Tag Archives: racism

Crude Violations: BP Is Dumping Toxic Waste In Low Income Communities of Colour

The Gulf oil spill that has been capturing the news cycle in the United States for the last few months finally appears to be under control, and now we’re faced with a common problem: We have a whole lot of waste from the spill and associated cleanup, and it needs to go somewhere. This includes crude oil, equipment used by cleanup crews, soiled booms, and all kinds of other spill-associated detritus.

According to a story published at Colorlines last week, nine landfills in the Gulf region have been selected as sites for disposing of waste. Waste management authorities claim the material isn’t toxic, which means that regular municipal landfills, rather than landfills specifically designed to handle hazardous waste, are being used. Of the nine landfills chosen, five are located in low income communities of colour.

This is not a coincidence. While it is true that there are a number of primarily nonwhite communities in the Gulf, and that many of these communities are also low income, thus making it statistically more probable that at least some of the waste would end up in such communities, this case is clearly an example of environmental racism. There is a very long history in the United States of pushing unwanted toxic waste into low income communities in general, and communities with large nonwhite populations in particular.

There have been rumblings over the last few months about where BP is putting the oil spill waste, and most of those rumblings have focused on outraged white communities. This distracts neatly from the far more serious issue, the fact that most of this waste would end up in nonwhite communities, and that these communities would experience serious long term consequences. Focusing on white communities also allows the media to completely ignore the overt racism involved in deciding where potentially toxic waste ends up.

From the start, the oil spill has disproportionately impacted people of colour. Many of the cleanup workers were people of colour, and BP also used primarily nonwhite prison labour in oil spill cleanup and tried to hide it. Now, with the spill cleanup winding down, waste from the spill is being dumped on nonwhite communities even as these communities struggle to recover economically from the impacts of the spill. They can look forward to leaching of oil and chemicals from their landfills  in the coming decades, and reports on the ground also indicate that the waste is already poorly controlled, with oil slicks and tarballs showing up around communities being used as dumping sites.

Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why were cleanup workers wearing protective suits? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why are people who have been exposed to  it getting sick? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why is care being taken to ensure it doesn’t end up in privileged communities?

Crude oil can contain things like benzene, chromium, mercury, sulfur, toluene, and xylene. These substances are known to have deleterious effects on human health; at the very least, skin irritation and difficulty breathing. The oil spill waste also contains traces of dispersants, known to be toxic. And the government wants to stand by the claim that the waste isn’t toxic? Dumping these waste in facilities poorly equipped to handle it will result in long term environmental repercussions, in addition to human health  problems.

I’ve written here before about how hazardous waste disposal methods tend to disproportionately impact communities of colour, and how they are most definitely a disability rights issue. Environmental pollution is a disability rights issue, and it’s a social justice issue. Toxic waste makes people sick. Making people sick is not ok, especially when familiar patterns of oppression can be seen in who is exposed to the greatest risks. If this waste is nontoxic, surely it can go in any landfill, and it would make sense to use landfills as close to the coast as possible, right? So the waste travels the shortest distance? What exactly was the selection process behind the nine landfills identified as sites for Gulf spill waste?

BP, like other major oil companies, has a long history of engaging in environmental pollution, including unauthorized dumping of materials known to be toxic. The vast majority of this pollution occurs in communities least equipped to fight it, and when oil companies are caught doing it, often the biggest punishment is a relatively small fine. In this case, BP isn’t being clandestine: the company is being openly invited to dump waste. The claim is that it’s ‘nonhazardous,’ but is it? Even if it’s not toxic, is it really the kind of thing we want leaching out of landfills and into waterways and farmlands?

These communities will be dealing with the repercussions of BP’s dumping well into the future, just like communities all over the world where people are sickening and dying because of toxic materials present in the environment. Just like communities where rates of chromosomal anomalies are skyrocketing as a result of exposure to toxic substances. Communities with limited support systems to help sick and disabled community members are the ones disproportionately facing an increase in chronic conditions and disabilities. A long term policy of dumping toxic pollutants on low income nonwhite communities and refusing to provide support for the consequences sends a pretty clear message to members of those communities, as well as to the rest of society.

We need to be talking about the connection between environmental pollution and racism and we need to be combating plans to dump hazardous waste on low income communities of colour, from protesting clearly racist environmental policy to working in solidarity with communities who are actively fighting toxic waste disposal in their landfills and on their sacred lands.

