Content/trigger warning: discussion of ableism, cursing (these are probably true for most entries…), mention of Autism $peaks, eugenics, ABA
Internalized ableism is sadly common. I see it all the time, from Disabled people who choose to use terms like “person with a disability” and “the disabled” to those who are pro-eugenics. I’m also queer, and I see internalized ableism far more often than I see internalized queermisia. I’m also female, and I see internalized ableism far more often than I see internalized misogyny (in general; if we’re talking specifically about white women, that’s another story). I’ve often wondered why so many Disabled people so staunchly advocate against their own rights and don’t understand that their lives have as much value as those of abled people. As much as I want to boost the voices of other Disabled people, when Disabled people are advocating against disability justice…well, I struggle with that. I can’t say their voices don’t matter, but when another Autistic person says “figuring out the genetic causes of autism is important so people like me can be eugenically eliminated”, I sure as shit don’t want abled people hearing that and thinking that Autistic people universally want to stop existing.
I thought about how difficult it was for me to find information from Disabled self-advocates and how long it was after my various diagnoses that I started learning about disability justice. I started to wonder if so many Disabled people have such terrifying internalized ableism because they don’t have access to information about disability justice. Not only do they not have information about disability justice, what they do have is an omnipresent avalanche of ableist bullshit. I mean, hell, when a newly diagnosed Autistic person googles “autism”, they’ll probably find fucking Autism $peaks. (I’ve discussed before why that organization is a hate group). They’ll probably also find information on conversion therapy based on the mistaken idea that autism is a behavioral disability, not a cognitive one, and aimed at making Autistic people more palatable to the allistic people in our lives at the cost of our mental health and autonomy. (This “therapy” is called applied behavior analysis, or ABA, and I’ll do another entry on why it’s harmful later.) Ableist disinformation is everyfuckingwhere because ableism is built into society, and I started thinking that the fact that Disabled people internalize that disinformation is a manifestation of ableism.
As it turns out, I might be onto something. A philosopher named Miranda Fricker defined the term “hermeneutical injustice” as follows:
“In cases of hermeneutical injustice, we harm people by obscuring aspects of their own experience. Our dominant schemas–our assumptions, what we take as common ground–about a particular group can make it difficult for members of that group to understand or articulate their own experiences qua members of that group.”
That’s in academic-ese, so let me try to translate. Hermeneutical injustice is when society keeps important information about group X from the people in group X and instead feeds them bullshit, making it difficult or impossible for members of group X to understand or talk about being X. Doesn’t that sound like what I was talking about a few paragraphs ago?
So when I see Disabled people with deeply ingrained internalized ableism, I try to remember that they probably haven’t had the access to the resources I do, and I try to share my resources. I’m still working out how to discuss hermeneutical injustice with the people it affects. Nobody wants to be told “Your ideas are wrong because you’ve been fed bullshit”, even though that is frequently a logical response to statements like “I can’t be ableist; I have a disability!”.
How do we address hermeneutical injustice, then? I try to make disability justice resources more available, and I write this blog, but hermeneutical injustice comes from societal oppression. The best way to confront hermeneutical injustice is to dismantle the oppressive structures that perpetuate abled supremacy (and white supremacy, patriarchy, etc.; they’re all interrelated. Intersectionality may be an entry for another day…or multiple entries. Hmm. I’ll get back to you on that). Yeah, yeah, I know. Tall order. But the alternative is for Disabled people to continue believing our lives don’t matter. And that’s unacceptable.