Lydia Brown on Internalizing Ableism and “The Movement”

Lydia Brown has a great new essay on internalizing ableism. We all consume the oppressive mental structures of our society – racism, ableism, classism, sexism, etc. – and replicate them within our discourse, actions, and thoughts from time to time. It’s part of why I think apology and restoration of community is so important and tricky. Societal norms will push us to fail sometimes. The trick is how to distinguish abusers versus those who act through ignorance or mistake. But that’s a subject for another post.

As always, Brown’s insights into disability are extremely important. I was struck, though, especially by this paragraph:

We build cultures of perfection in activist spaces. This is not unique to autistic or disabled spaces. Purity politics pervade activist and social justice spaces. Call-out culture demands that in the rush to create safe spaces, we shut people out and throw them away if they fuck up once. (This is not about forgiving privileged people for repeatedly entitled or outright abusive behavior targeting marginalized people. This is about disposability politics.) We’re constantly competing for limited resources (“likes” and “reblogs” and “retweets,” all the twenty-first century trappings of social capital — and that word “capital” is critically important), trying to be better activists, always on, always saying the right thing. We give pithy acknowledgements of privilege and past ignorance/fuck-ups, but functionally act as though in the present time, we no longer fuck up because now we’re Educated. That it is our duty to jump down each other’s throats at the slightest mistake or misphrasing — ignoring the completely classist, racist, and ableist implications of expecting people to always say the right thing and never accidentally say the wrong thing or not know the correct terms.

I think the internet – which is to say typed space that feels ephemeral like oral speech, but is in fact semi-permanent (esp with screenshots, wayback machines, etc.) – exacerbates these tendencies in activist spaces. It’s easier for the casual way internalized oppressions emerge in discourse to travel beyond the confines of the off-hand, revealing, utterance.

Brown then asks:

So where are our spaces where we can heal not just from the trauma inflicted on us by others but also from the ongoing trauma we inflict on ourselves? Where can we be vulnerable, truly vulnerable, without fearing the consequences of enforced ostracism from “safe spaces” that privilege an ableist facade of having-it-together and overcoming-internalized-oppression?

Building those spaces is part of the work that Brown is doing.

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