Recommended Reading for 05 August 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Raising My Boychick: Vocally crazy: on privilege and the risks and benefits of being out

Openness, vocalness, outness are good for an invisible, marginalized group: we’re here, we’re [crazy], get used to it! It helps to replace highly distorted stereotypes with real faces, real lives, real persons. As more and more people in a group are out, more and more people not in that group know someone who is — and suddenly, they start caring. No longer is it just “those people” who have to worry about discrimination and hatred and violence and the loss of rights and dignity; it is someone you know, someone you might care about, someone you’re willing to stand up for. These are all very good, very important things.

But openness, vocalness, outness can be dangerous, even lethal, for an individual who is marginalized: when someone comes out as mad (or queer, or trans, or a rape or incest survivor, or any other oft-invisible oppressed way of being), they might risk losing their job, losing their children, losing their life. Outness cannot be dictated, imposed, or required. It must not be. It can only be chosen, based on an individual assessment of risk and worth, and the outcome of such calculations will change with each individual, and often with each situation.

Longwindania: PSA

One of my friends is working on a sexual education book for people with disabilities and their partners. Shanna’s very knowledgeable and passionate about responsible queer-positive, disability-friendly, kink-friendly sex education.

Disability on Dreamwidth: New licenses premises access law in Scotland

The Barred! amendment, passed by the Scottish Parliament as part of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act, requires landlords to show how their premises can be accessed by disabled customers, when they apply for a license. The amendment is an important milestone in Capability Scotland’s Barred! campaign which aims to promote better access to pubs and clubs for disabled people.

Valley News: Temporary Custody

The unknown male subject found in the home? He was actually the 34-year-old African-American who owns the home and has lived there for four years.

And the part about taking him into temporary custody?

Hartford police neglected to say that in the process he was: blasted with pepper spray; struck with a nightstick; handcuffed, wrapped in a blanket and hauled — naked — out of his home, according to a neighbor and what the man says police later told him. When the neighbor tried to tell cops that the handcuffed man on the pavement was the homeowner — not a burglar — he said he was threatened with arrest for interfering in police business.

Moving Hands: Ashley Fiolek: a deaf motocross racer (Thanks to maxporter for the link!)

Today, I watched the final womens motocross race. I was about to fast-forward through it – I dislike motocross and I dislike racing, so it’s not a great combo. But then I noticed that someone was signing, so I hit “play.”

Turns out that the woman who was signing is named Ashley Fiolek. She is a deaf 19-year old who has won gold in the past. The segment that I’d seen was one of those special segments where they take a prominent athlete – usually somebody who is looking to repeat a previous victory – and interview her or him. In this case, they asked Ashley how she got involved in motocross and so forth. She communicates in ASL and uses an interpreter. (According to her bio on Wikipedia, she actually went to a deaf school as a child.)

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

A wheelchair user competing in a marathon, caught in the act of leaning forward for more power.

Photo by Flickr user widdowquinn, Creative Commons License.

Cathy Heffernan at The Guardian: Comment is Free: Stop stonewalling deaf jurors

When I received a jury summons a few years ago, I opened it up excitedly, conjuring up scenarios casting myself as a female version of Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, heroically leading my jury through society’s murky prejudices to deliver a landmark decision and liberating an innocent in the process. (I had a rather romantic notion of jury service back then.)

But something stopped me in my tracks. I saw that deaf people were included among “incapable persons” under the list of ineligible people. I was stunned. I’d just graduated from university and yet here I was, considered by the Irish court system as “unfit to serve on a jury”. What’s more, I was expected to meekly sign this summons and return it – in other words, agree to their exemption.

Dr. Rob at Musings of a Distractible Mind: A Letter to Patients With Chronic Disease

Then there is the fact that you also possess something that is usually our domain: knowledge. You know more about your disease than many of us do – most of us do. Your MS, rheumatoid arthritis, end-stage kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, bipolar disorder, chronic pain disorder, brittle diabetes, or disabling psychiatric disorder – your defining pain – is something most of us don’t regularly encounter. It’s something most of us try to avoid. So you possess deep understanding of something that many doctors don’t possess. Even doctors who specialize in your disorder don’t share the kind of knowledge you can only get through living with a disease. It’s like a parent’s knowledge of their child versus that of a pediatrician. They may have breadth of knowledge, but you have depth of knowledge that no doctor can possess.

