    1. That someone is going to "fake" a disability, in order to avoid suspicion or notice (which means, in real life, that people with disabilities are always under suspicion).

    2. That possible disability is used as a threat for a fate worse than death.

    3. That bitterness over having a disability is regarded as a reasonable motivation for wanting to hurt others or seek revenge (in an: "Oh, well. Of course that makes sense," sort of way).

    4. That shame over becoming disabled is likewise seen as reasonable excuse for not asking for help, even when going on as if nothing has changed actually results in the death of innocent people.

    5. That averting a feared disability, is portrayed as the happiest of happy endings, especially if the person who escaped this terrible fate is pretty. ... as long as you're "Beautiful" and "Whole," your life will be nothing but sunshine and lollipops for ever after.


    The fact that I do have to brace myself against those story lines in every other hour-long drama (and a few sitcoms) on television in the last (unspecified number of years) or so, is very, very depressing.



  • Thanks to [personal profile] trouble for pointing me to a transcript of Jay Smooth's video that I posted, last night:

    How to Tell People They Sound Racist )

    One reason why this is making me especially squeeful right now is that I'd just finished reading the bit in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Appiah, 2006), where the author makes the point that sharing someone's values isn't really important, and what we should be worrying about instead is agreeing on proper actions.

    Philosophical convergence for the win!

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