Ableism and Maybe Tomorrow

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

When I was in the psych hospital at 15, anorexic, depressed about blindness I had a room mate. He was no older than I am now but I thought he was ancient. He was an immigrant from Eastern Europe and spoke almost no English. Anyway while I was busy starving myself to death he lay in his bed and moaned. Now and then he’d totter my way, lift his gown, and say: “Look at scar!”

**

How does it begin, the collapse of wish?
When you can’t ask how it ends.

**

Disability is everywhere once you learn to look for it. Elvis Presley had continuous high grade pain the last ten years of his life. Samuel Johnson was legally blind, suffered from seizures, and may well have had a variant of Tourette’s Syndrome. The people in my neighborhood are touched by disablement. Some show it. Others do not. Normalcy, the belief in it, the pressure to live it or else is the most destructive fiction on earth. What does it avail me to say so? And why do I keep saying it?

Because the defense of our planet depends on design justice and this in turn depends on defeating our addiction to normalcy as well as fossil fuels.

**

In her excellent book The Contours of Ableism (an elegant title I think) Fiona Kumari Campbell imagines the structural and attitudinal dispositions against the disabled as residing within a telos or set of illusions that maintain the non-disabled identity. When I write against disability discrimination and the privilege indexes of ableism I’m engaging in the work of all disabled activists by asserting the truth of the matter:

“Ableism refers to: a network of beliefs, processes and practices that produces a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, species-typical and therefore essential and fully human. Disability then is cast as a diminished state of being human.”

Excerpt From: “Contours of Ableism.” Apple Books.

So if there are so many disabled people around why does compulsory normalization still rule the roost? The contours of ableism are protean rather than strictly geometric.

Fiona Campbell writes:

“Whether it be the ‘species typical body’ (in science), the ‘normative citizen’ (in political theory), the ‘reasonable man’ (in law), all these signifiers point to a fabrication that reaches into the very soul that sweeps us into life and as such is the outcome and instrument of a political constitution: a hostage of the body.”

Excerpt From: “Contours of Ableism.” Apple Books.

**

One of the interesting things about ableism is that whatever form it takes it occupies the future perfect. There will be time enough to make things right for the non-normals but not today. One may fair say “not today” is the motto of the thing. Non hodie in Latin. Picture a flag bearing the image of an indolent house cat. Not today will we question our assumptions about the majority of bodies on the planet. Ableism also refrains from saying “maybe tomorrow.”

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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