The politics of the personal matters. In the disability communities we say “nothing about us without us” and for good reason—the disabled are often left out of critical discussions about our needs. If you’re black and disabled you’re left out of multiple conversations. The politics of the personal is a matter of life and death. If you’re an indigenous American and disabled you can count on horrific health care and a reduced life expectancy. It matters who we are. Lives are in the balance.
Two weeks ago I critiqued a joke on Twitter that I thought was ablest because it made exercise into a white thing, and a comically compulsive thing. All I could think of was just how many veterans with PTSD, women who’ve experienced sexual violence, people with serious depression and other mental health issues—just how many of them are running for their lives. Are white people in spandex funny? Yes. But the sub-text of the joke was problematic beyond race.
The disabled no matter their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation are ten times more likely to die early from lack of access to health and wellness programs. I was instantly targeted as a racist for daring to suggest the joke was problematic. This is the ugly side of identity politics—a severe, unscrupulous cry that no one outside your identity club should have the right to critique something downright ugly. We’re now seeing this with the horrific Snoop Dog attacks on Gayle King—she did her job as a journalist bringing up the scandal in Kobe Bryant’s life. She’s now facing death threats. I call it the new Stalinism and it is a tool in every identity camp. The sub-narrative is “don’t mess with my identity. I’m perfect. You’re inconvenient, or worse.” On Twitter people called for me to be “collected” which from a disability perspective is vicious. The disabled have always been collected, sequestered, imprisoned, experimented upon, and yes, killed outright. That’s how bad the current climate is.
Racism is deep and wide in America. I’m a blind white person. I’ve had my share of white privilege. I was the son of a college president and went to college for free. I’ve been able to secure loans, buy a car for my wife, get health care for my children. These should be rights for everyone. I’ve spent my life saying so. But being blind also means not being allowed into restaurants with my guide dog, being denied access to the materials and materiality of inclusion in a hundred settings. I’ve been told by professors that I didn’t belong in their classes because of my blindness. Is it wrong for me to say that my white privilege is hardly a comfort zone? Is it wrong to say that ableist humor can undermine efforts to secure life affirming health options for the vulnerable? That’s how bad the current climate is. One shouldn’t have to ask.
“When there’s a person, there’s a problem. When there’s no person, there’s no problem.”