I have been thinking a lot about relationships or lack thereof between oppressed people and groups of people with disabilities. To explore this, I’ve decided to pen a series that I’m calling, “We Need to Come Together.”
I represent, in one person, several groups and intersections. As a black lesbian with disabilities currently struggling to make a living, my life has been interesting and challenging.
I find it disheartening and disturbing when I see people and groups who have been oppressed by the dominant culture in turn, oppress other marginalized groups and people. It’s particularly disturbing when I see this among groups of people with disabilities.
I have never understood why this happens. I know intimately how it feels to be discriminated against for being all of who I am. Knowing that pain, I am vigilant about not perpetuating injustice to others and being aware of the privilege that I have. Granted, it’s not much nor is it natural; I’ve worked hard to gain the tiny bit that I have. That tiny bit, however, is part of why I’m able to do some things that others cannot do, so I acknowledge and own it.
Still, I chafe at how we sometimes treat each other. There is an unspoken hierarchy in our community, with well-heeled, well educated, good looking, clear speaking athletic types at the top and folks who are less able, poor, not so good looking (by common standards), less educated or intellectually challenged at or near the bottom. It gets even more complex when race and color are factored into this. Some of you reading this might strongly disagree with me, but I maintain, nonetheless, that this is true.
Of all of the discrimination I’ve experienced, disability on disability discrimination is hardest to understand and deal with. As someone with low vision, I see firsthand how the blind community treats each other, mostly based on ideology of ability. If, like me, you have other disabilities in addition to that, the community doesn’t seem to know how to deal with you. I see this in the deaf community, as well, but since there are cultural and hearing oppression issues closely tied in with that, I’ll leave that discussion to the deaf community, themselves.
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I see it among people who use wheelchairs. For most of my life I did not use a chair, then some of my mobility disabilities got more advanced and I used a manual chair to get around but managed to hobble about on my cane at home. I’ve seen the tension between folks who can transfer from their chairs unaided and walk a bit and those who cannot transfer at all. Sometimes, it’s not pretty.
It’s evident in the autistic community, too. Those of us on different parts of the spectrum have tensions and strong differences of opinion from those of us on other parts of the spectrum. Those of us who feel our disability comes from mercury and vaccines seem to hate those of us who don’t believe that. Folks who want a cure can’t seem to get along with folks who are self advocates and who love themselves just as they are. It can get pretty vile sometimes.
For most of my life I’ve lived the tension and fight between activists and advocates, those wanting and fighting for a cure and those who prefer to fight for justice and rights for people with those conditions, diseases and disabilities and those who hate themselves and their disability, those who are in denial and those who embrace disability pride.
There are very, very strong feelings all around and things can and do get divisive, vindictive, vile and downright ugly.
Why do we treat each other so? Is it something we’ve learned from society at large? Is it our own internalized ableism? In my simplistic thinking, I feel that we should know better than to perpetuate on others what society puts on us every day. Like other communities, we are not monolithic, but very diverse. We should be taking the lessons we are learning from our treatment by society and apply it to ourselves.
It seems, instead, that some of us feel the need to look down on folks in our community who are not like us; we are so downtrodden that to feel better about ourselves, we seek out those whom we consider worse off to look down on and to mistreat.
Are we that much like “regular” society? Shouldn’t we aspire to be different?
I don’t have the answers, only the urgent feeling that we as a community must come together. We must either heal our differences or respectfully agree to disagree. When we fight among ourselves, it’s easier to divide and conquer us and cause us to agree to injustice against each other. We must come together or those who would see us destroyed, will win.