Ableism 101

ablesism-101Before we can solve political divisiveness, we gotta address the ableism that created it…

What is ableism?

The belief that people with physical, intellectual, and/or psychiatric disabilities are socially inferior and less deserving of rights, opportunities, and protections.

Why is ableism such a huge problem?

A few reasons:

  • You can’t accurately measure and rank abilities – we all of strengths and weakness, many of which can’t be quantified
  • Even if you could determine people’s comprehensive abilities, you’re still trying to place relative value on their lives – which has been historically used to justify some unspeakable horrors
  • Ableism is the basis of racism, sexism, etc. (POC and/or women are considered physically, intellectually, and/or emotionally inferior to White men)

If ableism is the root of racism and sexism, why don’t more people talk about it?

Because most people accept the premise of ableism. Those against discrimination will argue that POC and women aren’t “disabled” (they may also accuse White supremacists and misogynists of being intellectually and emotionally “disabled”), but won’t question the assumption that disability justifies inequality.

What does ableism have to do with the current political climate?

Rigid social hierarchies were a huge part of the Industrial Era and now that society is rapidly transitioning to a much different format, people are adopting hyper-competitive attitudes and clinging to the ableism that kept those hierarchies in place. It’s not just on the “right” (which is now fueled by rural Americans suffering the effects of deindustrialization that plagued inner cities a generation ago). On the “left,” people in academia and the arts are still clinging to rapidly obsolete industrial models and using ableism to justify increased competition, aggressiveness, and exploitation.

How do we address ableism (and by extension, political divisiveness)?

A few suggestions:

  • Recognize that we can’t “dialogue” with people clinging to ableism (whether from the “right” or “left”) – they will always use the disabilities of their economic rivals as justification for their beliefs and become defensive or threatened if these beliefs are challenged
  • Recognize that we can do a lot to improve our own behavior and lead by example: manage our own physical and mental health; be open about our struggles with various kinds of disabilities or disorders (and help others trying to manage similar ones); and always make sure we’re treating everyone as equals – regardless of their abilities
  • Recognize that the best way to deal with ableism is through non-aggressive resistance (when possible): economically boycott discriminatory organizations, as well as avoiding, ignoring, or limiting contact with those who spout toxic, demeaning views (treating others as equals doesn’t mean we’re obligated to give them our time, money, energy, approval, attention, etc.)

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist, Instructor, Writer

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