Cultural criticism can be an agent for change, educating for critical consciousness in liberatory ways, only if we start with a mind-set and a progressive politics that is fundamentally anti-colonialist, that negates cultural imperialism in all its manifestations […] In many ways progressive cultural revolution can happen only as we learn how to do everything differently.
–From “The Heartbeat of Cultural Revolution,” introduction to Outlaw Culture, 1994
Feminist organizations have become more aware of the need to make their activities accessible to women who use wheelchairs, women who need written material in alternative formats, and women who need Sign Language translation, but much feminist practice still assumes a consistently energetic, high-functioning body and mind, and certainly not a body and mind that are impaired by illness. Moreover, in their writing and organizing, most feminists still assume that feminists are giving, and not receiving, care, and that all significant contributions to feminist movements happen in meetings, at public events, and in demonstrations on the streets. The accepted image of a good feminist still includes handling paid work and family responsibilities and having plenty of energy left over for political activity in the evenings or on weekends. In these circumstances, women with chronic illnesses are likely to find it difficult to participate in feminist movements or to identify themselves as feminists.
— From “Unhealthy Disabled: Treating Chronic Illnesses as Disabilities” (originally published in the Fall 2001 issue of Hypatia)
The supposition that one [group] needs the other’s acquiescence in order to exist prevents both from moving together as self-defined persons toward a common goal. This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided up between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of the one pie.
— “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” (1978), in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (The Crossing Press, 1984)
The first element in the staring process is for the staree to develop a keen sense of being scrutinized. This anticipation and preparedness arms the staree with the proper relational tools to manage expected staring encounters with great effectiveness. The second element in this process is to decide how to oversee the dynamics of the stare itself when it inevitably comes one’s way. If one looks directly at starers, it will only confuse or embarrass them. The staree must assess the precise attitude of the starer, measuring intentions and attitudes so as to respond in the most effective way. Facilitating your starers’ maintenance of face means relieving them of anxiety, understanding their motivations, and working with them to overcome their limited understanding of human variation and their social awkwardness at facing it. The third element is literally manipulating the eyes of the starer. One evaluates when to turn away, stare back, or further extend the stare. Sometimes it is best to allow the staring to go on in order for the starer to get a good look. Another procedure is to use eye contact and body language to terminate the stare as soon as possible, although this risks being interpreted as hostile. Another option is to redirect the stare. For example, some starees report using their own eyes to guide the starer’s immobilized eyes away from the part of their body that has captured the gaze, subtly rescuing the hapless viewer from the embarrassment of the stuck stare and restoring the ritual of casual face-to-face encounters. Finally, the staree can and often must enlist conversation to direct the staring process. Staring has an inherent narrative component that the staree must always address in some way.
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson on page 180 of “Ways of Staring” Journal of Visual Culture 5.2 (2006): 173-192.
I so like this redirecting of power in the staring relationship. Do go read the whole article if you can. Also, some of you might be interested in a video I posted on Feministe recently in which Garland-Thomson (a feminist disability scholar!) talks about her work around staring.
Everything healed up
but in a very strange way
when it was very obvious
that something was very wrong with my face
said one or more of the following:
It’s the Lord’s will.
Just learn to live with it.
It’s all in your imagination.
Don’t be so self-centered.
Shut up and do your homework.
Other people are worse off than you.
[Full text available in the 2004 anthology Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories, edited by Bob Guter and John R. Kilacky.]
[I promise that I am so close to being done all this reading that there will soon be less quotation-posts, but I keep finding all these lovely words, and I’m very fond of them.]
Reminders of the immediate relevance of history to contemporary issues of disability confront us daily. In but the latest example, as we write these words [in 2001], the United States Supreme Court has accepted appeals from several states which claim that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority in imposing the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] on the states. Congress lacked evidence to prove that state governments had engaged in a historical pattern of discrimination against persons with disabilities, this argument claims in part; without evidence of state discrimination, the general government overran its jurisdiction. The essays gathered here indicate that evidence of discrimination against disabled people reaches well beyond our living recollection. Until we can document the past with the evidence and rigor that solid historical research necessitates, the absence of disability from our written history, its suppression in our formal collective memory, jeopardizes the current quest of Americans with disabilities for full citizenship. This history matters, and not in the abstract.
– Paul K. Longmore & Lauri Umansky, The New Disability History: American Perspectives, pg 14. Sadly, there is no limited preview of this book on Google Books, but Why I Burned By Book and other essays on disability, by Longmore, does have limited preview, and I love that book to pieces, especially the last essay.
Obviously I have quoted this for truth because I’m an historian and I’m often questioned on why I consider the history I do to be both political and activist in nature. And, this is (in part) why.
When the disabled body and the handicapped self are inscribed as deficient and dependent, disabled people are aligned with other social groups perceived as needing supervision, assistance, and guardianship. The idea of autonomy and independence, central to most psychological definitions of healthy adult selfhood, is premised on the presumption of physical independence, of a self that embodied its own freedom in its very movements. In the absence of such bodily autonomy there is little basis for assuming any other forms of autonomy; hence disabled people who have limited independence of movement are also often subject to limited independence of decision-making and self-governance. Disability rights activists point to several important areas where the ideas of bodily-based autonomy have infringed on the basic civil rights of disabled people, including the right to make one’s own decisions about sexuality and reproduction, the right to equal access to education and employment, and the right to vote.
– Mary Klages, Woeful Afflictions: Disability and Sentimentality in Victorian America, 1999, pg 3.
Limited Preview of Woeful Afflictions is available on Google Books.
It seems difficult for nondisabled people to write about disability without reflexively imagining what disabled people are missing or how difficult their lives must be. Rod Michalko, a sociologist who is blind, writes that sighted people typically conceive of “blindness in terms of ‘lack’-lack of sight. But this conception does not really help us understand what blindness itself is. It does not generate any curiosity about what blind people ‘see,’ since it defines reality in terms of the physical sense of sight …. Sighted people seldom question these preconceptions.” Stephen Kuusisto, a blind writer, tells of the expressions of pity he encounters so often on the street: “I want to take strangers by the hand and tell them there is no abyss.” Similarly, deaf people are relentlessly depicted in popular film as pining away their days regretting their inability to enjoy music (usually classical music, which one would think from these movies has a central place in most American households).
– Douglas Baynton, Review: Laura Bridgman and the History of Disability, Source: Reviews in American History, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jun., 2002), pp. 227-235.
The disabled, therefore, are not a tangible and unproblematic collection of people but, rather, a population that is assumed to exist, a category into which able-bodied people can slot others who pose a threat to their own normal view of the world and to those who inhabit it, and into which those who identify themselves as disabled can welcome those whom they see as suffering the same marginalization and oppression as themselves. The issue of whether signing Deaf people are a linguistic minority or are disabled, for example, has generated intense debate within both Deaf communities and among disability rights activists. The problem of identity as being either Deaf or disabled derives from the way a disabled identity encompasses an individuals’ subjectivity in the same way as gender or race. Seeking to move beyond this essentialist view of identity, many Deaf people are seeking alliances with disability rights movements to counter the essentialist view that people with disabilities are inherently pathological. Those people are actively involved in the achievement of rights of people who are disabled refer to those who bask in their normality as “TABs” – temporarily able-bodied.
– Damned for their Difference: The Cultural Construction of Deaf People as Disabled, by Jan Branson & Don Miller, pp xi – xii.
I find this quote helpful when I’m feeling worn down and need a little inspiration and motivation to keep fighting.
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
– Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy, and civic courage” (1998).
The only way to not advance the agenda of the powerful is to fight it. (ht ohfortheloveofdog)