People have often thought it’s cheeky and shocking that I wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts on holidays (or any day, for that matter.) ‘Oh no, the tiny red head is speaking big words about social justice again… sometimes we wish she would just calm down, and eat some turkey.’ I’m sorry, I’m a vegetarian now.
I am not black, and I will never be black, but I’ve never related to a group of oppressed people more than I have with the individuals shouting these same battle cries. Being disabled, I’m part of a minority, but no one really seems to talk about ableism because disabled people aren’t being shot in the streets, (or even know what that word means.) It doesn’t mean we aren’t dying.
It’s a more subtle, casual, ‘understandable’ form of violence—but it is violence.
According to the American Psychological Association, women with disabilities have a 40 percent greater chance of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities. You can do the research yourself, but there are plenty more statistics about neglect, sexual abuse, and straight up murder against people with disabilities (or should I call it “assisted suicide” to make you feel better?)
In my own life, I’ve experienced everything from micro-aggressions, to blatant neglect, to sexual abuse, to complex abuse. It’s taken me over two decades, but I’m finally starting to understand what this all fully means, process it, and call it what it is. Throughout my childhood, with strangers, and with people closest to me there has been something so different about the things that have happened, and I couldn’t find a word. I’m finally learning what ableism is.
Just yesterday, I sat in a coffee shop with an old friend, and broke down in wide-eyed realization and shock that someone very close to me had committed blatant violence against me, and even I couldn’t see it for what it was until months later. I didn’t even know that I was so close to someone disturbingly comparable to Hitler.
I’ve been reading a lot about dehumanization, and I’m learning that it’s the only word that fits here. I can’t define ableism for you in one article, but by definition, dehumanization is the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities. Professor of Philosophy, Michelle Maiese, defines it as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of moral consideration or humane treatment.”
That’s a big pill to swallow, but it’s a pill that’s forced down my throat far too often.
It’s heavy, but my eyes are opening, and I’m starting to see how much the violence, neglect, and the pity that has been wrongly put upon me were all a result of who I was born as. I’m coming to terms with the dehumanization that’s happened in my own life—the blatant ableism—and how I can cope. It’s still a hard pill to swallow, but it’s an important one. I still don’t have all of the answers, but I do know I’m not going to stop talking about it just so we can all have a nice dinner.
Quite frankly, I won’t be at those dinners.
Many people ask me why I don’t go to family holidays, hang around certain people that I used to, or talk to so-and-so anymore. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, to assume I’m being sensitive, or to write it off as Irish stubbornness. The truth is, I don’t have it in me to spend time with people who don’t see me as an equal, and no one else needs to be around people who make them feel dehumanized or triggered either—regardless if they’re family or not.
There’s a lot more I could say about this, but I am tired. I’m tired of trying to prove my self worth. I’m tired of protecting myself. I’m tired of explaining why I’m a human. And honestly, I don’t have to.
So, I’m going to take care of myself. I’m going to keep spending holidays with people I can trust. I’m going to talk about what matters when it makes sense, and I’m going to have a good time. It’s likely that I’ll still wear a “Black Lives Matter” shirt.