Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coming Here and Leaving There.

I posted this today on Facebook after serious meditation about the people and things that I (don't) need in my life. While it's probably not the best way to start a blog, it establishes my politics and how I understand collective liberation, mutual caring, and intersectional anti-oppression work.


On Why I Love the Community, and Why I'm Leaving It.
Friends and comrades,

I've been thinking-feeling a lot lately about the issues of being in a community where we attempt to address the ways in which systemic oppressions are interlinked and inter-sustaining. In these spaces where solidarity and allyship are understood as acts of love and loyalty, I've experienced profound and meaningful moments of belonging. But those memories and experiences are also tainted by the reality of my own isolation within it. This isolation usually takes one or both of two, or possibly more forms. Both/all of these are deeply rooted in ableism and the lack of disability justice within our work, our spaces, and our relationships as comrades, friends, and lovers.
In one aspect, the isolation occurs when the architectural-attitudinal spaces that we find and/or create remain inaccessible (in terms of both physical and social space) and where ableist privilege and oppression remain unmarked, in tact, and unchallenged. As one of the very few (the only?) disability activist with a disability within the community, I am expected to embody disability resistance by constantly asking and reminding people about inaccessible entry ways and bathrooms at community centers and other meeting places. More often than not, the politics of inaccessibility are read and configured as an afterthought ("I've never really thought of/noticed it before;" I haven't been to the [meeting place] so I'll check I'll have to check it out). Now, I know very well that Atlanta (and the rest of the country) is inaccessible -- that we valorize stairs and non-disabled bodies and minds because of a very complex and convoluted history, aesthetics, and meanings of ableism. That's why I, as well many other cripfolk, have been homeless more than once. Here I'm not making any one person bear the responsibility for all of this, but part resisting it as an ally is to really think about the ways in which our society/culture/architectu
re/technology is catered to your body by shoring up the boundaries of the normate (Rosemary Garland-Thompson) and the "natural." This means recognizing that accessible entryways and (and trans/gender-nonconforming safe) bathrooms are not luxuries to be thought of in terms of mere (in)convenience, but rather integral parts of anti-oppression work.
The other aspect, defined and sustained by the first, is much more nuanced, subtle, and pervasive. It's the messiness of it all--the part that lacks cohesion, coherency, and any form of intelligible articulation. It's about how ableism constitutes the very dynamics of how we interact with each other and the group. It's the about the very real alienation and backlash I constantly experience when challenging non-disabled supremacy, either in language/rhetoric that we use in our work, the fact that disability justice/ableism is very rarely, if it all, at the forefront of ant-oppression organizing. It's about the ways in which non-disabled people (un)intentionally enact ableist privilege by regulating where, how, and when critical discourse of disability justice takes form. It's about diminishing the effects/affects of my rage and anger in my own resistance to internalizing ableist violence through sef-doubt, deprecation, and body/mind hate. it's about centralizing non-disabled people in the discourse in such a way as to prevent me from speaking/somatically feeling my truth and all the anger and rage it takes to face the demons of erasure, denial, and oppression head-on, without backing down. It's about non-disabled people using privilege to ensure the illusion of safety and of being comfortable in ways and times that only their privilege affords them in the first place. It's about people expecting me to remember that privilege is systemic and conditioned so that mistakes are inevitable, and then deny me the ability to be angry and hurt by it. It's about people being self-congratulatory for putting in ramps or doing other work, and then accusing me of holding grudge, being ungrateful, or diminishing their the work that they have done when I say that it simply isn't enough and that there's still a lot of work to be done. It’s about people asking, demanding, and expecting me to teach them about how to be a better ally.It's recognizing the fact that I am the one who experiences this oppression, and all too often I am the one who is solely responsible for resisting and correcting it. It's about the amount of energy I waste because I'm forced to carry this for long periods of time by myself. Most importantly, it's about the failure of normates to recognize cripculture, language, history, literature, and politics that includes all of the interstices of race/ethnicity, health/illness, gender/sex, class, body type/size, age, sexuality, and geographic (dis)location. Part of being a non-disabled ally is to learn this history and language and literature, and taking on the challenge of unlearning the ableist things that you've been taught about it. How many of you have read the works of Eli Clare, Simi Linton, Chris Bell, Tobin Seibers, Leonard Davis, Kenny Fries, Nancy Mairs, Rosemary Garland-Thompson, Nancy Eiesland, Nomy Lamm, Sunny Taylor, Emi Koyama? Know and love the art/music of Frida Kahlo, Riva Lehrer, Jessica Blinkhorn, and Leroy Moore, Loree Erickson? Read the blogs of Mia Mingus, Stacey Milburn, Joe Stromando, Bethany Stevens, Jill Ford, Katherine Mancuso, Moya Bailey? How many of you came to the Disability Film Festival at Georgia State over the last two years? These are our stories told in our language. It's important that you listen to us telling them.
I’m not only disabled. I’m also quite ill. I live with very limited amounts of energy, and tremendous amounts of pain. Christine Miserandino-Donato’s “Spoon Theory” has helped me to conceptualize this. After reading it, I would ask you to think of all the spoons I’ve given to individual people and the community over the years, even in the midst of debilitating pain and fatigue.. I’m simply asking for some in return. I'm also asking us to think about ways that oppression affects our bodies and minds as a direct cause of chronic illness.
In conclusion, I’ve realized now that there is no room in this community for me, and it has a lot of work to do until I can come back to it. So, I’m leaving with no grudges or expectations. I’m doing this for my own well-being, and while it may not seem like it in this note, I do love and respect the majority of you. It’s my hope that you process this with an open mind and an open heart. To hear the desperation in my voice.

