“Race does not exist outside of ability and ability does not exist outside of race” (Annamma et al., 2013, p. 6). This insight is powerfully confirmed by the experiences of the Black middle-class parents and their children in our research. LD categories, such as autism and dyslexia, are mostly treated in contemporary England as a property right for the benefit of White middle-class students—a property right to which our Black interviewees’ social class profile does not grant access. Even armed with the supposedly “scientific” warrant of a formal assessment (a certification meant to credentialize and medicalize the “condition”), Black middle-class parents’ claims were rejected. Within an educational competition where particular LD dis/ability labels can become a valuable asset, therefore, this asset is denied to the Black parents and their children. Their greater social class capital is rejected, their claims denied, and their motives questioned. In contrast, however, schools seem content to mobilize certain dis/ability labels, especially negative behavioral categories, in all too familiar ways against the parents and their children—a finding that relates to a further DisCrit tenet:
- DisCrit emphasizes the social constructions of race and ability and yet recognizes the material and psychological impacts of being labeled as raced or dis/abled, which sets one outside of the western cultural norms. (p. 11)
At the particular nexus of identities and locations (England in the early 21st century, wherein Black racial identity, middle-class social status, and a range of dis/ability labels collide) the outcomes follow a pattern that privileges White supremacy and the racial status quo. Although a dis/ability label might be a useful resource (providing additional resources or supports), it is generally denied by White power holders. Yet, dis/ability labels that serve to exclude, stigmatize, and control (emotional or behavioral disabilities) are applied without regard to national guidelines or formal procedures.
Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species.
Dyslexic children often have better imaginations than non-dyslexics, after all, but nobody labels the “normal” children as having an “imagination disability.”
These children’s brains are organizing themselves differently, and it should go without saying that their developmental arc may therefore be different. When we interfere in the process of this organization, when we stigmatize it and test it and remediate it prematurely — when we try to teach dyslexics to think like other children by aggressively drilling them in phonics — Cooper says we are robbing these children of the opportunity to build organically on their many strengths rather than being treated as something broken that needs fixing.
Some simply have a different learning strategy; one that absorbs, considers, consolidates, integrates, and then suddenly blossoms fully formed.
If your learning style doesn’t fit this year’s theory, you will be humiliated, remediated, scrutinized, stigmatized, tested, and ultimately diagnosed and labelled as having a mild defect in your brain.
People all over the world know these things about children and learning, and interestingly, they are as workable for learning how to design software or conduct a scientific experiment or write an elegant essay as they are for learning to hunt caribou or identify medicinal plants in a rainforest.
But we don’t know them any more.
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.
Shame is toxic. It is the difference between “sorry I did” and “sorry I am.”
Guilt is feeling bad about something you did, something you can fix. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.
Source: Ben Foss on Dyslexia and Shame
The closet can only stop you from being seen. It is not shame-proof.
And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.
Source: Hannah Gadsby: Nanette – Netflix
We should spend more time talking about how we change the environment that surrounds people and not the people themselves.
Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed