After reading American Eugenics by Nancy Ordover I begin to have a greater appreciation of the ideology behind the different forms of oppression that we as minorities in this country face. In the book Ordover eloquently explains the pseudo American science that the American elite used as justification for their elevated status and the marginalized position of oppressed populations. As a result the justification behind racism and social exclusion of communities like the African American population had what was appeared to be a scientific underpinning. The basis of eugenic theory was that marginalized communities had something that was genetic or biologically dysfunctional that prevented them from succeeding in the supposed “free society” of America. So in a sense they were deemed to have a disabling body that excluded them from acting like normal citizens in this country. Although Ordover explains the ludicrousness of this philosophy she doesn’t adequately challenge the inherit philosophy that having a disabled body is always to be avoided and thus cannot fully criticize the ableism that underpins all eugenics.
The one major critique that I have of the book is that she dedicated only one chapter on how eugenics affected the disability community. This was disappointing giving the topic and given the fact that ableism is the basis of the eugenics analysis of all other populations. It is basis behind twentieth century scientists’ desire to discover “the Gay gene” or nineteenth century scientists’ interest in the debunk science of phrenology that tried to determine if people with different ethnicity had different brain sizes. The commonality between these dubious science the targeted populations had something innate in their bodies that made them inferior. The reason why eugenics scientists did not have to explain how people with disabilities were inferior was because it was self-evident to them. The disability community was then stigmatized as the ultimate marginalized society that everyone avoids belonging to. This philosophy reverberates in all parts of society and most certainly affected Ordover’s analysis in dealing with the disability community and eugenics.
What I Ordover would have touched on in her analysis is that people with disabilities having lives that our just as worthy of living as any other. She did explain this society’s tendency to sterilize people with disabilities because there is a common consensus that people with disabilities are child-like and therefore cannot care for children themselves. What I wanted was a critique of the common consensus regarding people with disabilities. I wanted her to say flatly that there was no human life that was unworthy of regulating their own reproduction. Because if people with disabilities can have their right to parenthood protected then it will be easier for other marginalized populations to protect their reproduction capabilities. It is the primal fear people have of people with disabilities that gives fuel to the eugenics movements’ philosophy of the imperfect body that needs to fixed. As a result any analysis of eugenics and its affect on society should have the social construction of the disabled body as one of the argument’s main focus.
What is missing from the analysis of most left movements is analysis of disability that sees people with disabilities as full human beings. In the years that I observed left movements and listened to left intellectuals I have noticed an ignorance or avoidance of considering people with disabilities in their analysis. I soon gathered that there is a phobia on the left as there is on the right on integrating the lives of people with disabilities in their analysis of how they want to change society. This phobia stems from an inability to see people with disabilities as full citizens of society. Disability justice was formed to counteract this phobic philosophy.
Disability justice is a movement and a philosophy devised by people of color with disabilities in an attempt to have an analysis that accepts all people of differing physical, cognitive, and psychological abilities as having value and having a right to participate in society. The philosophy also states that everyone have multiple identities to contend with whether it is race, sexuality, gender identity, religious status, along with a persons differing ability and that every person has the right to bring their full selves in engaging in society. In summary, disability justice gives a basis of understanding of what we must do in this ableist, sexist, racist, hetero-sexist society that refuses to recognize the full identities of people that goes against the societal norms. Working with two pioneers of disability justice at Sins Invalid, Patty Bearne and Leroy Moore, I have gain more of an understanding of how we as people of color with disabilities can work with our temporary able-bodied brothers and sisters using our strengths to construct an environment that is fair and just for all of us.
Frankly a disability justice analysis can tie many struggles together and make cross building between left movements more easier. Ableism can be considered the basis of all other prejudices we encounter. It is implicit in racist ideology that dictates that dark skin people of African descent were somehow less intelligent then people of western European descent. It is also implicit in sexism in the concept that women are less suitable for some occupation than men, in hetero-sexism where people LGBTQI community are considered to have a biological or genetic disorder because they cannot conform to a heterosexual norm, and in the raising American nationalism that tries to ostracize everyone that is foreign to the Anglo-christian norm. All discriminated people in this country then have an unfair burden of proof put on them that puts them in a position of having to prove their worth.
