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January 9, 2011 / Amanda Forest Vivian

anti-ableism, in real life

I wrote something like this on my blog last week, but it kind of turned into a lovefest for the TV show Skins, so I’m going to try to restate what I was saying in a less Skins-oriented way. What I’m saying is really a feeling, and not a super literal abstract statement. So bear with me.

I was considering making a post on my blog that would be a collection of things I think are really funny that contain the r-word (such as the “Pork Family Project” chapter of Wizard People Dear Reader, one of my favorite movies). The situation is that, you know, sometimes I think some video or whatever is really great and I want to show it to my friends or post it on my tumblr or my Facebook or my regular blog. But I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that it’s totally acceptable or neutral to use the r-word, or the idea of intellectual disability, as an insult. (Plus it might really trigger someone who has more personal experience with the word than I do.) So I’m not okay with just passing “Pork Family Project” on like I don’t notice that word in there and I don’t expect anyone else to notice it.

At the same time, Wizard People Dear Reader is an awesome movie and “Pork Family Project” is one of the best parts. I watch it and laugh at it all the time even though I wish Brad Neely didn’t use the r-word in it. So…you know, it’s complicated. Ableism suffuses the world to a really big degree and I don’t personally feel that I can, or want to, completely reject anything that is ableist.

This doesn’t just apply to pop culture but to my personal relationships with people. Sometimes I hear people–family and friends–using language, or expressing sentiments, that I find really ableist. One thing that has caused a lot of conflict in the past is that some people have said they think it’s reasonable to want to abort a fetus on the basis of disability. First of all it bothers me that this is a really common view because it makes me feel that I live in a world where people like me are not wanted. Like I just slipped in accidentally because there’s not a genetic test for autism yet. But it really especially bothers me when my friends say these things, because they supposedly care about me and like me–but if they would decide not to have a kid who had my disability, then that makes me feel that they don’t really like me at all.

I’ve gotten in the most miserable fights with people over telling them that their view on ability-selective abortion hurts my feelings, or that the r-word offends me. And I eventually concluded that, sometimes, I do care about this person and vice versa, and I don’t want to have any more fights, and I’m not going to stop being friends with them. So, you know, I’m not going to bring it up anymore. That may mean I’m less close with these particular friends, but I definitely don’t consider them anything other than friends.

The way I relate this to Skins is that there’s a scene in the show that really spoke to this side of me. The impulsive, insensitive character Cook tries to comfort his friend JJ by saying, “I love you. You’re my very own little fruit bat”–“fruit bat” being a reference to the fact that JJ has autism and bipolar disorder. It’s definitely not a nickname that JJ is okay with; he hates for Cook to joke about these things. Cook’s use of the term is clearly wrong, both in terms of being a friend, and from a social justice viewpoint. The thing is, though, that it’s a really sweet scene. And I think it’s super important to recognize that sincerely positive and sweet interactions, sincerely loving friendships, and sincerely awesome YouTube videos can have aspects that are really fucked up.

Now, when I say all this I’m definitely not trying to say that I’m going to accept the whole derailing-for-dummies idea that intent fixes everything–that if someone doesn’t mean to be ableist (or whatever) it’s okay. If I think something’s wrong, then I think it’s wrong, and on some spaces–like this site–I’m going to say so. But situations in your personal experience in which someone is wrong are so much more complicated than “someone is wrong” and I really wanted to talk about that, because I think sometimes when you start getting into social justice and privilege and oppression, you can become kind of lost or give up your faith in this way of thinking altogether because it’s so difficult to live with. It is difficult and I don’t think it can be everything, but I do think it’s worth it and true.

5 Comments

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  1. Julia / Jan 10 2011 12:47 am

    I like this–it’s very honest. Real life is very complicated, especially when “Ableism suffuses the world to a really big degree and I don’t personally feel that I can, or want to, completely reject anything that is ableist.”

    Word.

    Reminds me of these post, which I find incredibly valuable: http://hoydenabouttown.com/20101006.8816/intersectionality-and-privilege-addressing-the-squishy-bits/

  2. softestbullet / Jan 28 2011 7:30 pm

    I’m excited about this. <3

  3. Amanda Forest Vivian / Jan 29 2011 8:08 pm

    hey would you like to contribute??

  4. Zoe / Jan 29 2011 10:00 pm

    As a disclaimer I should say I watched Wizard People etc. and didn’t really like it, but in addition to containing the r-word I found that whole section to be really nasty about fat. Which, granted, the Harry Potter books themselves also are, as far as the Dursleys are concerned.

    I agree that if we didn’t ever read/watch/talk to media or people that are occasionally ableist, we would have very few people to talk to and even less media to consume. I brought this up when Julia and I were talking about Glee (hi Julia!) but she doesn’t think Glee is as ableist as I do so we had more interesting discussions on that subject.

    A (possibly) related thing is that I tend to watch anything that has an autistic character in it, even if it’s a really fail or problematic interpretation, because somehow I still get something out of it.

  5. Ettina / Feb 11 2011 9:51 pm

    “a collection of things I think are really funny that contain the r-word”

    For me, one big example would be this (which also highlights how disabled people are often used as a cheap plot device):

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