Respecting Intersecting Oppressions

We need to talk about intersections, or overlaps in disability activism. You’ll be used to me banging on about how feminist and queer spaces need to make room for disabled people. But this time I want to talk to disabled activists, campaigners and interested parties. We need to learn to tell the difference between asking people to remember disability, and shouting over important conversations.

We know that disability is often the last oppression picked by non-disabled people to think about. Partly because it’s not seen as sexy or current, partly they don’t want to think about us because it is hard on many levels, and partly because they don’t understand us outside of the medical & charity models of disability. It leaves many left leaning, socially aware people with the odd belief that disability activism is all about raising money to end various maladies. Of course while most of us are pro-medical research into conditions, we realise that the eradication of them as a method to eradicate disability is a nigh impossible thing to be aiming for (even with unethical things like eugenics being brought in). Especially given that it does precious little to help all of us in the mean time. Our struggles to achieve equality in basic areas, like daily living activities, being treated without disablist prejudice, accessing the law, accessing shops and residences, as well as benefiting from decent medical research and access to good quality healthcare (the social model).


A Venn diagram showing how disability overlaps with race, sexuality, gender and nationality.

It’s really frustrating to see disability left out of conversations about oppression, and even more so when our attempts at starting a conversation fail because we end up preaching to the choir when non-disabled folk fail once more to either listen to us or interact with us. So, I totally understand the urge to shout “What about disabled people too!” into conversations about feminism, racism, sexuality, transphobia and so on. You know what, it’s important to remind people we exist, it’s important to remind people that in many cases of police mistreatment, domestic abuse, murder and so on the victim is disabled as well as having other identities.

It becomes a problem when our desire to do that ceases to be a desire to see disabled identities included, and becomes a desire to see the conversation be exclusively about disability. It’s one thing to add to an important conversation, it’s another to force a important conversation to stop so that we can talk about what we want to talk about. At that point it’s no longer intersectional, it’s only about disability. We have no right to demand that conversations around oppression include us, while we refuse to include others. No one wants to talk with people like that.

This is not supposed to be a tone argument, you can say it in any tone you please. This is more of a calling out of hypocrisy that is damaging to the cause.

The next bit might not be relevant for you, but if my point above wasn’t clear I’ve done an example to attempt to elaborate.

Example 1

(At a Black Lives Matter protest)

Protester: Black Lives Matter! Stop the police killing us!

Disabled Person: Lot’s of those people are disabled, as are white people they kill! It should be disabled lives matter instead. Disabled lives matter!

Example 2

(At a Black Lives Matter Protest)

Protester: Black Lives Matter! Stop the police killing us!

Disabled Person: Lot’s of those black people are also disabled, let’s remember that disabled black lives matter!

In Example 1 the disabled person starts by making a fair point, about the high incidences of disabled people killed by police/in police custody, but then completely ignores the fact that they are interrupting a conversation about racism and inappropriately brings up white people. Then they go a step further and try to erase the race element from the discourse by focusing solely on disabled peoples lives. It’s a dick move, and not a good way to win allies. In Example 2 the disabled person also raises the higher incidence of disabled peoples deaths, but focuses on disabled black people which is far more appropriate given that it is a Black Lives Matter Protest.

You don’t have to listen to me, you can ignore all that I’ve said, but I honestly think this is a better way to go about things.

Love to you wherever you are xx

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