Oregon Health and Science University: Racism Shapes African-American Women’s Views on Depression Care (via Racialicious)

“These women were extremely wary of most depression treatments and providers they associated with ‘White’ systems of care. Although they acknowledged that violence, depression and substance abuse adversely affected their health, discussions about health care revolved around their perceptions of racism,” said Christina Nicolaidis, M.D., M.P.H., principal investigator and an associate professor of medicine (general internal medicine and geriatrics), and public health and preventive medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Based on our findings, we recommend health and mental health providers endeavor to better understand and acknowledge how racism informs the experiences and perceptions of their patients.”

The expectation of being a “strong Black woman” also was a significant barrier to recognizing depression and seeking care. Co-investigator S. Renee Mitchell has used this finding to launch a campaign asking: “Strong Black woman – what are you burying, your feelings or the myth?” The research team also has organized several community depression and violence awareness events titled “Redefining the Blues.” An additional event is planned for the fall.

Kai Wright at Colorlines: HIV in Poor U.S. Neighborhoods as Intense as Developing World

The first is straightforward: Poverty and HIV are tied in the U.S. To establish this fact, researchers looked at HIV prevalence, or the share of a given population that is infected. They found HIV prevalence in high-poverty neighborhoods to be more than double that of the nation overall. Moreover, within high-poverty neighborhoods, prevalence among people living below the poverty line was double that of those living above it. If silence equals death, so does poverty.

The study’s focus on heterosexual adults is significant and generates the second important finding: that epidemics in poor U.S. neighborhoods are of similar intensity as those in poor nations globally.

Ames Alexander at Charlotte Observer: Advocate for mentally ill to meet Obama

“The president wants to mingle and meet and talk to people with disabilities where the law has made a difference in their lives,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a leading group for those with psychiatric ailments.

Cian O’Luanaigh at The Guardian: Comic superhero Echo fights stereotypes of deaf people

Echo uses both American Sign Language (ASL) and a Native American system developed for communication between tribes speaking different languages. The sign systems appear throughout the comic, both when Echo is signing and as background art.

Quoted: Tim Wise

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)

Recommended Reading for July 6, 2010

jadelennox (DW): How to fight ableism: some easy steps

So I thought it might be valuable to gather together some ways in which able-bodied people can do something about ableism in the world. Then, next time a person is feeling frustrated about ableism, and is thinking about doing some signal boosting of, say, some crappy thing the writers did on the latest episode of Glee, maybe that individual would have the option of committing to spending the same amount of time doing some more concrete fighting of ableism. Not that I’m critiquing the kind of signal boosting that a lot of us do on the blogosphere! But I’m assuming some people would find utility in hearing about other things they could do that might be useful.

Venus Speaks: Between the Lines

Today I realized something: How my disabilities shape the words I do, and more often don’t, say.

For instance: Whenever anyone uses the word “crippled”, I spot it from a mile away. Context doesn’t matter – it could be in anything – a novel, a newspaper article, a headline. “Recession cripples the American economy”, or “The onslaught cripples the meager defenses” or simply “crippling blow”.

Lauren McGuire at Sociological Images: On Disability and the Public Service Announcement [accessibility warning: embedded content lacks transcripts]

Disability-related PSAs cover a wide range of topics, but generally there are three main categories that the message falls into: how people with disabilities are viewed/treated by society, their value in the job market and society, and what their lives are like. Although these are pretty straightforward messages, there is a great deal of variety in the ways in which these basic messages are presented.

Michael Le at Racialicious: An Open Letter to Racebending.com Detractors

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Airbender casting and an English actor playing an Irish one, or a Spanish actor playing an Italian actor. But it’s not really the same, and the reason is that Hollywood and media don’t consider whether an actor is Irish or Spanish or English. They think of that actor as “white.” The same is not true of actors who are Asian or Latino, who have to fight over the few roles specifically written for those ethnicities. And a lot of times, even when a role is steeped in Asian culture, even when a role is based on real-life individuals of Asian descent, those roles still go to white actors.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: CRAWLING OUT OF BED: Internalized Ableism and Privilege

In the two years since I have learned things about my own body. I have learned that once my knees start wobbling, GAME OVER. There is no powering through. There is no mystical internal light of determination that I can draw on – if I keep going my body will fail me. This has been a humiliating lesson to learn. But I can still walk. I can still exercise within limits and these limits expand the more I push them. I have also learned how much privilege I carry. I don’t have chronic insomnia like other members of my family. I’ve never lost a job because of being hospitalized, like my friends with Fibromyalgia. If I’m spending time with someone, and I don’t want to have to go into the whole story I can take an anti-inflammatory and ignore the pain, or blame it on fatigue.