Establishing ableism as a basis of most prejudice policies centers the phenomenon of disability as a common and important experience in human life. The point of disability justice is to make people realize all our bodies cannot fit in an ableist framework and only an acceptance and a celebration of all our bodies will lead to the freedom from oppression that we all desire. This is why it is important for progressive and radical intellectuals on the left to embrace disability justice because we cannot envision a society that is just and equitable for everyone without an analysis of how this society will be welcoming to everyone’s bodies.
This is a new poem that I wrote a few days ago. I hope you like it:
So much is going on.
The block is a scotching frying pan,
Frying my brothers on the pavement.
Our bodies are etched on the concrete,
blood drenched as permanent ink.
Chalk should not outline our death bed
or a body bag be our first casket.
Bullets lurch out of guns,
slice the air and
pierce the thin borders of our black skin.
Eat away at our muscle and bones,
borough through sinews and blood vessels
until it reaches and stops our hearts.
It is not just the gang member on the corner
whose aim we have to dodge,
but also police on the beat
who’s itchy trigger fingers
leave us with our brain matter
splattered on the concrete.
Now we have to watch out for the neighborhood watchmen.
The want-a-be cops who think we are foreign to our own neighborhood.
Trayvon had a hoodie on to protect him from the rain,
but it didn’t protect him from the bullet from Zimmerman’s gun.
Old George just couldn’t help being a deadly Don Quixote
and shoot at every black boy
claiming he was a harden criminal.
My coco skin is not a target for your gun.
It is the sacred encasing of God’s masterpiece
That give warmth and joy to every loved one it touches.
No bullet will destroy what God has made immortal.
I just finished watching Fruitvale Station the movie and I still have jitters up and down my spine. Seeing the events of New Years Eve before the start of 2009 that ultimately ended the life of Oscar Grant III on the screen was a very emotionally intense experience. The film did an amazing job of portraying Oscar Grant as a regular person growing up in Oakland dealing with trials that young African Americans encounter in this society such as being incarcerated because of a drug possession and having a challenge to find stable work. The film showed many of the facets that was the man Oscar Grant, the loving father, son, and boyfriend who wanted to do right by his family and who was struggling to find a way to survive in this capitalist system we call America.
In watching this movie I realize that the director did an excellent job in showing a complex character in the representation of Oscar confronting the mainstream media’s portrayal of black male victims of police killings of being all harden criminals who do not contribute to society. Many young men Oscar’s age are struggling to find their way in this economy and might possess and sell marijuana to get by. The difference is if this young man is white he might escape being under the radar of law enforcements for doing the exact same thing in the suburbs that Oscar was doing in Oakland. The problem is the criminal system is designed to put more young black and brown men in prison than their white counterparts. Police are also more likely to use deadly force on black and brown youth that our society has deemed more violent in an attempt to control those populations. Being also a person with a disability I also have to recognize the police violence that is still being committed against people of color with disabilities that can lead to serious injury, unjust imprisonment, or death. In viewing the policing people with disabilities we can see plainly the police’s directive in controlling populations that are disadvantaged so they won’t challenge the power structure that is in place.
When you bring the Trayvon Martin case in this discussion on policing vulnerable populations bring it to a more ominous tone. George Zimmerman was not part of any police force, however he was deemed innocent of murdering a unarmed seventeen-year-old boy that was coming home from the store. The stand your ground law that made George think he was justified in confronting Trayvon and ending up killing him has a purpose of unofficially deputizing white citizens so they can police black and bodies that come into their community. These laws that were written with the help of the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are trying to bring America back to a time where a white person could kill a person of color who came into their community without having any repercussions. I think this is just a blatant attempt by a segment of society to have a monopoly on violence to protect their power and privilege within that society. I think with the world’s resources dwindling and the gap between the rich and poor growing nationally and I suspect internationally the ruling class will have more pressure if they try to keep their power and privilege and will use violence to make sure their status stays in place.
