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)
Research has found that students of color, especially African-Americans, are disproportionately likely to be classified and labeled as learning disabled and placed in special education programs. This is especially the case for more subjective categories of disorder and disability, like emotional disturbance, rather than for medically diagnosable disabilities. The tendency to categorize students of color in this way owes less to genuinely greater levels of disorder in such students than to the racial dynamics of the schools they attend[. . .]in Arizona public schools, males of color at mostly white schools are two-thirds more likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed or learning disabled than minority males at mostly minority schools, even though the latter are far more likely to have grown up in poverty, and thus could be expected to occassionally demonstrate emotional or cognitive impairment. This suggests that at whiter schools, teachers are more apt to see dysfunction in black and brown students, not because they necessarily demonstrate more of it, but because of the teachers’ own inabilities to relate to the students of color, or because of various unconscious biases.
[. . .]
Although the labeling itself [of students as emotionally disturbed or mentally disabled] is not the cause of [some] students’ failure to complete their schooling, it creates a set of expectations and stigmas for those so labeled that can supress the drive to achieve academically. Nationally, for instance, research has found that students labeled as mentally handicapped or emotionally disturbed are likely to be placed in restricted learning environments, despite evidence indicating that such students need exactly the opposite in order to thrive.
–From Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat From Racial Equity (City Lights Books, 2010)
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)
A scene in which the title character (who speaks in the third person) is explaining the way his brain works to another character:
”Cognitive disorder’ is not an accurate description of what happens inside Marcelo’s head. ‘Excessive attempt at cognitive order’ is closer to what actually takes place.’
‘Yeah? I like excessive order myself. Is that an illness?’
‘If it keeps you from functioning in society the way people think a normal person should, then our society calls that an illness.’
‘Well, society is not always right, is it?’
–Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork
i think the idea of a ‘mental health day’ is something completely invented by people who have no clue what it’s like to have bad mental health. the idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying ‘i don’t want to deal with things today’ and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight, with no one really caring one way or the other…
One of the eponymous Will Graysons in Will Grayson, Will Grayson says this when he is trying to articulate how he feels about the concept of ‘mental health days.’ You can read my review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson at this ain’t livin’ if you’re interested in seeing more quotes from the book and reading my thoughts on it. (And feel free to discuss it here or there!)
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.