Recommended reading for May 4, 2010

RMJ: Disability and birth control, part 1

Widespread (rather than individual) centralization of birth control in feminism alienates and marginalizes their already problematized bodies: trans women, intersex women, older women, women with disabilities that affect their reproductive system, asexual women, women who want to get pregnant. Not to mention the loaded history of otherwise non-privileged bodies with birth control in light of the eugenics movement.

Eugenia: Siempre eqivocada

The fact is that, with regards to medical care, the old customer service adage is reversed: if the customer is always right, in Bolivia, the patient is always wrong. In Bolivia, where higher education is less of a universal right than a luxury for the few, poorer, uneducated Bolivians are taught to treat doctors and other professionals as their superiors.

meowser: BADD 2010: The Total Erasure of Partial Disability

In order to “make it” at anything I thought was worth doing, you had to be willing to do some serious OT, put in the extra time, go the extra mile, get that extra degree while still working full-time, put your nose to the grindstone. In other words, prove you weren’t just some lazy slacker who didn’t want to work. And I knew I…just couldn’t. And I felt terrible about that, especially when I got into my 30s and realized that all those overworked, underpaid copy editors (and other people who had done the nose-to-the-grindstone thing) now had real careers making real money, and I was still stuck at the McJob level.

Jha: My Invisible Disability

My depression is a setback. It means I cannot be continuously gung-ho about things like I would like to be. It means that sometimes I have to withdraw from the world or be overcome with exhaustion. I am easily fatigued. Some days, I want to sleep in the entire day and not have to face the world. Other times, I imagine being in a situation where I wouldn’t have a tomorrow to deal with. This doesn’t make me a failure, and it doesn’t make me, or anybody else like me, any less of a person deserving basic respect and consideration.

Latoya: Open Thread: Science, Conclusions, and Assumptions

[O]ne of the most common requests for content on Racialicious tends to come from people who work in public health. One issue in particular they have asked me to spotlight is the issue of clinical trials. For many years, the assumption was that the effects of medical conditions and medicine side effects would be similar on everyone, even though the only people involved in clinical trials were white males.

Valerie Ulene (Los Angeles Times): When prescribing a drug, doctors have many choices — too many, in some cases

Nobody wants to be told that he or she has a medical problem that can’t be treated, that there’s no medication that will help. For most common ailments, that’s rarely a problem; the trouble comes instead when it’s time to choose a drug. Sometimes there are just too many choices.

And, of course, there are numerous posts from BADD 2010, organized and collected by Goldfish at Diary of a Goldfish!

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.]

BADD: A Screenshot’s Worth A Thousand Words

More for Blogging Against Disablism Day.

I just poked around the entry for “Ableism” on Wikipedia. On the Talk page, I found a box placing the Ableism article within WikiProject Sociology:

Screenshot: This article has been rated as Low-importance  on the project's importance scale.

“This article has been rated as Low-importance on the project’s importance scale.”

Ableism of low importance within Sociology? Erm, ooookay. Let’s have a closer look at their definition of “Low-importance”:

This article is of little importance to this project, but it covers a highly specific area of knowledge or an obscure piece of trivia.

20%, people. Disabled people form around 20% of the population in Australia and the USA (and similar numbers in similar societies). One in five. Discrimination is huge, it is institutionalised, it is very often legal. Disabled people are some of the most vulnerable, the most underemployed, the most abused, the most excluded, the most neglected, the most murdered people in our cultures.

“Low importance”? “Obscure piece of trivia”?

OK, so let’s have a look at some other big discriminations. Racism and sexism, are they categorised as obscure pieces of trivia too? (On Wikipedia, I wouldn’t be surprised…)

Screenshot: WikiProject Sociology (Rated Start-Class, High-importance)

Sexism is of High Importance. OK. I agree.

So, racism. I guess the importance of racism within sociology, according to Wikipedians, would be, oh, about similar to that of ableism?

