Progressives, you have ableist privilege.

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I would consider myself a progressive liberal, by all means and definitions. I have written about how the election has upset me and left me reeling. And of course, instead of showing a unified front, the left has nothing better to do than tearing into each other. While the orange man silently worked to foster his business interests and dismantle freedom of the press, we discussed whether wearing safety pins is the way to go or not. We discussed who got to speak at the Women’s March on Washington. We discussed whether Bernie would have won, whether looting is an acceptable response to the election (yes, I seriously had this conversation), and in general, who’s the bravest. In these discussions, I have noticed one thing: While we try to be conscious of how we address racism, LGBTQ rights, misogyny, people with disabilities do not even show up on the radar. A few examples:

  1.   Creating a hierarchy of resistance in which public protesting ranks supreme. It happened to me the first time during occupy. As I was walking across the UC Davis quad, I recognized a student among the protesters. I chatted with him, and was invited to join the protest. When I politely declined,  I overheard someone else making a disparaging comment about how I probably didn’t want my trendy haircut to be ruined. While the answer to this is, yes, because I paid a shitload of money for it, the answer is also: What makes you so high and mighty? At the time, I had not one, but three fistulas and a seton drain and did sitz baths every  hour. So, no, I do not want to sit in a damn tent all day. Similarly, after the election, another friend of mine, posted about how he had protested against the two presidents before, so he won’t change a thing now. He ended it with a grandiose “The fight is in the street. See you there.” Now, I am grateful that he’s there making his voice heard. But no, you won’t see me there, because there are usually no public toilets at street fights. Besides me being pretty useless at a street fight with my threatening 5 feet frame and combat weight of 101 pounds and my secret weapon of extreme fatigue.
  2. Organizing acts of resistance that are hard for non-ablebodied people to attend. I am talking about having events in non-wheelchair accessible spaces (yes, this happens)  I am also worried about the Women’s March here in Portland. Right now we have a lot of ice on the streets from last week’s snowpocalypse, and if this isn’t cleaned up by Saturday you’re making this march an impossibility for people with canes, and the elderly. Will there be bathrooms? I don’t know.  I also won’t be wearing a pink pussy knit hat. While I do appreciate the second-waviness of it all, I actually do not have the time to knit it myself, nor the ability- my fingers are cramping after a day of typing.
  3. Telling us to get over ourselves, especially invisible disabilities and/or give unwarranted, unqualified advice. This can go two ways. Say, Anna suffers from anxiety attacks and crowds make her nervous. She explains this to friends who want to drag her to the protest. Possibility A: her friends tell her to “just pop a Xanax”, as if this was the solution to everything and minimize her suffering this way. Possibility B: Her friends tell her that she needs to face her fears, that it would be good for her to go. That really, if she only did xxx, yyy and zzz, she wouldn’t have anxiety attacks in the first place. Likewise with IBD. I can’t “just take an immodium” if I have diarrhea. And whether I look sick, or I am sick, is not related, and finally none of your business.
  4. Belittling fears for our physical safety. First of all- it’s dishonest. I am from Europe and every May 1st I have seen peaceful demonstrations being hijacked by not so peaceful protests. It happens very quickly. And guess who won’t be able to run? Who won’t be able to “fight back”? Staying to the side of the crowd is a great idea, but crowds move at their own pace, and before you know it you’re in the middle, not able to escape.

There are many more ways in which everyday ableism is being re-inforced. I am guilty myself- especially in my language, I need to be more careful about how I express myself. Without any psychiatric education, I have diagnosed the president elect as “insane”, “idiotic”, a “narcissist” and so on. And while my sentiments towards the person are less than charitable, I am not helping to diminish stigma against mental illness by engaging in that type of language.

We can do better, we all do, and in the spirit of unity, let’s start by valuing what everyone can bring to the table. If you want a diverse America, you need to include people with disabilities/non-ablebodied people (I hate the word, but it’s probably the most inclusive).


Here are other great re-sources from people more eloquent than I am:

6 Ways Your Social Justice Activism Might Be Ableist



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