Friday, August 14, 2009

It’s Not Just Lame

Many people facing an oppression have the feeling that their particular marginalization is worse than any other, or that it is the last great frontier of prejudice.  It is quite common to hear fat activists claim that fat hatred is the last acceptable slur and some gay rights activists are quite comfortable saying that gay is the new Black.  While I understand the desire to privilege one identity over another because of the fact that we have normalized hierarchy, such behaviour denies the ways in which all of the isms are interconnected.

I am differently abled woman of color and therefore I face three very visible social stigmatizations.  My body in and of itself, represents intersectionality.  At any moment, I could be demeaned because of race, gender or ability and therefore I cannot afford to privilege one over the other.  There are times when the attack is so covert, that I must stop and consider which part of my identity is being referenced as less than.

Before becoming disabled, I was told very directly why the term lame is so offensive and I worked very hard to remove it from my vocabulary.  It was not until I developed sarcoidosis and fibromyalgia, that I really began to understand why this term hurts.  Being told something is offensive and being on the receiving end of the negative commentary and treatment, are two completely different things.

When I see someone use lame as a negative descriptor, it calls to mind each and every time someone has been ableist.  It makes me think of the stores I cannot enter because of a lack of a ramp, the doors that don’t have automatic openers, the times people treated me as an idiot because my body does not work the same way as theirs.  When I hear, or see the word lame written, it reminds me that the world was not created for bodies that function like mine.  Regardless of what I have to offer, my supposed limitations make me an inconvenience in the minds of many.

To many, my scooter is an appendage, a marker of difference and yet to me it is life and mobility.  When I need to go to the doctor I can easily hop on my scooter. If I need to go to the post office, my scooter will get me there.  Instead of lying on my couch being dependent upon the kindness of family and friends, my scooter means that I can participate if the world outside will let me. 

Just as race and gender effect my daily lived experience, the ways in  my body is considered dysfunctional change my daily interactions.  Even those that are closest to me, are not aware of the ways in which they are being ableist and will sum up my distress to sensitivity, or a needless determination to be independent.  I have pointed out that when an able bodied person seeks to be autonomous it is encouraged, however a differently abled person is routinely expected to not only be dependent but desire it as a natural course of events.  Dependency means ceding control and in a world that values power, privilege, and individuality, this can be a terrible prospect for someone that is marginalized.

When I hear lame, it makes me want to ask why the speaker doesn’t just say cunt, or nigger as well because to me, it hurts  at the same level.  It screams you don’t belong, you are an “other.”   I know that such comparisons will not make many happy but since these are my sites of oppression, how I choose to negotiate them are my business. I won’t privilege my race, gender, or differently abled status because combined they all equal less than in a world that is designed for white able bodied men.