In light of everything going on...
Could people, anyone capable of doing so, please do something every single time you see someone describe ableism as being about a list of words you are supposed to say and a list of words you’re not supposed to say?
Ableism is about going to a hospital and getting told by doctors that you’d be better off going home and dying than getting a feeding tube.
Ableism is about going to get SSI and getting told that if you can blog (or do some other random thing that is not gainful employment and will never be), you can work for gainful employment.
Ableism is about your own family believing you’re lazy or exaggerating or faking because you don’t seem like their idea of what a disabled person is (young white guy in a wheelchair from paraplegia, usually – who are actually usually among the more privileged and able to work of disabled people, not that they have it easy by any means, especially since able to work doesn’t mean able to get hired in an ableist workforce).
Ableism is about valuing people based on what we can do, rather than valuing people because we exist.
Ableism is about drawing a line past which people don’t count as disabled anymore, they just count as not even people, and not worth protecting.
Ableism is about there being entire books where people think it’s legitimate to debate whether people with intellectual or other cognitive or developmental disabilities (those are three totally different but overlapping categories, just so you’re aware) count as persons or not. Both “philosophically” and under law. Google Peter Singer if you don’t believe me (he also doesn’t think newborns are persons, but everyone loves him because he supports animal rights – by bringing down disabled human beings in the process, and everyone knows – because of ableism, of course – that disabled human beings don’t matter anyway, not as much as animals).
Ableism is not – at least not mostly – about whether ‘stupid’ is a slur. It’s just not. And it infuriates me both when disabled people treat it primarily that way, and when nondisabled people treat it primarily that way.
Because when you do a serious discussion of racism, and then classism, and then sexism, and transphobia, and transmisogyny, and homophobia, and biphobia, and every other kind of oppression you can think of, large and small, and you give them in-depth coverage… and then you come to ableism. And it’s always last. And it’s always a footnote to all the other kinds of oppression. And the footnote always reads “And ableism… don’t say stupid, or idiot, instead, say these other words that don’t actually form an adequate replacement for those first words at all.”
Which diminishes the understanding of the power of actual ableist slurs such as retard (hint: a slur carries with it as part of the meaning, that the person being described by the slur is not a real person – an insult like ‘stupid’ can be used in an ableist or non-ableist way but is not necessarily a slur even when it’s ableist). And it also diminishes the understanding of what ableism actually is, by not taking seriously the fact that ableism kills people.
And even this act of always putting ableism last, always treating it as less serious or possibly not even a real ism at all (possibly “political correctness gone amok”, possibly “(eyeroll) yet another group of people wanting to claim they’re oppressed and really stealing the idea of oppression from real oppressed people like people of color and taking their ideas and successes without crediting them at all”, however it’s phrased… that is one of the worst things about ableism in circles that claim to want to deal with oppression in all its forms. Because it basically throws us to the wolves while claiming there are no wolves to throw us to and that we aren’t really dying in huge numbers everywhere and so forth. There are ways in which ableism becomes worse, more deadly, because of being diminished in this way by all the “serious” anti-oppression people.
So – I don’t care if you call what you do social justice or anti-oppression or anything else. I don’t care if you’re part of those circles or not. I don’t care if you use ideas from those circles or not. I just don’t care. All I care about is that you take ableism seriously and that you take the danger disabled people are in right now seriously and part of taking it seriously is making sure that people understand it’s not about what words are politically correct or politically incorrect at this particular moment in time when it comes to disability.
Because disabled people are often the first to die – or among the first – in situations like this. And this is not an accident. It is because the people with power know that a lot of people don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to us, whether on the right or on the left. It’s because they know that you don’t take our oppression seriously. It’s because they know that our deaths will be considered inevitable. Have you ever considered it inevitable that disabled people and old people end up in nursing homes, group homes, developmental centers, psych wards, and other institutional settings? – sad, maybe, tragic even, but inevitable consequences of disability? Because that’s the same kind of thinking that makes our deaths inevitable. (By the way, nursing homes are the cause of death for a lot of us, but our disability gets blamed instead and this is all normalized so much you probably can’t even see it.) Have you ever considered it inevitable that disabled people contemplate suicide, and never thought it might be the result of the same forces that cause other oppressed people to contemplate suicide? Have you ever responded almost reflexively to disabled people’s suicidal thoughts by saying that we ought to have the right to kill ourselves easily and painlessly (when you’d never say the same of, say, queer teenagers), without even thinking that maybe most of the time we’re suicidal for the same reason queer teenagers often are? Have you ever thought that when we don’t get SSI and die on the streets, that’s just…. unfortunate but sort of inevitable? That basically our deaths however and whenever they happen are unfortunate but inevitable consequences of being disabled, and you’ve never even thought of the way ableism plays both into our deaths themselves and into your own thoughts about them?
Because that’s why you need to get people to take ableism seriously immediately. And that’s why I’ve always been infuriated by people not taking ableism seriously. Because I’ve been that person in that hospital room being told by doctors that I would do better off to go home and die of a totally preventable pneumonia or starvation, rather than get the combination of feeding tubes that would prevent both?
Oh and by the way – don’t quote me statistics about aspiration pneumonia and feeding tubes unless you know my exact disability, the exact cause of the aspiration pneumonia, and the exact configuration and type of feeding tubes I use and exactly how I use them. I know that as a general rule feeding tubes don’t prevent aspiration and may even cause it, but in my particular circumstances that doesn’t apply. There are dozens of reasons for feeding tubes, dozens of types of feeding tubes, and if you don’t understand all of this in-depth you have no basis for commenting. I went from getting aspiration pneumonia seven times in the first few months of a year, to getting it once or twice a year at most, instantly, with the right combination of feeding tubes. And I gained back roughly half of the 75 pounds I’d lost rapidly as a result of my stomach disorder.
And I’m happy, and I’m fucking alive, which is more than I expected by now. I didn’t expect to hit 34 or 35, and I’m now 36. I might even eventually hit old age at this point, who knows. But however long I lived, I deserved a chance to be alive. And it took a lot of people calling the hospital and demanding I get treated right, to even get the feeding tube. They couldn’t deny it to me – because I needed it – so they just tried every trick they knew to talk me out of agreeing to it. After tumblr and other places resulted in enough phone calls to the hospital, I got my tube the next day, although my problems with ableism in that hospital were and remain far from over and the circumstances of getting the tube and the aftermath were something out of a nightmare scenario. Not because they had to be, but because they could get away with it, because ableism is everywhere and practically unacknowledged by just about everyone, including especially the people who supposedly care the most about disabled people (family, caregivers, “helping professionals”, anti-oppression people, etc).
Anyway, this has gotten into a long enough rant I’ll be surprised if you could read this far – I probably couldn’t (I write better than I read). But hopefully you get the message. Right now is a time when disabled Americans, especially those of us facing other forms of oppression (ever try to get proper medical care as a queer, genderless and visibly gender-atypical, poor person with developmental disabilities? …yeah) need people fighting ableism more than ever. And that doesn’t mean tacking up a list of words that everyone can say instead of ‘stupid’. And treating it like it does, is part of the problem that leads to us dying in circumstances like these.