I don't think I'm one of them either. I'm one of mine.

Category: Cripticism

Stealth racism from white disability activists

White (and it’s ALWAYS white) disability activists: Intelligence is our species’ fucking calling card, and you want to tell my Black ass that it doesn’t exist? Y’all got me twisted. I’m not talking about what you get on one of those culturally biased IQ tests (and they all are, even the “culture-fair” ones*), because those are rigged against us anyway. (Considering the fact that all the major ones come from the United States, racial rigging is to be expected, sadly enough. Brown v. Board has been law for less than a century.) I’m talking about the raw ability itself, not proxy measures.

I know you do this to avoid racism. I know you want to respect people with intellectual disabilities. These are noble goals. But the way it comes across is, frankly, kind of racist. Because Black folks have wanted you to see our intelligence, our knowledge, our wisdom, our reason respected for centuries. Either intelligence has a big “White Only” sign on it, or you say it’s all made up by white people. You trying to sell me woof tickets? You are still centring yourselves—and continuing to look racist in the process. Either way, Black people never get to be intelligent. White people set the boundaries every goddamn time.

I have had white disability activists jumping down my throat because I don’t subscribe to the “intelligence doesn’t exist/is all socially constructed” view. I don’t even talk about it much these days because of it. But I am sick to death of this “antiracist” racism.

*Yes, I meant that. In Cross-cultural neuropsychological assessment: theory and practice, V. Nell (2000) encountered a Black South African woman in his practice whose eager, intelligent behaviour didn’t match her performance on the pattern-matching test, which would have reflected an intellectual disability if it were accurate. It turns out that she thought the ‘official’ method for solving the problems was too obvious, and actually thought what the tester wanted was more complex.

Facilitated communication is mostly bullshit

I say “mostly,” since there are practices associated with FC that appear to be legit. Also, I know that this is a mainstream opinion outside the autistic community, but it’s still contrarian for these circles.

The unqualified belief in facilitated communication is a form of ableism, since the parents and practitioners who believe in it refuse to accept the fact that their child may have a severe or profound intellectual disability. They are desperate to unlock their child’s hidden intelligence to prove that they have value, rather than valuing their children for who they are, ID or no ID.

A lot of facilitators are simply naïve and truly believe they’re unlocking the hidden abilities of the people they’re supporting. The same goes for disability activists who loudly defend FC, thinking that it’s a legitimate way to help autistic people communicate with others. They confuse the ideomotor effect (aka the Ouija board effect or the Clever Hans effect) with actual communication, probably out of a form of wishful thinking.

But other FC defenders are clearly trying to take advantage of people with severe and profound ID, including Anna Stubblefield, a former Rutgers professor of ethics (!) who sexually abused a Black man whom she “mentored” as a facilitator. Her mother, Sandi McClennen, is the head of the Autism National Committee, an organisation that actively promotes FC. (I was at an AutCom conference several years back. I was more than a little disturbed. While there, I heard McClennen positively refer to her daughter as “Anna Stubblefield” without saying that she was Stubblefield’s mother, and defended the relationship between Stubblefield and her victim. I don’t know whether McClennen was being naïve or unscrupulous, but I don’t give a shit. That poor man was being taken advantage of.)

On top of that, autistic writers may be accused of using FC if they write “too well” to match the autistic stereotype. This, too, is a kind of ableism engendered by FC. It discredits the entire community.

But I’m willing to believe that some forms of supported typing are real, especially if they take pains to make sure the ideomotor effect isn’t confused with independent typing. Credible forms of supported typing or communication prove themselves to be legitimate when the person graduates to independent typing later on, which does happen. Classic facilitated communication, on the other hand, takes advantage of vulnerable people and their families. I am often critical of the medical establishment and its discrediting of disabled people, but this is not one of those cases. Facilitated communication is discredited for good fucking reason.

Cripticism: Inaccessible disability activism

I’m sick of finding writing on disability that’s inaccessible to the general public, much less people with cognitive disabilities. If you’re resorting to academic jargon and social justice buzzwords, then you’re not speaking to the majority of your audience.

For example, Sins Invalid’s 10 Principles of Disability Justice is a US-centric mess of academic jargon and buzzwords. (The Arc of Minnesota tried valiantly to turn this list into plain language, but it’s still too abstract—it still includes expressions like “bodyminds” instead of “bodies and minds,” for example.)

