Tag Archives: ally

Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy. Description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: “Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.”]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. [Full disclosure: Some of us here at FWD guest blogged for Bitch as the Transcontinental Disability Choir.] Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading some articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

[A slightly different version of this post has been cross-posted at ham blog.]

Glee: “That’s why we call it dismissing legitimate concerns instead of acting”

Glee‘s been in the news a lot lately, have you heard?

Basically, after a three week hiatus, the show came back last week, and wow, was there a lot of press about it. Not because of the show’s performance, or the show’s “diversity” award, but because of the controversy that has been suddenly generated by the show.

That’s right, suddenly, with no history of protest whatsoever, people with disabilities were complaining about the show! Just days before it aired its Very Special Disability Episode, “Wheels”! Who would have imagined!

Or, more accurately, people with disabilities have been talking about issues with the show since the first trailers hit the internet, with incisive commentary after the first episode was aired, but this only became of interest just a few days before the show wanted everyone to see how “serious” they were. As I said in an angry comment elsewhere:

“Now we’re listened to, when it will get people irritated at those uppity people with disabilities who should stop complaining and just enjoy the show.

We were here before. And I don’t appreciate our concerns being used to generate hype for the show.”

[Anna, you’re so oversensitive. First you were angry because they didn’t listen to your concerns, and now you’re angry because you don’t like when they chose to listen to your concerns? There’s no pleasing you, is there?]

This is not listening to our concerns. This is giving our concerns very short attention so you can ask cast members about the “controversy”, and so nice able-bodied people can say things like this in a spoiler-filled review of the show overall:

“Wheels” Doesn’t Just Feel Good, It Does Good: Aside from what you may or may not have read from the Associated Press regarding the usage of wheelchairs and disabled actors in this week’s episode, I think you’ll discover that “Wheels” is all about empowering people with disabilities and sends out an uplifting message to the disabled community. It should also be noted that the series now has a recurring character with Down’s Syndrome (who it is will surprise you), which I don’t think has happened on network TV in a very long time.

Thanks, Nice Able-Bodied Lady! I will take your words to heart and just ignore what those silly people with disabilities are saying! It will be better that way!

[Before I go any further: I didn’t feel “empowered” by Glee, nor did most of the women with disabilities that I know. That said, my goal here isn’t to tell you or anyone you know how to feel about the show. My objection to the above is not only the condescending tone and dismissal of everything that people who actually work in the industry are saying about representations of disability and how that affects their work, but also being told how I should feel about the show.]

I pointed out my two biggest issues with this show at my Dreamwidth [in short: three different characters fake a disability in this episode, and we find out that Tina has been faking her stutter since sixth grade in order to get out of things she didn’t want to do. As kaz points out in the comments, that’s not how that actually works], and although I intend to talk about that more later, this post is going to be about the media and general response to people with disabilities discussing the show and their reactions to it.

From Fancast: TV Controversies, Protesting the Protests:

Disabled advocates vs. ‘Glee’

The protest: Some disabled Hollywood actors protested last night’s episode of ‘Glee,’ because it focused on Artie, the wheelchair bound member of the glee club, who is played by a non-disabled actor, Kevin McHale.

Protesting the protest: That anyone would call Ryan Murphy’s series discriminatory fails the laugh-test almost immediately. Last night not only dealt with the trials that Artie must go through on a daily basis while being handicapped, but also the fallout from Kurt coming out of the closet. And did I mention that the episode featured not one, but two actresses affected with Down syndrome? We defy you to find another show airing in primetime that would deal with one of these issues, let alone all three in one episode. This is a show that prides itself on acceptance and understanding. That McHale isn’t handicapped doesn’t make it less so. What’s next: Teen actors protesting that Cory Monteith is actually 27 years old and not 17?

Unlike the earlier post, this one doesn’t even bother to link to what people with disabilities are actually saying, which makes it really easy for people to just shrug and agree with their edgy “protesting the protest”. This, of course, means they can tell you that the whole of people’s comments are that they didn’t give the role to an actor with a disability.

