I think about ableism most days, but this is my first time officially participating. I haven’t used this blog in ages, but I figured this was a good enough reason to resurrect it – at least for today. It’s not only Blogging Against Disablism Day, but also May Day – the ongoing fight for worker’s rights. I’ve been thinking about the ways that ableism and capitalism intersect, how utterly entwined they are. I’ve been thinking about personal experiences of disability (mine and others’) and how they connect to broader systems of privilege and oppression. Here are some of those thoughts (in a not-fully-edited way).
I have varying levels of privilege in many different ways. I am white, cisgendered, hetero, I am able to pay rent (despite the fact that I am currently not working and am going further into student debt), I can pass as able-bodied (my body is not visibly “marked”, despite how I feel inside).
I have never been denied proper healthcare (though the medical system itself is very limited/limiting)
I have never had an aggressive note left on my car.
I have never been publicly shamed for using the elevator on bad days.
I have not lost any friends or family from a lack of support and understanding.
I have talked and written about my own disability in personal ways – my own embodied experiences as an individual. This has been very important. Creative expression is an effective way to process difficult things and to integrate them into the way you live your life. But our Capitalist culture feeds on this sense of individuality, of personal responsibility and disconnection.
Individualistic thinking tells poor and homeless people to “get a job!” or to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps!”. This is classism.
This thinking views the huge number of missing and murdered Indigenous women as individual cases to be handled by the police. This is ignoring and therefore perpetuating racism.
This thinking says that women should be responsible for policing themselves, instead of putting the onus on men to not be predators and rapists. This is sexism.
This thinking does not make the connection between police brutality and systems of racism, classism, ableism, trans & homophobia. It instead criminalizes the anger and outrage of people as individual acts of unjustified violence, instead of communities fighting ongoing oppression.
It refuses to see the ways that disabled people (or people with disabilities if you prefer Person First language) are excluded and erased in the capitalist narrative (work = worth).
I spent four years formally learning to see the connections between the personal and the political. I’ve continued to think in terms of the broader picture – of how our experiences are formed and shaped by our culture’s grand narratives and norms. Despite these insights, my experiences with my own disability have continually been marked by internalized ableism. Despite “knowing better”, I have viewed my chronic illness as a symptom of personal failings (e.g. I didn’t take good enough care of my health, I am not strong enough to handle the stress of life). I have felt deep shame about the times I haven’t been able to work, or when I have, the times I’ve had to call in sick (because the pain and heavy fatigue in my body made it nearly impossible to walk to the bathroom, let alone endure the 1.5 hour commute to work).
When I was first diagnosed, I spent most of my time trying to “fix” or eradicate my pain. I read dozens of books and blogs written by supposed “life coaches” and inspirational mentors – trying to desperately suck up their enthusiastic positivity and hopeful health advice. I wanted their sentiments and words to seep into my pores, course through my veins, etch themselves into my bones. I wanted a saviour, I wanted a formula, a follow-these-5-steps-and-reclaim-your-health! I binged on positivity until my heart closed off and I became numb to it. It sent the message that I was not trying hard enough or not doing the “right” things. It further pushed down and solidified my shame into a tight ball in my gut. The shame that I was not-okay-the-way-I-am. This was a personal journey, but it was still connected to broader cultural beliefs. The language of “overcoming” pain and disability reinforces the deeply culturally ingrained idea that being able-bodied and “healthy” is the ultimate goal – the “normal” way to be. It tells me that I no longer belong.
If you blame individuals long enough for not trying “hard enough” – not BEING enough – then they begin to internalize it. It strips away their power so that their energy is directed towards “bettering themselves”, instead of fighting back against systems that have knocked them down in the first place.
I’m privileged because the only battles I’ve had so far have been with my own rebelling body and my mind that tells me my worth is measured by how much I manage to fit into a broken system. The latter, I can learn to UNlearn; the former, I can learn to love ❤