You can get an idea of their writing style with their introductory sentence:

From our vantage point within Sins Invalid, where we incubate the framework and practice of disability justice, this emerging framework has ten principles, each offering opportunities for movement building…

Why can’t you just say “Sins Invalid has created a set of 10 definitions of disability justice and ways to incorporate these principles in your organising work?”

It doesn’t get any better as you kep reading, either:

Leadership of the most impacted: When we talk about ableism, racism, sexism & transmisogyny, colonization, police violence, etc., we are not looking to academics and experts to tell us what’s what — we are lifting up, listening to, reading, following, and highlighting the perspectives of those who are most impacted by the systems we fight against. By centering the leadership of those most impacted, we keep ourselves grounded in real-world problems and find creative strategies for resistance.

We already have a catchier expression for this principle: “Nothing about us without us.” “Leadership of the most impacted” sounds clunky. Also, I would say “transphobia” rather than the specific “transmisogyny,” since the term is more recognisable—and because transphobia affects trans men and nonbinary people, too. Classism belongs on this list as well. Let’s try to make this more memorable:

Nothing about us without us: We don’t need academics or “experts” to explain injustice or discrimination to us when we’ve gone through it ourselves. We need to listen to people who have gone through injustice and discrimination themselves: disabled people, women, people of colour*, LGBTQ+ people, working-class and poor people, and victims of police violence. They know themselves best and are the experts on their own lives.

And it continues…

Anti-capitalist politics: Capitalism depends on wealth accumulation for some (the white ruling class), at the expense of others, and encourages competition as a means of survival. The nature of our disabled bodyminds means that we resist conforming to “normative” levels of productivity in a capitalist culture, and our labor is often invisible to a system that defines labor by able-bodied, white supremacist, gender[-]normative standards. Our worth is not dependent on what and how much we can produce.

The last sentence needs to be the first, and there needs to be an actual definition of what “capitalism” means. Activists will know what it means, but the average Westerner (and American in particular) is going to think of capitalism as a good thing, since they’ll contrast it with the Soviet Union and North Korea. Also, the definition of ruling classes is obviously US-centric. In many countries, the ruling classes may not be white, since most countries that aren’t in Europe or don’t have ruling classes descended from European colonists. As for Europeans themselves, most countries’ ruling classes belong to the same ethnicity as the working classes, even if there are immigrants from Africa or Asia living there.

Here’s my quick-and-dirty plain-language translation:

Our worth doesn’t come from how hard we work, or whether we can work at all. Our lives matter no matter what. But we live in a capitalist society. In capitalism, regular people have to work hard so that corporations, landlords, and banks earn money from their employees’ work. These owners keep all the money for themselves and don’t do much work themselves. They just want you to do all the work. Under capitalism, we have to compete with each other to get jobs and get enough money to eat. Because we’re disabled, it’s harder for us to work. People don’t always see the work we can do, or they don’t think it’s important. Capitalism hurts disabled people.

Here’s another winner of a quote, complete with some “noble savage” idealisation of pre-contact North America:

Interdependence: Before the massive colonial project of Western European expansion, we understood the nature of interdependence within our communities. We see the liberation of all living systems and the land as integral to the liberation of our own communities, as we all share one planet. We work to meet each other’s needs as we build toward liberation, without always reaching for state solutions which inevitably extend state control further into our lives

Again, there are a lot of assumptions that aren’t going to be shared by your average American, much less a disabled one who’s been exposed to only conventional narratives about US history. In a country rife with brands like “Rochester Colonial,” “Swiss Colony,” and “Imperial Margarine,” you need to clarify why colonialism is bad or cut out the mention altogether.

Here’s another quick-and-dirty plain-language fix:

Interdependence: We all need each other to live and grow. Unfortunately, a lot of us learn that we have to just rely on ourselves and not get help. But everyone needs to work together to protect ourselves, our community, and our planet. When we work together, we won’t need as much help from the government, since the government often has too much control over our lives.

Once I turn this into plain language, it’s easier to identify a political position that may give some progressives and socialists pause: the idea that disabled people should find support within the community rather than seeking help from the government. This part sounds specific to anarchism and doesn’t belong in a general set of principles. (Yes, I do point out biases even when they match mine!) Also, what do they mean by “liberate”? That word is thrown around a lot, but they’re never clear what they mean.

In general, the 10 Principles of Disability Justice are a well-meant attempt to combat systemic ableism, but the academic jargon, buzzwords, and identitarian focus prevent it from becoming the manifesto it could be.


* I hate the expression “people of colour,” but I’m using it here to avoid writing a long list of ethnic groups or using the expression “racial and ethnic minorities,” which this crowd tends to hate.