Blogging Against Disablism 2007: Calling out social justice activists

If you’re a social justice activist, you are obligated to stand up to bias and hate wherever you find it. Ah, but there’s the problem: you have to be able to notice the bias and hate to be able to protest it. For so many bloggers who focus on social justice, disablism is a non-issue. Aside from the ethical implications, it just doesn’t make sense for activists to refuse to confront disablism. After all, disability is a group with open membership.

Activists working for disablity rights, accessibility, and recognition that people with disabilities (PWD) exist are used to constant disregard from the larger social justice movement. They shouldn’t be. There should be enough heart in the social justice movement that it can include people with disabilities, and we shouldn’t have to beg able-bodied people to fight disablism.

A horrible and painful recent example illustrates the indifference afforded to PWD. When Cho Seung-Hui murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech, I was comforted by a rapid response by bloggers. Many people raised concerns at how people would use this incident to fuel racism LOVE/ANNIVERSARY from Build-A-Bear. Feminists addressed gender roles and violence, stalking, and how quickly the first two murders were dismissed as being “just” a domestic dispute.

However, as more information emerged, I started reading more and more about how the killer had been treated for mental illness! Dramatic examples of disablism followed. “He killed because he was mentally ill.” “Mentally ill people should be banned from university campuses.” “Crazy people should be locked up for life-the rest of us have a right to feel safe.” Be very clear: the same things would have been said even if there was no history of mental illness. When someone does a horrific thing, the first response is that they were crazy. Able-bodied people have tried to teach me that this association of the word “crazy” with horrific incidents really doesn’t matter.

I didn’t hear much outrage over the disablism. Where were my sisters and brothers who work so hard for social justice? There was plenty of excellent analysis of mental health issues and the tragedy at Virginia Tech. The problem is that it was only coming from bloggers who regularly write about mental health issues.

Where were the rest of you? And how will you respond next time?


13 responses to “Blogging Against Disablism 2007: Calling out social justice activists

  1. Succinctly put. As part of my job I once researched into family suicide and found similar knee-jerk reactions to what were indeed horrific multiple murders. Crazy! But he/she seemed so normal! We had no idea there was anything wrong! Then the expert views, slightly more balanced, unravelling the pressures that can lead to such a tragedy occuring. It was a traumatic but enlightening project and has made me think twice ever since about the labels we assign our ‘demons’ in society. Because demonising is something the media will perpetuate to make its readership/audience feel more secure, self righteous and, well, normal. Such bollocks really.

  2. Pingback: Women of Color Blog » Till Domestic Violence Do Us Part

  3. Thanks for tying the recent events to BADD, Spotted Elephant. And the general issue of using “crazy” for any and every action that doesn’t seem right. Gah! It has a cumulative effect.

  4. I blogged along a similar theme. The “disablism’ associated with mental illness is alive and well.

  5. Fear and ignorance are what killed these people and continue to kill people, animals, habitats the world over. So much effort to isolate the individual, but what of the environment in which she/he must dwell? The President tells us violence is the answer in Iraq, but when this gentleman applies the same logic to solve his problems, suddenly, we need fear the mentally ill because we’re all hell-bent on destroying the “normal” community.

    And what of these so-called “normals”, anyhow? Who gives them the right to call us “insane” when they value possessions more than human lives? when that renovation or new car or television means more to them than the feelings of their loved ones?

    Is the supposed “insane” being who shoots and kills any more so than those who make a living supplying him the means to do so?

    Thank you for this post.

  6. I never blog about Virginia Tech murder. At about the same time, my sister has a mental breakdown. We don’t have much money to get her to a private institution, and I think she is still a little sane, she might get out of it.

    I feel sad for the people who lost a loved one in that murdering spree. If it is really true that this guy was treated for mental illness, then wasn’t it his family’s duty to make sure that he is taken care of and brought to a doctor or a therapy?

    That is what I am doing with my sister now. I brought her to a mental facility. I hope that when she goes out of it, she is sane and whole.

    My other fear is that she might never be whole, and I cannot ever get my guard down around her with my children.

    If something happened and she harmed my children, I cannot honestly say that I didn’t see it coming.

    It is sad this guy is mentally ill; he should have been in a mental facility trying to get better instead of thrown into the masses with no one to closely watch him when his mind might take turn for the worse.

    It’s not a question of allowing or not allowing mentally ill people in campuses. It’s a matter of how closely someone is watching them so when they broke down, they don’t kill a lot of people with them.

  7. Girly–she may never be whole. Who is? I fear you may have an assumption that all mentally ill people are capable of harm or murder. I fear, or maybe misunderstood your comment, that you cannot let your guard down to allow your sister to be near your kids for fear of her harming them. “when they broke down, they don’t kill a lot of people with them.” –just because someone with mental illness, [like myself]has a break down, does not mean they will kill others as a result. Cho case not only is rare–it is now full of speculation, that has begun to add even more stigma to many people who live in society with mental illness, and some you might not ever “suspect”. Excuse me if I have misinterpreted something here.

  8. I flinch whenever someone in the media says “mentally ill” in reference to a crime. If people IRL knew what I was/am capable of, they’d talk about me with the same contempt. The reality is, tho, I wouldn’t hurt a fly. But because I have a label, well, better to be safe than sorry…

  9. I’m coming to see the disability community as the only real activists, judging from what happens at the state capital where I work. I never see everyday activists go before the patriarchs fighting for the poor, women or children, experts and agency heads, yes, but that’s their job. But when anything comes up that impacts the disabled they come out in droves, and they have their act together, they know the issues, the rhetoric is spot-on, they show a sense of strength and confidence in numbers, they dig their visibility and have fun with wheelchair races to pass the downtime. To hear them educate the legislature about how it can help them is inspiring, they’ve become the standard as far as I’m concerned, the only real leaders I see.

  10. I said something about it, mainly the “loner” = “crazy” = “super scary mentally ill AAAAH real monsters” thing after the VA Tech incident. But shooting down ablism does need to take place more often because I think people still want to keep disability invisible and silent.

  11. Thank you for this SE.

  12. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been treated for depression myself, yet I still tend to “move on” too easily to other concerns when I’m doing well.

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