How Joe Biden Helped Me Feel Better About Attacking Ableism and Racism Within the Disability & Chronic Illness Community

In which I share how much I love Vice President Biden

Earlier this week, I published a piece about a movement within the chronic pain community that has roots in ableist thinking, #PatientsNotAddicts. This, along with a recent movement calling out the whiteness of disability activism (#DisabilityTooWhite) have started some difficult conversations within the general chronic illness/disability community.

I got some…

Wait, am I allowed to say ‘shit’ in an article where I talk awesome about Joey B? I feel like he would approve… right?

I got shit lately for participating in #DisabilityTooWhite, for publishing pieces on ableist movements, and for standing up for those whose voices aren’t necessarily being heard.

Honestly, I was really surprised. I did not expect people who seem to push for rights for some to not embrace rights for all or the idea of intersectional disability rights based on intersectional feminism.

We have to start kicking biases and institutionalized -isms to the curb if we’re going to make any headway in human rights.

There seems to be a selfishness within all social justice communities. We either look rightly to single out issues faced by specific communities, such as the movement #BlackLivesMatter, OR we erase or exacerbate those issues by utilizing separatist thinking, such as with #PatientsNotAddicts.

Addicts are still patients, still human, and they still deserve to be treated with love and respect… right?

I get that I’m an idealist, but how can you only fight for some if you have the opportunity to fight for all?

Kirsten, we get it, but why have you mentioned the amazingly handsome and intelligent Joe Biden?

I was feeling pretty down about the responses I’ve gotten and seen others receive due to us trying to stand up for others. Sure, people have also appreciated this work, but negative responses harm our psyche often more than the positive one bring it up.

This morning, I had the opportunity to read two pieces from Joe Biden, my favorite person ever… and, like he seems to do, our Vice President left me with a smile and a warm heart.

Mr. Biden recently attended the Legislative Policy Conference of the National Urban League, where he urged us as a nation to address race and poverty even though it isn’t comfortable. He called discussed the issues inherent with the “legacy of institutional racism which we still live with.”

“No one wants to say that. I know I sometimes speak out too loudly, sometimes, but I make no apologies for it,” Biden said. “Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but these are uncomfortable times. We’ve got to shake the status quo a little bit. You know, we see this institutional racism today in voting, in children’s education, in the very makeup of our neighborhoods, housing patterns, employment, transportation, access to transportation.”

He goes on to discuss how difficult it is to do things like work when it is nearly impossible to access reliable transportation in order to work.

This plays into healthcare as well.

Access to healthcare still contains the racism institutionalized in nearly all facts of life. Insurance premiums, co-pays, co-insurance, reliable transportation, lack of child-care, lack of safe housing, and lack of after-hours options at clinics all contribute to racism and classism within healthcare.

I ate ‘Kirsten Special’ sandwiches when I was little, which was one piece of bread folded over like a sandwich with ketchup and mustard because we were so poor we often couldn’t afford lunch meat.

Needless to say, I grew up pretty poor.

I also grew up without medical care for my multiple chronic diseases as a result of that poverty and my mother’s untreated mental health issues.

Even with a sane and healthy mother, our poverty level would have made it difficult for me to receive adequate care due to time she would have had to take off work to take me for lab draws, appointments with various medical professionals, and additional issues. How would we have made ends meat?

There are issues inherent in poverty that keep people from pulling themselves out — and these issues are only intensified for people of color in poverty AND with illness-related issues.

After reading the piece on Politico, I was already feeling much better about my position on ableism and racism within the illness community than earlier this week. The next piece, featured right here on Medium, just provided more fuel for my fire:

An intolerance for the abuse of power will drive you to stand up for civil rights, end the scourge of violence against women, confront corporations polluting the environment, and fight crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing around the world.
And because you listened, you’ll live a life fully consistent with what you were taught by Mom and Dad and your faith.
That you should say what you mean and mean what you say.
That we cannot serve ourselves at the expense of others.

As I read this piece, it warmed my heart.

Because of my history in an abusive home, I learned a lot about different ways people abuse power. I learned about tactics and how ‘explanations’ are often meant to push away any blame.

I vowed to never intentionally treat someone that way.

Even if I feel I do — even if you assure me I haven’t — I beat myself up in my head over how careless it was to lack compassion towards you and your situation.

It is all a part of why I am so against the biases we hold against others.

There aren’t many people who have lived through trauma and pain as gracefully as Joe Biden. We know his backstory and have heard of his losses, and yet he still keeps pushing to help others.

He serves as a role model for me. Growing up amid abuse and illness and loss, I found myself looking up to fictional characters as role models… which is probably why I’m so idealist.

Disney princesses and other characters don’t have to worry about being considered naive due to their idealism. They also don’t generally have to battle the very real challenges and hurts of our current world.

Even Princess Tiana — my favorite princess because she brings herself up through working her ass off like I hope to do — didn’t have to really deal with -isms despite living in the south during a tricky time period.

When I was introduced to Joe Biden back in 2007, I finally knew that there were people out there like myself who were fighting for others. My focus at that time was on the Middle East, but seeing people suffer here at home due to illness changed my priorities.

I mean, I invited the man to our wedding. Understandably he was a little busy, but he sent a nice letter.

Quite frankly, Joey B has always been my favorite. He is every bit as goofy, resilient, intelligent, and kind as I hope to be.

Whether or not he knows it, he is helping people like myself to continue to stand up for — and to — others.

This is only strengthened by the fact that our veep has joined the fight against cancer using some of the basic tenets of patient engagement that I use every single day in my writing and advocacy work.

I wasn’t taught to seek out and fight injustice, but found myself doing it out of necessity. Despite being safe and away from abusers, I can’t turn it off.

After today? I don’t think I’d want to. I know I’m in good company.

Kirsten also definitely has short hair now, but couldn’t resist sharing this picture.

Kirsten is a writer and chronic illness activist living in Madison, Wisconsin. She is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Health Care Administration and Patient Advocacy. This year, her big project is launching an organization called Chronic Sex which highlights how chronic illnesses and disabilities affect Quality of Life issues such as self-love, relationships, and sex. If you’re interested in helping with this project, please reach out or find the project on Kickstarter and Patreon. She also runs a website focused on her own chronic illness journey and the ways in which patients can aspire to change healthcare — Not Standing Still’s Disease.

She has a huge respect-crush on Joe Biden, just in case you couldn’t tell.

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