When precisely did the personal became political is a question, like the chicken and egg, though I know the answer to that one. As for the former it’s customary to say it happened as a concomitant dynamic of feminism and black liberation—the Combahee River Collective certainly made the idea famous. Trust me, I think it’s the only way to think about politics if you care about human rights. The personal means many things but most assuredly above all else it means “what’s happening to the roof over my head?” Or “why don’t I have a roof?” Both are variants on Gore Vidal’s comment: “Politics is knowing who’s paying for your lunch.”
If you’ve a disability the personal is most decidedly political but let’s delve deeper. Here “the political” means not “of the polis” but being outside it and everyone whose disabled understands this.
Disability is an outsider’s game and therefore the personal and its associated politics are in sharp distinction to America’s myth of the self-directed man who pulls himself up by his bootstraps for solitude and grit are fictions in industrial societies and the personal understanding that politics made the disabled even lonelier after they built factories is essential to seeing how disability became a sub-class of the human.
The personal: 80 per cent of the disabled are unemployed in the United States and since COVID-19 we’ve been dropping off the employment rolls in staggering numbers. 20 per cent of white disabled workers have lost their jobs; 40 per cent of disabled folks of color have lost their jobs. Since many of these positions were in the service sector it’s nearly one hundred per cent certain these lost jobs won’t be coming back.
The political: no efforts are underway to make sure the disabled have access to health care; job training at the national level; adequate housing is nowhere being discussed in Washington.
The personal: disability “is” people of color; indigenous people, queer people, Latinx folks, veterans, children, the elderly….we’re over 60 million in the US. Why is this personal? Because:
The political seeks to wipe us off the map.
Politics is knowing who has the eraser.