Most of the people I know who think the show is poorly done crip-drag talk about not only McHale’s ability-status, but also the way that his character, Artie, is treated by both the explicit text and implicit subtext of the show. To give an example, Artie’s wheelchair is basically a prop that other members of the show push around whenever they want. To give another one, he’s shown before “Wheels” as the only ‘main’ character who doesn’t even get flirted with by a character who tries to flirt all the boys into accepting her into the Glee Club. Because teen boys with disabilities are non-sexual, I guess.

But, obviously the creators of the show have taken this all into account when discussing the controversy, right, because they are very respectful of the “disabled community”.

Not according to the interview they had with PopEater:

‘Glee’ executive producer Brad Falchuk backs him up. “We brought in anyone: white, black, Asian, in a wheelchair,” he told the AP when discussing the hubbub. “It was very hard to find people who could really sing, really act, and have that charisma you need on TV.”

He too understands the concern and frustration expressed by the disabled community, he said. But McHale excels as an actor and singer and “it’s hard to say no to someone that talented,” Falchuk said.

Again, how nice it is of people to lump all criticisms together, and then give a nice happy answer about how they “understand” what people are complaining about, without actually addressing any of it. “Oh, there just weren’t any people with disabilities who could really act and sing and be on t.v.!”

According to everyone associated with Glee, they didn’t mention that Artie was going to be a full-time wheelchair user (or, as the folks in most of the articles I’ve read put it, “wheelchair bound”) when they were casting for the show.

I wonder if any of their casting calls actually encouraged actors and singers with disabilities to apply, or if they just figured they didn’t need to do that type of recruitment to get actors with disabilities – used to being overlooked for any role that isn’t explicitly about disability – out. I guess I won’t know until they tell us, and that’s not the sort of question anyone in the press seems to want to ask.

Of course, as always, the fun is in the comment sections. On Thursday, melouhkia put a post up at Bitch magazine called Glee-ful Appropriation, about the issues she had with the episode. It was also mirrored at their Facebook Account.

Very first comment can be summed up as “Stop your whining.”

It seems to me if you’re going to have an issue with a non-disabled person playing the role of a disabled person, you cannot appreciate any level of acting because all acting is a lie. Maybe that’s why it’s called acting. Just sayin. So, you should also be up in arms about the actress who is portraying the pregnant teen because she’s not pregnant in real life, and likewise, you should also feel your feathers ruffled by the cheerleading coach because she’s not a coach in real life. See where I’m a-going with this?

Yes. Where you’re going with this is ignoring the real concerns about presentation, appropriation, and the lack of job opportunities for actors with disabilities on television so that you can tell us that our feathers are ruffled. It would probably be easier if you told melouhkia to not critique pop culture on a pop-culture criticism blog.

Oh wait, someone else did that for you.

From the comments on Facebook:

I get that this is “responses to pop culture” and you can all have your moment of fit-throwing (I had one after seeing “Next to Normal” on Broadway). But so far your response hasn’t opened up any useful political space…it’s just tried to punish your political allies for not being as perfect as you are. So you know, go get your waders. You’ll need them when you start digging yourself out of this claptrap.

Which I read as “I’ll be your ally unless you start critiquing pop culture I actually like, and then you’ll be sorry, because I will stop supporting you.”

Other people may read it differently.

All of this, of course, is an awesome way of dismissing some very serious and real concerns about the way the show has chosen to portray disability. If you make the entire discussion about how those uppity people with disabilities should just shut up and stop complaining because their ideas are stupid and they should feel stupid, then of course it’s easy to dismiss them out of hand. And who needs to discuss nuances in the presentation of disability, anyway? Everyone knows that there’s no connection between how identifiable groups are portrayed on t.v. and how other people react to them, right?

In fact, I think the best way to sum up where my issue with McHale portraying Artie really comes into play is from this quote from McHale himself, from the NY Post’s interview with him after the episode aired:

PW: Which was more shocking Tina’s fake stutter or Artie’s reaction?

Kevin: Well, we kind of figured her stutter would go away, but we never know what to think on that show. So I’m going to say Artie’s reaction was more shocking. At first I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic. But I really think Artie fell for Tina because they were set apart by their disabilities. They’re already kind of outcasts being in glee, but within that group they shared a connection. So he based their whole relationship on that and when it went away, Artie didn’t know what to do.

