Sunday, January 25, 2015


The question posed to me is a simple one -What is ableism?  This post is an attempt to answer this .

I want to start with what it isn't .  It is NOT about the prejudice notions of ability that impact people with disabilities. It is NOT solely about the discrimination that happens to people with various disabilities.   What it IS a system of beliefs and values that assert a cultural norm that regards able bodied as ideal and disabled bodies as inferior. It further asserts a hierarchy within disability , with those individuals who have a profound cognitive disabilities at the very bottom .

You see prejudices are informed by values and beliefs.  Discrimination is the active perpetuation of these beliefs. The values and beliefs you hold around one's inability to do something is informed by very basic ideas of what it means to have value . To be worthy of being called human . Our discussion of intelligence , around genius , around fitness all reinforce the fact that there is an ideal human being . We should all desire to be better , stronger , faster , fitter, smarter. Right ?  What is wrong with this, need you may ask?  Seemingly nothing , when you look at it through an individual goal of being the best you can be . Right?  But what if your best is average or for goodness sake , being the slowest ? How do we feel about that ?  Is that ok ?  Why ?  Why not?  Would you rather die or lose a limb?  What if you lost your current level intelligence ( as we currently measure it ) ?

No matter how you answer those questions , think about what informs it.  This is where you get to the heart of ableism.  Because those thoughts in the recesses of your mind will impact policy, school choices , community activity , etc.  So all though those questions are about you , it will ultimately impact someone else.  Thus creating a system.

This of course is complicated by race , class , gender , sexuality . But then again not really .  At the core of white supremacy is a discussion of ability and often the response of the marginalized race or ethnicity  is to prove their fitness .  The question of why we center those conversations intelligence , body fitness , etc are rarely challenged, but remain at the crux of the discussion.

I could go on . But I will leave you with this.  When my son was born , it wasnt the long list of all his possible defects that made me sad, although I did have to actively work against the idea the idea that my son needed to be fixed . But when I cried that night , and a few nights since , it was because I was raising a young black disabled son in a world that did not value who he is .  That that extra chromosome placed him further in the margins .and it was not he who needed fixing , but it was society's view of him that needed to be mended . What complicated it further was juxtaposing that against the knowledge that he would need help with things and being clearly that assistance does not make him less of a person .  But that was and continue to be active work , because he was born to an able bodied mama , who has also received this messages and needed to unlearn many of them .

It is at this moment , it is such a critical time to create a space to unlearn the messages we have received .  This is the only way we can disrupt the system .

So , now I will really stop .  Thoughts ????