I have struggled with the decision whether or not I should write this post. I have thought about it a lot and even though I have now decided that I feel it to be important to write it I am still torn. Because it touches the topic of racism. And because I am white. And as if those two facts were not enough it is also about disability. By now those of you active on twitter probably now what I am talking about. The hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite.
I would like to start this off with another twitter hashtag I struggled with a while ago. That hashtag was #BlackLivesMatter. Back when it first started trending I was struggling with it because it felt like participants were singling out a race and making it more important than any other.
Back then I also thought about it a lot. I felt like I needed to put my own voice out there. I was pondering a blog post focusing on my concerns with the hashtag. Eventually I read the tweets under the hashtag for a couple of days before I decided that in fact it was okay.
They were not actually saying that only black lives mattered. They were putting the spotlight on police and other brutality against black people. Eventually the movement widened to protest all the ways in which black people are being put down by the system. And this is a very real problem.
There was and still is quite some controversy surrounding the hashtag and the movement because some black lives matter participants condone violence. So I do want to say that I still uphold the point that violence is always wrong, no matter which race participates in it. Direct self-defense being the obvious exception.
But ultimately, once I understood that the hashtag was not doing what I first thought it was, I decided a blog post would in fact be inappropriate. And I was able to support #BlackLivesMatter – being white and all.
#DisabilityTooWhite and the power of words
After I got over my unnecessary concern about #BlackLivesMatter some time went by. And after some time along came the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag. And I am going to be very direct and honest now: the first thing I felt was shock. And sadness. On a very different level than my initial concerns about #BlackLivesMatter.
For some days I could not even go to the hashtag and read all the tweets because just the hashtag itself triggered so much sadness and anger that I could not handle it.
I think everyone reading this will agree with the fact that words are extremely powerful. This fact is possibly the main reason all of us are active online and participating in things like twitter. Words have power.
Just look at those words.
And imagine you are disabled and white.
I know people of color constantly claim one is not allowed or not qualified to argue with anti-racism movements if they are white. And to a certain degree I agree with this. To a certain degree. Not if your words directly put me down.
And that is where the discrepancy between the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag and the hashtag’s content comes into play.
#DisabilityTooWhite – What the hashtag says
Disability is too white. This is directly putting all disabled white people down. I know that was not your intent. But these are the words you chose for your hashtag and those words directly attack disabled white people.
That is me you are putting down. That is my disability and my struggle you are putting down. That is my experience and my suffering at the hands of those in power you are putting down. And why? Because I happen to be white.
I am white and I am disabled. I chose neither. In my disabled life I am not benefiting from being white. I am not denying white privilege and I find that important to understand. But being disabled negates theoretical white privilege in my life.
I thought about this long and hard and I analyzed my situation and every day encounters. I can assure you I am not being treated any better because I am white.I am being treated the way I am solely on the fact that I am disabled.
This is my voice. This is what the words you chose for your hashtag do to me as a person. My voice is valid. My emotions are valid. I am white and I am disabled and “Disability too white.” hurts me.
I am being silenced and invalidated by non-disabled people every single day of my life, probably for the rest of my life. I never thought I would ever feel invalidated by people from my own group.
Disabled people have enough problems already. We are systematically being put down, institutionalized, drugged, tortured, abused, silenced into nonexistence, and murdered. All of us, no matter our race, suffer at the hands of non-disabled people of all races.
The disabled community needs to stand together to be strong enough to ever make a difference. Every single person in the disabled community needs to support every other person in that community.
#DisabilityTooWhite – What the content says
I absolutely agree with highlighting the specific struggles a disabled person of color experiences in an effort to eradicate those struggles. Of course disabled people of color have every right to highlight their specific struggles and suffering. I appreciate them sharing their stories. And I do believe it is important that disabled white people also support their non-white peers.
That includes me. I do support disabled people of color in their struggles and I acknowledge their suffering caused by racist treatment. It is true that disabled people of color have to fight racial stereotypes while also fighting disability stereotypes. And all of this is horrible, not excusable, and needs to stop.
I support most of the content of #DisabilityTooWhite.
But I do ask everyone to understand that there is a very fine line between highlighting disabled people of color’s struggles and invalidating disabled white people’s struggles at the same time.
A hashtag like #DisabilityTooWhite is very dangerous when considering that disabled people are already oppressed into nonexistence by non-disabled people. Please don’t add to that a false generalized “Disabled people of color suffer more than disabled white people.” mentality.
I am all for highlighting the misrepresentation of disability in the media. It is true, there are not enough people of color visible. I am all for highlighting the misrepresentation of disability in the medical field. It is true, there are not enough racially diverse medical studies, research, and treatments.
But don’t make this about more representation of people of color at the cost of erasing disabled white people. Any disabled person who gets exposure is a win for the disabled community.
And definitely don’t make this about different levels of suffering. Disabled people suffer. Some suffer more and some suffer less. A disabled white person may suffer less than a disabled person of color. At the same time another disabled white person may suffer more than a disabled person of color somewhere else.
All suffering is wrong. All suffering should be eradicated no matter the suffering person’s race.
So ultimately it comes down to this:
I very strongly disagree with lifting one part of the disabled community up through putting another part of us down.
That is not okay and that is the reason I support most of the content of #DisabilityTooWhite but I do not support the choice of words for the actual hashtag.
One cannot demand for the content of a hashtag to be viewed independently from the hashtag itself. Both convey a message. The message the hashtag was supposed to convey was “Disabled people of color need to be payed more attention to.” – but instead the hashtag itself says “Disabled white people are privileged.”. It wasn’t intended this way but that doesn’t make it any less true.
So now we have a hashtag that is hurtful with content that is very important.
I do hope I chose the right words to make myself understood without hurting anyone. I wholeheartedly welcome an honest, respectful, careful discussion about this.
I wish for a different hashtag for the same kind of content.