For the past few days I have been struggling with Rippa of the Intersection of Madness and the ever so ignorant Anna Renee over one word – Retard. As you may well remember, Rahm Emmanuel recently used the word retard as a negative descriptor. Palin could not resist turning this into a political attack against Obama, while ignoring the ways in which Limbaugh et al took the opportunity to use the word relentlessly. Clearly, Palin is no true advocate for the differently abled; however, critiquing her behaviour should never give anyone licence to engage in disableism.
As a disabled woman, I take disableism very seriously. I may not always have the knowledge to speak of disability outside of my own with eloquence or knowledge; however, to the best of my ability I attempt to attack it immediately. I have worked very hard to become aware of words that my community finds offensive and to advocate for an understanding that these words are harmful and the resistance that I have faced has been strong.
When I saw the following: Sarah Palin Is As Retarded As All The People That Love Her – immediate relatives excluded, I clearly had to argue that the use of the word retarded was unacceptable. Yes Palin is vile but this does not absolve the speaker of using disableism to make his point.
If you can handle scrolling through the comments you will find a request for me to teach, mockery of the fact that the word retard is indeed disabelist, silencing in terms of being told to watch my tone, an attack because my speech is too intellectual and my personal favourite justification of disableism because Black women are oppressed.
I can agree to disagree with anyone on politics because we are not all going to take issue with the same thing but I cannot nor will I ever agree that ableism is acceptable for the sake of a punch line or because someone wants to step up the ladder of oppression. I know first hand how hard it is to live in a disableist society and in fact, I have written repeatedly of the struggles that I have faced because of it. For me to say that this is acceptable, I would have to internalize the hatred that is directed at me as a disabled woman.
One of my major issues with certain members of the Black community is the false belief that the only issue facing us is race and that we must all think and talk alike to belong. I didn’t lose my identity as a Black woman when I became disabled, instead I gained is another site of oppression. When I go to a site that cannot see intersectionality, my first thought is that they do not advocate for the community that they claim to. Africans of the Diaspora are diverse and this means that some of us are gay, disabled, trans, sex workers, women, poor, etc., and if you cannot look outside of your personal lived experience to realize that EVERYTHING intersects with race then you do not truly care about Black people.
The Black woman that is struggling to raise her child in poverty is just as much my family as the trans man who may be living in comfort. The disabled woman who is a college professor, is just as much my sister as the lesbian activist who is struggling to write her truth on napkins in between working low wage jobs for long hours. We cannot ever truly be a people until we understand that there is no right or wrong way to be Black and that the experience of being Black in this world is diverse.
I will be honest and admit that my frustration and disgust with Rippa and Anna Renee inspired this post but in truth, you can see this pattern of speech repeated at Black blogs like, Bossip, Crunk and Disorderly, Mediatakeout.com etc. For shits and giggles, they will reduce people to a vicious punch line without any regard for how it damages their own community. If you are Black and doing this you damn well ought to know better because these are the master’s tools and I hold you to a higher standard because your race is a visible marginalization.
You cannot care about social justice, if you are not concerned about the welfare of all people. You cannot be a good ally unless you are willing to learn from the people on whose side you hope to advocate and you cannot grow as a person unless you are willing to acknowledge that you are an imperfect being and will therefore make mistakes. Social justice is not about you and it certainly is not about centering your issues in a debate. It is about giving voice to those that have historically been silenced and understanding that all issues are interconnected. Advancing on the back of others is a fools journey because you can never really rise to anything of value this way.