Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just because it's ableist, doesn't mean it's bad.

I see the word ableism getting flung around a lot lately.  Most of the time, it’s justified ableism.  But people toss it at others like a knife.  Like a weapon.  Like it’s a word that’s meant to hurt.  And then the recipients, the one who are being informed of their ableism, get offended and very hurt, because the connotation associated with all these -isms is that they’re bad, very bad and if you’re an ableist, then you’re a horrible horrible person who needs to go sit in a corner and shut up.

Ableism doesn’t mean you hate disabled people.  It doesn’t mean you’re an evil person.  It doesn’t even mean you think disabled people aren’t capable of anything, although all of those qualifiers can certainly fall under ableism.  Ableism is the system of oppression that faces disabled people in our society, a system that marks disabled people as inferior and most importantly, other.  It doesn’t have to be done with malice to be ableism.  It doesn’t even have to be done with conscious intent.  Ableism is separating society into us and them, sequestering disabled people into this category of not-entirely-human, mythical type people that are: a) so sad and tragic and/or b) sooo inspiring!!

Ableism is dictating that there is a right, a ”normal” way to be, and disabled people aren’t it.  Ableism is merely “tolerating” us instead of accepting us for who we are and embracing the differences that make us unique.  Ableism is preaching that diversity makes us stronger, and then conveniently leaving disability out of that equation. Ableism is believing that we have a lesser life, that we suffer, because we are disabled.

Ableism is “otherizing” us.  Ableism is using language that really has been used over generations to attack disabled people, to tell us that we are not normal and as such, we are less than human.  And ableism is using that language without any idea what it has done, how many people it’s hurt, because society doesn’t want us to know how, in a society that’s supposed to have conquered discrimination the way we conquered countries, millions and millions of people were systematically threatened, bullied, and slaughtered.  Ableism is never speaking about disability history, never even knowing that there is a history, because our history is not considered history.  At best, our struggle for rights is largely viewed as a cute little adolescent rebellion, complete with whining protests and stomping of feet.  At worst, it is completely wiped from the collective consciousness, because the world doesn’t want to see us, hear us, acknowledge our existence beyond using us, our stories, as a tool to make the privileged feel better about themselves.  Ableism is using us as scare tactics, as examples of what you don’t want to be.  Ableism is assuming that our lives are inherently less worth living than yours.

Ableism is having only one definition of disability, and only viewing a disabled person as one way.  Ableism is calling the rest of us fakers and benefit scroungers, because we don’t fit your definition of disability.  Ableism is cutting the services that we need to survive.
Ableism is putting disabled people in a box, a box that is never opened and has very clear edges.  Ableism is never recognizing that you or someone you know may be disabled, because they have a productive life.  Ableism is thinking that it is okay, even commendable, for disabled people to want to die, because our lives are not worth living.  Ableism is killing us before we have the chance to live, all because of a pre-conceived notion of what our lives will be like.

Ableism is warping the public notion of an entire group of people as “so smiley and happy all the time!” Ableism is reducing us to a caricature of human beings, painting us all as one shade of a color, when in fact we are as diverse as any other group of people.  Ableism is dividing a diverse community into “high functioning” and “low functioning” and deciding that only those who fit your idea of “high functioning” can possibly have anything to say.  Ableism is defining disability as solely an unfortunate happening, and not recognizing the social and cultural factors that oppress us.  Ableism is denying that you have privilege, that you can feel safe, because you are nondisabled.  Ableism is a world that is centered on the nondisabled, instead of being welcoming for everyone.  And truth be told?  Ableism is claiming that there is no ableism.

You don’t have to know that ableism exists to be an ableist.  Nor does being an ableist mean that you are a horrible, soulless person.  Being an ableist just means that you have privilege you need to acknowledge, and patterns of thought that you need to change.  So what should you do if someone calls you out on your ableism?  Take a step back.  Reflect on your privilege and what you said or did.  Recognize why someone may take offense at that.  If you don’t understand why it’s ableist, don’t start pointing fingers at the other person, claiming that they are oversensitive.  Ask politely, and think on their answer.  Apologize, and learn a lesson.  You are not evil because you are an ableist.  You are simply an ableist.  So take the opportunity to learn about your own privilege.  Hopefully, you’ll come away knowing more than you did before.


Ettina said...

You can also be ableist and have a disability yourself, especially if we're talking about your attitudes towards other disabilities. For example, a subset of the autistic community is really ableist against people with intellectual disabilities.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining the ableist thing. And most importantly saying that ableists are not evil. When I was in a class with my friend who is disabled(and you know I have CP myself) I made an ableist remark and I didn't even know I did. He gently told me about it and I learned an important lesson from it.

Your friend,

Mimi said...

Abso...blinkin'...lutely. Fantastic post...Bravo!

Mimi x

Penny L. Richards said...

Hi--wondering if you're still planning to host the May edition of the Disability Blog Carnival? I think April never happened, and then there was BADD, and I'm just getting around to checking in... let me know, okay? There's still time.

GirlWithTheCane said...

This is the best explanation of ablism that I've read. Very thorough and thought-provoking...I have bookmarked it.

Jo Kelly said...

You are an excellent writer! The best explanation I've ever read of the definition of Ableism - I will direct others to your blog.

Jo Kelly said...

You are an excellent writer! The best explanation I've ever read of the definition of Ableism - I will direct others to your blog.

Anonymous said...

I like your post; it's very insightful. I am curious of how ableism is not such a bad thing when your definition of it and your explanations of what ableism is happen to be negative towards those with disabilities. I do agree that many people are too sensitive towards their disabilities and maybe that this what you are referring to in a way by basically saying that if those who are offended by an ableism comment stopped to think about what was being said and why before getting upset, then they might not get upset after all. I have CF (Cystic Fibrosis) and CP. I am old school so I am not much for political correctness but that does not mean that I am prejudice or don't think about what I am going to say before I blurt it out. I have always believed that people could think whatever they want about me or others with disabilities but that doesn't make what they say true. I wonder how your response would fit other forms of prejudice like that of racism. There are other forms of ableism that are not verbal such as barriers that keep those from getting into places or getting hired. I do like your post but it excuses prejudice towards those with disability.