Screenshot: WikiProject Sociology (Rated B-Class, High-importance)

OK, so racism is of High Importance also. OK. I agree with that too.

So why is Ableism of Low Importance? Why does the biggest encyclopedia on earth consider it to be of lesser importance than discrimination against other minorities? Why are sociologists learning and being taught that racism and sexism are The Discriminations, that all others are secondary or tertiary or not really worth bothering about? Why, when a person is both female and PWD, or of colour and PWD, or all three, and/or lesbian, trans, non-citizen, working class, and so on, is ableism automatically ranked as the least important discrimination they’ll encounter? Why are PWD losing this Oppression Olympics, a game we shouldn’t be playing in the first place? (“Intersectionality” hasn’t yet received a rating on the Importance scale at Wikipedia.)

Other topics considered more sociologically important than Ableism (not equal, but more), as far as Wikipedians are concerned, include:

est and The Forum in popular culture

Ralph Larkin

Wilhelm Dilthey

Vixen (comics)

Stay-at-home dad

Weddings in the United States

Truce term

Friendship Paradox



Boomerang Generation




Yahoo! Personals

Fritzl case

List of UFO religions

Greenbelt, Maryland

The Hapa Project

Biosocial criminology

Grand Tour

Speed dating



and Hooters.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 30 April 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not necessarily safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Three dancers, dressed in teal and purple, lined up in a row in performance. The front dancer is kneeling, the middle dancer is seated in a wheelchair, and the rear dancer is standing.

From front, Kong Veasna, Kim Sathia and Mao Tipmony performing at the Spotlight festival in Phnom Penh. (Vandy Rattana/Epic Arts Cambodia) (Creative Commons License, Cambodia Trust)

Reminder: Tomorrow is Blogging Against Disablism Day! You can check in at Diary of a Goldfish to see all the submissions (and submit your own work if you are participating). Many, many thanks to The Goldfish for all of the organising work which goes into this.

Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence: Interdependency (via curate)

Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk.   It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility.  It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.

Wheelchair Dancer: Arizona’s Immigration Laws

Two questions: what kinds of offenses make people removable? (Note: even the very word choice — removable — makes it sound like you are taking out the trash.) Turns out that besides the biggies, like you know, murder, the case for removability can be built from smaller things such as traffic offenses. Without a warrant? Perhaps that’s one thing if you see a person on the street robbing a bank, but I can see it being used as an excuse to enter homes, to conduct raids, to begin to hunt people down. I can see it being used as a way of legalizing the immigration equivalent of witch hunts.

Tanya M. Luhrmann at the American Journal of Psychiatry: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (book review, warning, some problematic word use)

Perhaps the explanation is that it is so morally distressing to confront the costs of human social life. This, after all, was the story of the 1965 Moynihan report—a report that documented the real challenges of African American life in the inner city and was roundly criticized as racist and dismissed. Racial prejudice, after all, is something that readers of a book like this can act on or at least believe they can alter. Deep social inequality that leaves its marks on the body and mind is far more difficult to uproot. There is little doubt, however, that those marks are real.

Kavita Ramdas at TED Talks: Radical women, embracing tradition (video and transcript)

Why is it that women are, on the one hand, viciously oppressed by cultural practices, and yet, at the same time, are the preservers of culture in most societies? Is the hijab or the headscarf a symbol of submission or resistance? When so many women and girls are beaten, raped, maimed, on a daily basis, in the name of all kinds of causes, honor, religion, nationality, what allows women to replant trees, to rebuild societies, to lead radical, non-violent movements for social change?

Denise Grady at the New York Times: Second Opinion: In Reporting Symptoms, Don’t Patients Know Best?

“There is a sensibility among some old-school clinicians that they have a better sense of their patients’ experience than patients do themselves,” Dr. Basch said. “But doctors and nurses bring their own biases to the evaluation. They might say, ‘Mrs. Smith always exaggerates her fatigue — she says 9, but I rate it a 6.’ ”

Kaitlyn at Oh Money Trumpets: Medication for Bipolar Disorder and TV Shows

But with my mood swings, the “alien” idea made more sense. A better metaphor is a switch. A switch is flicked, I get so pissed off. Switched again, I don’t want to do anything. Switched again, back to baseline. No control. Which got a bit annoying, because I’d be mad at somebody. They’d get mad at me for being mad at them for no reason. Then I’d get mad at them for being mad at me when I had no control over the original anger!

