Nothing About Us Without Us.

A woman wheeling herself through a cafe.

Audio:

Diversity (not the dance group) should be encouraged. Everyone should start out with the same opportunities in any walk of life, although sadly as those from marginalised groups will tell you, some will have to fight harder to get those opportunities than more privileged groups. In 2020 it shouldn’t be this way, but sadly male, white, cis-het (cis-gendered, heterosexual), & able-bodied privilege are rampant.

Matters become even more complex when you consider the implications of belonging to more than one marginalised group, as this often presents additional barriers to deal with. For example, as a disabled, bisexual woman I have struggled with inaccessibility in LGBT support groups, experienced biphobia in women’s groups, & have encountered sexism in disabled groups.

Similarly, belonging to a marginalised group does not mean you don’t have privilege over another, nor does it excuse discriminatory behaviour. As a white woman I have white privilege, & denying that I do would be dismissive of the issue’s other ethnicities face (just for starters). I have also encountered people who have used a protected characteristic to excuse discriminatory behaviour towards us. Being black does not excuse ableism, being gay does not excuse racism, being female does not excuse homophobia, and so on.

Eventually, what you come to realise is that diversity is a complex web of interconnected & over-lapping issues, & is certainly not as simple as employing the token “X” person to meet diversity targets.

One trope I have noticed that plagues all marginalised groups to some degree, is when a group is discussed without the input of at least one person from that group. Men should be able to talk about women’s rights, but you need a woman in there to give context & perspective to what is being said. Personally, I have encountered this practice most towards disability; people love to talk about us & our perceived needs without once asking a disabled person for input, leading to poor decisions being made concerning accessibility. As such, I frequently see the hashtag #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs appearing on social media.

For example, I have been to multiple diversity-related events that are inaccessible. If it didn’t highlight how deep-rooted ableism is in a society that just seems to forget we exist at all, I suppose the irony of discussing diversity in a place where true diversity cannot exist would be funny. As it is I make a point of showing up to these events just to highlight the problem & make the organisers realise their mistake, although it is rare they show anything close to embarrassment when I do.

This principle doesn’t apply to disability alone, but to all marginalised groups. A group of white people discussing racial issues is going to very quickly fall into misguided attempts at being equal, & a more subtle, passive form of racism which is significantly harder to remove is born. The same applies to men discussing sexism, cis-het people discussing LGBTQAI+ rights, & able-bodied people discussing ableism. You should absolutely be able to join in discussions around the rights of a marginalised group you do not belong to, but you should mainly be there to listen & learn. Nothing frustrates me more than able-bodied people telling me about my needs as a disabled person, which often results in additional effort spent rectifying the barriers put in my way.

Good intentions are all fine & well, but many of the most heinous acts in human history began with the best of intentions in the eyes of those doing them. It is going to take far more than good intentions alone to get rid of discrimination.

2 thoughts on “Nothing About Us Without Us.

  1. I mostly see this issue in books, TV and Films: some disabled characters are written by able-bodied authors who quite clearly did’t consult the role with real disabled people beforehand, therefore making their representation one which is warped towards their own perspective which further perpetuates certain disabled stereotypes. The problem is when these books, shows and films become popular and fans don’t realise that the representation is poor. We don’t have much representation in media as it is, it’s annoying when the few representations of us that do become popular aren’t even good ones.
    Thanks for again getting a serious issue like this out in the open. People really need to be more aware of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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