Dear Non-Disabled Freedom Fighters
You are my comrade in a fight for our lives, yet I hesitate to address you as “friend” here. But you are my friend. You’re my ally, my advocate, my colleague, my family. You are the thinker, educator, writer, and activist I admire most.
You are a person who can light a fire of fierceness in me just by being brave enough to share who you are and what you believe.
And you’re the same person who, with a single word or phrase, can douse that fire into nothing more than flaky remnants of kindling. Turn me cold to you. Make me install flame resistant coating around who I am so the deceptive crackle of your specific fire can never burn me to nothingness again.
You’re dangerous. A hazard. You pose a risk to my health.
After you show your ableism to me, I can’t forget it. My ADHD brain processes data in a certain way. It literally doesn’t let me forget that you’ve hurt me. Sort of like a database, it fills in fields about you as I observe and gather information. You become flagged automatically once the system recognizes in your behavior a particular pattern. A pattern of exclusion and silencing so common and naturalized that you are oblivious to your own investment in perpetuating it.
But I’m not oblivious. Nor are my Disabled siblings. We’re not oblivious to the pattern or to your investment in excluding and silencing Disabled people.
Even before I called myself “Disabled,” deeply entrenched ableism was at work shaping my life and my identity. You’re no different. You don’t get to be immune from it. Ableism (like racism, cisheterosexism, misogyny, classism, ageism, and all other interlocking systems of oppression) is inextricably linked to white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.
Ableism the very next frontier you need to explore in terms of strengthening your social justice analysis, activism, and basic human decency.
Here are some things I want you to know:
- Few things hurt more than when someone you admire or love clings tightly and desperately to their ableism. When a fellow anti-racist queer feminist shows me their ableism, it’s betrayal.
- It feels like death when you ask us to shut up for “solidarity.” Fuck solidarity if it’s only achieved when Disabled people are essentially bullied into shutting our faces so you’ll never have to be called out on the violence you do to us every goddamn day in every goddamn space you inhabit.
- Oh, and on the topic of spaces you inhabit: there are disabled people in your communities. We are in your activist circles. In your departments and your classrooms and your churches. If you don’t know any Disabled people in your communities, it’s because you’ve systematically excluded or silenced them.
- If you’re reacting defensively to my anger (btw anger is the emotion that translates pain), it’s because you harbor a set of uninterrogated and unfounded assumptions about Disability. Interrogate them. Now. Starting today.
Here are the things I want you to ask yourself:
- Why are you silencing Disabled people? Why do you alienate us?
- Why are you more comfortable assuming we’re not members of your communities?
- Why must you keep telling us we don’t belong?
- What do you gain from suggesting to a Disabled person that their suffering from systemic ableism doesn’t exist? Is a figment of their imagination? Is a performance?
- Why do you infantilize, patronize, or condescend to Disabled people?
- Why do you seem incapable of listening to Disabled people?
- When was the last time you actively sought out the perspective of a Disabled person on an issue that matters to you?
- Do these questions sound familiar?
- Have you spoken or written or thought them about someone else or some other privileged group?
Disabled people are and have been for centuries excluded, tortured, criminalized, raped, and killed (by our parents, caregivers, nations, and states) for you to have what’s yours. For you to have whatever inclusion, joy, pleasure, and safety you’ve found in life.
If that’s not privilege, then I don’t know what is. If that’s not violence, then I don’t know what is.
Treat us first as humans with lives as complex and valuable as yours. With emotions that run and pain that stabs as deeply as yours. With senses of self and personhood as richly textured as yours. It’s an insult that we have to ask for this, tbqh.
Interrogate your ableism. Because if you won’t, none of us get free.
Because when you do not center the perspectives and needs of those who are most vulnerable amongst us, you are saying that you’re okay with furthering structural violence as a collateral outcome of your work.
I ask because I love you. I’m angry because I love you. I expect better, because I love you.
I am in this fight. We are here.
And while we’re absolutely #DisabledAndCute —it’s undeniable once you check out the tag created by Keah Brown just a few days ago — we’re also #DisabledAndFierce, #DisabledAndPowerful, #DisabledAndProud, #DisabledAndSexy, #DisabledAndFunny, #DisabledAndTalented, #DisabledAndCranky, #DisabledAndQueer, #DisabledAndTrans, #DisabledAndAsian, #DisabledAndIndigenous, #DisabledAndBlack, #DisabledAndLatinx, #DisabledAndMuslim, #DisabledAndUndocumented, #DisabledAndPoor, #DisabledAndHomeless, #DisabledAndParents…
I could go on for quite some time, but you get it. (Do you get it?)
Mostly, a lot of us are #DisabledAndSickOfYourAbleistBullshit.
We’ve done some fucking amazing work in the past; we continue to do fucking amazing work in the present; and we will persist in the struggle for our own lives and the liberation of all oppressed peoples. With or without you.
The future is Disabled.
M dot Gan