I was asked to write a post about ableism in Pantsuit Nation to be shared with their members. I don’t have the spoons to write a separate post for Disability Day of Mourning as well, so I am using the text of that post here.
(Edited to add: Pantsuit Nation has opted not to publish my post, which is their right. Glad I published it here.)
It’s no secret that I have been openly critical of racism and ableism that I have both endured and observed in the Pantsuit Nation group. I have noticed attempts to stem this and to develop more of a sense of consciousness in the group in hopes of shaping its members into more engaged and intersectional allies for various groups, with variable progress. However, there is something that I have witnessed quite a bit lately, and I needed to say something about it.
There have been several posts that have been published on Pantsuit Nation by people stating that they wanted to share their stories of having chosen to have an abortion after learning that their child was going to have a number of severe disabilities. These posts received huge numbers of likes and comments.
I refrained from commenting on those posts, as it took tremendous courage for those women to speak out about something so personal and so painful. I wouldn’t dream of causing these women more hurt nor denigrating them for their individual and legal choice to do what they felt was best for themselves and their families.
However, with every like, every “heart,” and every remark my soul died. You see, I am a disabled woman. And I am a mother of disabled children. Each and every one of my children has at least one disability. Two of them have life threatening disabilities. And the thought that according to literally thousands of people in this group that numbers ~3-4 million people across different continents death is preferable to being like me or being like my kids – disabled – creates a pain that I don’t have the capacity to adequately describe in any spoken tongue.
I love my life despite its challenges, and I am grateful for the opportunity that I have to live it. And I LOVE my children. Love them with every organ, every nerve, every cell, every vacuole in me. I am glad they are alive. And I love them for who they are – with their disabilities, NOT “in spite” of them. I would not change them, would not give them up, would not trade them. I choose them.
It is hard for me to reconcile how someone can claim to be pro-choice and yet not be “pro” my choice to live a disabled life. If all humans have the right to bodily autonomy, that includes disabled people, and that includes, at the bare minimum, the right to exist.
This may seem like a miniscule matter, but it is not. Ableism is so deeply entrenched in our society that most people aren’t even aware of it. It is simply part of the environment, like the air we breathe. How else can people boldly declare that “Black Lives Matter,” that we should “Protect Trans Kids,” that “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” and that our Muslim and immigrant brothers, sisters, and friends are “Here to Stay,” and yet have no qualms thinking a disabled person is better off dead than alive? (Not even getting into the fact that disabled people can encompass any of the above groups as well.)
It is ableism that allows movies like “Me Before You,” to become huge hits. It is ableism that allows a judge to give someone a slap on the wrist after sodomizing a disabled black male with a coat hanger. It is ableism that allows people to applaud an abortion of a child a person would have otherwise wanted if not for the fact that they later discovered the child to be disabled. It is ableism that allows caregivers to murder their disabled children, spouses, etc every year and receive sympathy for doing so because the task of having a disabled relative is apparently such a burden that it is somehow conceivable that someone would “snap” and murder them.
In the past five years, approximately four hundred disabled people have been murdered by their relatives and caregivers – one hundred of those in the past year alone (ASAN). Today, in fact, is the annual Disability Day of Mourning. The disability community sets aside this day to mourn those who were killed by caregivers for the “crime” of being disabled. And while these numbers might seems shocking to you, they aren’t to me. If a disabled fetus is apparently so problematic, wouldn’t a disabled infant, child, teen, adult be perceived as even more so?
I implore you to do some self-examination today. Look deeply into yourself. Think deeply about this. What ableism are you harboring? How are you contributing to the problem? You don’t have to starve a disabled child to death, or beat them to death, or run your elderly disabled relative over with your car to be complicit in this. There are many seemingly insignificant, insidious ways that people foster a culture of ableism that allows for these types of things to take place, from small micro aggressions to large actions.
There are also ways to work on combating the ableism within yourself and within the community. In the language we use; in the policies we support; in the way we live our lives. Conservatives call a lot of us “snowflakes.” Enough snowflakes can create an avalanche of change. Or, to use a proverb from my continent of origin, Africa, “When spiderwebs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
You are no use to me with your #BlackLivesMatter shirt and your “I’ll Go With You” pin if you aren’t willing to assert that disabled lives matter too. My Black disabled life; my kids’ black disabled lives; and the millions of people around the world with disabilities too.
If this gets through to even one of you, I’m grateful. But right now I am going to devote the rest of my attention today to honoring the lives of our dead for today’s #DisabilityDayofMourning, or #DDOM2017 if you care to look it up on social media. Because they mattered, and we need to #SayTheirNames.
Morénike Giwa Onaiwu