An OYD Airline Rant

I won’t apologize for her actions and I’m not sorry for what happened to you. It’s not in our contract to assist passengers with their luggage and we reserve the right to refuse assistance to anyone. If that’s what you need, then perhaps in the future, you should make other travel arrangements.

Well, to say the least, that is not the kind of response I expect to get from a customer service representative; not the Entry Level Line Memorizing Oh Dammit Did You Really Ask For A Supervisor people, and I certainly don’t expect it from a supervisor. Were I to get such a resonse I would certainly suspect that something slightly sinister was going on here at said establishment where I was complaining. After all, if I am speaking to a Customer Service Supervisor, things have reached a fairly epic proportion of shit deep inconvenience, because I pretty much go out of my anxiety issue way to avoid having conversations with people I don’t know in person (let alone on the phone). Because I have to weigh the cost of spoons spent on holding myself together long enough to get out the details of what happened, as I did recently with my complaint to Patient Admin about Nurse Midwife V, versus the benefit of getting shit cleared up so it doesn’t happen again to other people who may follow after me and patronize a company, needing services, like in this case, travel.

But here, this is exactly the case. Here, evilpuppy from Incoherent Ramblings From a Coffee Addict, who, expending great energy, spoons, and emotional well being tried to file a complaint on the completely despicable treatment doled out by the staff at United Airlines, and received this condescending and otherwise completely, well, jack-assed and ignorant response from someone who should have a working knowledge of how an employee on an airplane should treat a person with a disability. Not in an email response or even in a letter form; this response was delivered face to face. All of this after she already went to the trouble of pre-arranging accommodations for a wheelchair and made sure to note with the ticket agents — multiple times — that she would need assistance on the plane.

Just a small dose of what evilpuppy endured:

The wheelchair left me off at the door and after making sure I had all of my belongings, he turned around and left. I boarded the plane and made my way back to my aisle seat where I set down my special seat cushion and lumbar brace before looking around for a flight attendant to help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment. The attendant standing in the front section of economy was a blonde woman probably in her late 40s-50s and I called her over to explain that I needed her assistance because I wasn’t capable of lifting my luggage due to my disability. To my surprise, the attendant rejected my request while excusing it by saying: “If I helped everyone do that all day then MY back would be killing me by the end of the day!” I asked her how I was supposed to get my luggage stowed and her answer was: “You’ll just have to wait for someone from your row to come back here and ask them to give you a hand.” When I asked what would happen if no one would, her response to me was: “Well, normally a passenger is around to overhear something like this and they’ll offer to help with it on their own. You’ll just have to ask someone when they get back here.” Then she turned back around and went up to the front seats where she waited to “assist” other passengers.

I was completely flabbergasted, but with no other option, I sat down to wait and pulled my carry-on suitcase as close as I could to try to get it out of the way of the aisle. As I’m sure you’re aware, however, your aisles are considerably narrow and even my best efforts left half of even my small carry-on suitcase in the aisle. What’s more, rather than help me, most of the passengers simply knocked into my suitcase and shoved past me on the way to their own seats. Every time they hit the suitcase, it in turn hit me and jarred my back more and more with each strike. The plane wasn’t even half boarded and it already felt like the pain medication I’d taken less than a half hour prior to entering the airport had worn off as though I hadn’t taken it at all.

Now, I have endured some pretty meh-hessed treatment at the hands of customer service personnel. I have seen other people treated pretty horribly. I have had my disability status questioned, rejected, laughed off. I have had it compared to the fatigue of being a stay at home mother of two children (I am not downplaying the work of SAHMs, having once been one myself, but these are apples and well NOT APPLES!), and of course DIET AND EXERCISE! but never have I had someone so flatly refuse to acknowledge that 1) their co-worker/staff/employee so royally screwed up and 2) that their co-worker/staff/employee’s royal screw up really fucked my world up and over in a way that might just have rendered my next few days useless, since that might mean that I will then be spending the next two or three or more days in bed or on a couch with my feet up trying to recover from the aforementioned loss of spoons and emotional well being.

To put it concisely: Wow. That is messed up.

