Selected quotes on the ableist framing of “normal”, “natural”, “defectiveness”, and “overcoming” from the opening of Eli Clare’s “Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure”.
On “overcoming” disability
Overcoming bombards disabled people. It’s everywhere.
To pose individual hard work, rather than broad-based disability access, as the key to success for people with dyslexia is absurd and ableist.
Sometimes disabled people overcome specific moments of ableism—we exceed low expectations, problem-solve lack of access, avoid nursing homes or long-term psych facilities, narrowly escape police brutality and prison. However, I’m not sure that overcoming disability itself is an actual possibility for most of us. Yet in a world that places extraordinary value in cure, the belief that we can defeat or transcend body-mind conditions through individual hard work is convenient. Overcoming is cure’s backup plan.
Declaring disability a matter of social justice is an important act of resistance—disability residing not in paralysis but in stairs without an accompanying ramp, not in blindness but in the lack of braille and audio books, not in dyslexia but in teaching methods unwilling to flex. In this declaration, disability politics joins other social change movements in the ongoing work of locating the problems of injustice not in individual body-minds but in the world.
On “normal” and “natural” and cure
As an ideology seeped into every corner of white Western thought and culture, cure rides on the back of normal and natural.
First, cure requires damage, locating the harm entirely within individual human body-minds, operating as if each person were their own ecosystem. Second, it grounds itself in an original state of being, relying on a belief that what existed before is superior to what exists currently. And finally, it seeks to return what is damaged to that former state of being.
The vision of me without tremoring hands and slurred speech, with more balance and coordination, doesn’t originate from my visceral history. Rather it arises from an imagination of what I should be like, from some definition of normal and natural.
At the center of cure lies eradication and the many kinds of violence that accompany it.
On “defectiveness” and eradication
Defectiveness wields incredible power because ableism builds and maintains the notion that defective body-minds are undesirable, worthless, disposable, or in need of cure.
Cartwright and the rest use the ableist invention of defectiveness in order to explain and justify the practices of enslavement, imprisonment, institutionalization, and state violence. In essence, they fortify white supremacy by leveraging ableism.
The list of body-mind differences, illnesses, and so-called defects that the medical-industrial complex wants to eradicate goes on and on. This kind of elimination benefits some of us in significant ways—saving our lives or increasing our comfort. At the same time, it also commits damage, routinely turning body-minds into medical objects and creating lies about normal and natural.
as a widespread ideology centered on eradication, cure always operates in relationship to violence.
On the bright side
We take constraints that no one would choose and build rich and satisfying lives within them.