Important notes: Please don’t think that I’m calling for Oppression Olympics. In no way am I intending to suggest that my oppression is worse than others. I’m also not seeking to invalidate or diminish the work that you do for disability justice, but it simply isn’t enough. I DO NOT want to stop maintaining individual friendships. I’m risking a lot of alienation/backlash here. Please think about this. And please, id you choose to respond, please don’t say something like, “I’m sorry that this is the way you feel[, but…]. It’s not about feeling; it’s about recognizing the reality of the situation. Also, I’m up for talking about strategy , but please be mindful that I will not entertain any discussion about what doesn’t constitute ableism.

"I am looking for lovers and teachers to hold all my complexities and contradictions gently, honestly, appreciatively. Looking for heroes and role models to accompany me through the world. Looking for friends and allies to counter the gawking, gaping, staring...I am looking for friends and allies, for communities where the gawking, gaping, staring finally turns to something else, something true to the bone. Places where strength gets to be softened and tempered, love honed and stretched. Where gender is known as more than a simple binary. Where we encourage each other to swish and swagger, limp and roll, and learn the language of pride. Places where our bodies begin to become home."--Eli Clare, "Gaping, Gawking, Staring"

"Damn right, you better look. Look long and hard. Watch my crooked hobble, twitching body, my whithered legs. Listen to my hand sign a language you don't even know. Notice my milky white eyes as I no longer hide behind sunglasses. Look at me straight on, because for all your years of gawking, you've still not seen me."-Eli Claire

“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can [work] together.” – Lila Watson

PLEASE watch/read these:

So, You Wanna Be An Ally, Huh? - That's What Ze Said

In Solidarity, Rage, and Love.


Anonymous said...

All I have to say is I'm reading, and I care about what you write and how you are.

I want to say a lot of things to affirm you and your decisions. I think it's brave and difficult to set boundaries. It's brave, because like you say, there's a lot at risk, but I think it's good that you're prioritizing your safety and well-being. I know you don't need my validation to be right, and I'm far away and my words are not the same as being there and doing the work. But for what it's worth, I support you and your self-care.


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