What this means for the Trayvon and Oscar’s of the world is very troubling. With this sudden emphasis on security and self-defense being promoted the target will definitely will be on black and brown men. To counteract this our whole community needs to stand up to protest this increased murder of black and brown men in this country. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement did a study and found in 2012 a black person was murdered by law enforcement every twenty-eight hours. That one statistic proves that this situation is a crisis. Fruitvale Station is an beautiful artistic rendering reminding us who we are fighting for and what we are up against.
As background I have been playing power soccer for more than two decades and was the team representative for my team, the BORP Bay Earthquakes for a number of years. I am very familiar with how to play the sport and I know the politics behind being in the sport I am in.
At the start of this season I was very excited about our chances to have a good standing at this year’s national cup. However as soon as we started playing the games at the tournament I new we were in trouble. Last year the team Minnesota Magic came with their Strike Force Power Wheelchairs from Power Soccer Shop and blew everyone away winning every game easily. This year when we went to the Premier Cup this year almost every team in the tournament had those chairs. Our confidence soon evaporated as soon we got on court with our game. On a first game CNY United from New York we got decimated. This trend kept repeating for the next for games. The performance of the whole team was a debacle, we were totally embarrassed. Although my teammates and I were going through our separate issues I place most of our blame not being able to play against the Strike Force Power Wheelchairs.
Adjusting playing to these Strike Force Power Wheelchairs was not as easy as we originally planned. These chairs were built to have an unnecessary long frame with casters extended in front of the wheels. This allows the designers of the chairs to build an extended foot guard in front of the chair. The end result being that the Strike Force Chair has a stronger kick on the ball and better maneuverability then any other chair on the market. What ends up happening is the team with the Strike Force Power Wheelchairs and relatively good power soccer skills will beat a team with any other power wheelchair. Also since the Strike Force Wheelchairs are sold at Powersoccershop.com for over $7000 means that only those that can afford this chair will be able to compete in this sport at a high level. Since the Strike Force Power Wheelchair is constructed as an expensive “go kart” only for use on the court and not for daily use means that unfortunately not many medical insurance companies will approve co-payment for these extra chairs. Since until now people were using their daily chairs to pay power soccer it will cause another burden to purchase the Strike Force Power Wheelchair just to play the sport of power soccer. Many people with disabilities have limited incomes and the chair that the medical insurance company purchase for them is the only one that they will have. This will exclude many people from playing the sport as a high level because of affordability, which goes against the spirit of the sport that was suppose to be for people with severe disabilities to have a sport that they excel in using their own power wheelchairs.
As I leave the sport that I truly love and spent two decades playing I hope power soccer will not turn into a sport that excludes people on physical ability and income. I hope the sport still attract people that take a chance on trying out a new sport that they might excel in irregardless of their disability or the wheelchair he or she is in. That is the power soccer I fell in love with.
After much consideration on my current path and the state of my future, I decided to resign my position at United Cerebral Palsy of the Golden Gate. Although I enjoyed working there for the last three years, I felt it was time to focus on what I really want to accomplish in my life. One of my current goals is to contribute more to this blog and build its readership. Look for more entries from a radical disability justice prospective. I feel that I have a platform that few people in my situation is fortunate to have and I attend to use this opportunity with the best of my ability.
Now for the next couple of days I am traveling to Minnesota because my power soccer team, the Borp Bay Earthquakes, is participating in the USPSA Premier Cup hopefully to win the championship. So send good thoughts our way and you will hear from me soon.
For those who didn’t hear my KPFA interview yet here it is: http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/89787. After you listen to it please tell me what you think.