Not to mention, I am not sure I have ever patronized any business where it was standard procedure for other paying customers to assist a person in lieu of the paid employees who are standing around. It just seems lately that airlines are giving me more and more reasons to not give them more money than I can afford to basically be treated like crap.

I have never been told that it wasn’t the job of the person whose actual job it was to help me.


Once passengers are onboard the aircraft, our flight attendants can help with stowing and retrieving carry-on items, as well as providing wheelchair assistance to move passengers to and from the aircraft lavatory (although they cannot provide assistance inside the lavatory). Flight attendants may also provide assistance with taking oral medication, identifying food items on meal trays and opening packages.

Is there a single airline that isn’t treating humans like chattel these days? That isn’t outright pissing me off for one reason or another (well, Korean Air hasn’t yet, but I haven’t flown International since the Christmas debacle). I am beginning to think I will need to take a boat to get home the next time. And Space A military flights are a privilege I am willing flex more and more if I have the time and pain medication available. It might be worth it to not be herded on and off a plane like cattle, denied bathroom and water privileges for hours on end (which can be living hell to a PWD).

Oh, and also:

Then the flight is delayed. We sit on the runway for some time, and because of the new federal law requiring that airlines not keep people on the tarmac for more than 3 hours, they let us off for about 5 minutes before insisting we all get back on because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now, or for several more hours. They let us off the plane again. Shortly thereafter, they insist that we all get back on the plane because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now.

At some point after the second or third round of boarding and being told to sit down because we are leaving right now, a man towards the back of the plane stands up to get himself a cup of water. For context, this flight is (or was supposed to be) a 7:40 a.m. flight from Atlanta to New York, landing around 9 a.m. It is full of (mostly white) business people in suits. This man is brown, and appears to be South Asian. A flight attendant at the front of the plane, near where I’m sitting, sees him stand up and panics. She throws open the airplane door and starts yelling at him that he isn’t allowed to stand up, and that he needs to exit the plane immediately. The man is confused, and says, “What? I was only standing up to get a cup of water.” She yells out, “I don’t care, you’re off the flight! Get your things, you’re off the flight!” Water Man starts arguing with her about how he just wanted a glass of water, and he is happy to sit down now, but he’s not getting off the flight. The flight attendant says that she feels threatened and gets a supervisor, who in turn gets airport security, who in turn tell the man that he is going to be arrested and charged with a felony if he does not exit the aircraft. The man, probably smartly, exits the aircraft.

Like Jill passes over in her rant here, with all the hype of racial profiling being trendy, if you assert your right to a simple thing like a drink of fucking water while daring to be brown you can be thrown off of a flight.

Thankfully The Consumerist has picked up on this (although “who says she’s disabled”? Could we pour more salt on this?). I am not entirely sure how much good this does things like this, except that I give them all kinds of link love on Facebook when I find something relevant, so maybe this went viral? I would however, like to point out that the comments at The Consumerist are some of the worst disability blaming shite I have seen in a while (and it shows how safe my social justice bubble is). It seems that we, the PWDs, should not dare to carry on a bag if we a) need a wheelchair to get on a plane b) can’t lift it ourselves and c) have the audacity to want to be treated JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE ON A PLANE. Also, don’t forget, if you take pain medication, and/or dare to have a drink on the plane to settle your anxiety you are not to be believed when you make claims as to the crappy ass treatment you received. Nope.

Because there is no way in the entirety of the multiverse that you would ever remember something as abusive or as hurtful or as downright dehumanizing as what Dina the Customer Service Supervisor at SFO said to you, for the rest of your life, or how it made you feel at that moment in dog damned time. Evah.

PWDs are not human. We are not people who should be existing in the same world with those good, hard working, abled-bodied people who can do everything themselves. To hell with us, for not being able to lift our bags! Forget that we just maybe had to scrape together all the money we had to afford the damned flight in the first place so that extra twenty five dollars is NO BIG DEAL JUST CHECK YOUR DAMNED BAG YOU LAZY STONED JERKS!

Silly me for expecting human treatment for all humans.

Via commenter Livre at The Consumerist, United is apparently attempting to contact (or has, I am looking into it) in true “Oh Snap Kevin Smith Has One Million Twitter Followers DOOOOOO SOOOOOMETHING” fashion to try and do damage control sort this out.

Sort this out? That would be something, now, wouldn’t it?

h/t to my friend Kate on Facebook

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