You know, Kevin, I can think of some very good reasons why people with disabilities might be angry at someone saying they’d been faking their disability for years. Maybe if you spent any time dealing with people assuming you were faking, accusing you of trying to “game the system”, telling you that you’re just a whiner for wanting extra time on an exam, or not been able to get into half the shops in your town because of “just one step”, you might get it a bit better.

Something that, had you even talked to someone with a disability about the issue, you might have understood.

I guess that’s why we call it acting.

Quoted: Barbara Smith

“Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, disabled women, Jewish women, lesbians, old women–as well as white, economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement.”

–Barbara Smith, “Racism and Women’s Studies,” 1979 (text is available at JSTOR; unfortunately, it’s subscription-only)

By 10 November, 2009.    feminism, Quotations  ,  



Recommended Reading for October 29

Sexy with a Disability:

It’s not like there are many role models out there in the media. The disabled are rarely portrayed as sexy. Brave, yes. Melancholy, sure. Angry about their lot, check. Objects of concern and pity (stop calling me “special”!). But sexy? No. The hot babe who gets the guy isn’t limping toward him, gnarled fingers grasping his strong shoulders as they kiss. And if she is in a wheelchair, it is only temporary.

Ally Issues: Feeling Useless:

At the same time, I have this nasty prickly little feeling inside me which tells me, “what right do you have to write about this issue? You’re perfectly able-bodied. You’re so able-bodied you’ve been holding write-ins at the Paperchase Cafe for years. It’s not like you’ve ever done anything to be a good ally to people with disabilities.”

The horrible thing is that the voice is right.

I’m wondering though, if it would be worse if I let the voice hold me back. That I have to wonder is, I think, pretty bad. Able-bodied people can talk about disability issues, and do, all the time. I’ll probably fuck up at some point, but that happens, right?

A piece of ableist language I could really do without

It’s that dreaded question, upon meeting: So, what do you do for a living?

It hurts. And what’s worse, people often don’t stop there; they keep on asking. ‘Oh, you don’t work? Why not? So are you on the dole then? Are you looking for work? But how do you afford to live? A pension? What are you on a pension for?”

Honestly, sometimes I just want to tattoo it on my forehead: “Hi, I’m Cinnamon Girl, and I’m insane. Thanks for the tax dollars!”

You see, I have a psychiatric disorder, and receive a disability support pension as a result. I don’t work to make my living. I also don’t want to disclose to every last person I meet that I have a mental illness. But, with that loaded innocent question, that’s pretty much what I’m forced to do.

Bones and Invisible Disability:

To be clear, Brennan’s Asperger’s is never directly mentioned by her co-workers. Her social awkwardness, typical of the syndrome, is frequently the punchline of jokes or leads to the repetition of one of Brennan’s favorite phrases, “I don’t know what that means.” However in interviews, Emily Deschanel, the talented actress who plays Brennan, often states that her character does have a mild form of Asperger’s.

The lack of awareness Brennan’s co-workers show about her Asperger’s, leads me to believe it could be considered an invisible disability. At first glance, Brennan appears “normal” and the only way her co-workers would know about her Asperger’s is if she tells them and then proceeds to advocate for her unique needs. In fact, she has made steps towards self-advocation already, at one point last season asking her psychologist, Dr. Lance Sweets, to help her understand social cues and to read facial expressions.

Dealing with disability is fine – it’s the phonecalls that shit me!

Peopel who don’t know you gasp and think life must be unbearably dificult, draining, and emotionally tough when you have a child with a disability – but to be honest, it’s the endless phonecalls, wrangling and organisation that can shit me to tears. Picking up Miz M from childcare yesterday, where she beamed delightedly and kicked her little legs and waved her arms, that was lovely. Trying to help her eat slices of mango was sticky but, hey, just fine. Making the fourth phonecall to the same organisation to try to organise for her mobility device to be fixed, on the other hand, brought a hot flush of frustration to my face and tears of irritation to my eyes. Put on hold while the woman I needed to speak to was on another call, after which the original unhelpful phone-answerer got back to me and said oh, she’s left now, and won’t be back till tomorrow. This, at 9 am.