Tag Archives: ableism

Self-Determination.

Today marks the second day of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a seven day holiday celebrated around the world by people from the African diaspora. Ever since I was a fifth grader, I have been aware of this holiday. At that time, my family and I were attending a predominantly Black Baptist megachurch which celebrated both Christmas and Kwanzaa. As a family, we didn’t really celebrate the holiday but I grew to respect people who chose to. One of the laziest criticisms of Kwanzaa is that it is a “made-up” “fake” holiday. If we are gonna be honest, all of our holy days are socially constructed, or “made up” as they say. I would argue what matters not is the origin stories of holidays, but ultimately the values that they teach.

In his significant work, Black Theology & Black Power, James Cone quotes Kwanzaa founder Maulana Ron Karenga and his criticism of Christianity, and the need to “concern ourselves more with this life which has its own problems. For the next life across Jordan is much further away from the growl of dogs and policemen and the pains of hunger and disease” (page 33). In the era of Black Lives Matter, I find Karenga’s words timely. U.S. Christianity, specifically White evangelicalism, has sneered at visions of black liberation for decades. Rather than join the struggle versus mass incarceration and the pre-school to prison pipeline that subjugates an overwhelming number of young black boys, White Christians would prefer to continue to perpetuate antiBlack narratives and politics for the sake of maintaining their power.

White Supremacist myths that continue to oppress Black people include the slaveability and dependent nature of Black souls. In this mythology, Blacks do not like freedom, Black people are servile, they play the entertainer, the really good athlete, the nice Black soldier, the “welfare queen,” or the uncritical “uninformed” Democratic party voter all at the same time. We see these images in the white supremacist media from good liberals at ESPN to the nice establishment conservatives at the Wall Street Journal. Black intellectuals are never seen as unique thinkers, only the black versions of European greats, like Frantz Fanon as the Black Jean-Paul Satre, for example.

These racist myths exist only to justify the current status quo, and to justify the four hundred year legacy of Black enslavement without any means of reparations, justice, or reconciliation. And yet, today is what celebrants of Kwanzaa call Kujichagulia Day, a day to reflect on SELF-INITIATIVE, SELF-RESPECT, AND SELF-DETERMINATION. If our notions of the human involve racist ideas, then I suggest that unfreedom, oppression would be part of our understanding of personhood. This would explain the preferred viciously antiBlack racist anthropological gaze of the majority population here in the United States. However, if one’s understanding of our humanity is that freedom is an inextricable part of our being, then the desire for self-determination shouldn’t be considered anything to be but natural. Over the years in my experience as an educator in a special education program, I have had to re-learn and learn with teenagers with disabilities about the value of self-determination. When working with various students with disabilities, I have learned that autonomy is going to look a whole lot different from one student to the next. For example, for one student who may be higher functioning with a slight learning disability, independence could look like moving away from study helps like dictionaries to newer reading strategies. Or, for another student who may have a significant intellectual disability and motor impairment, self-initiative could look like learning how to crawl and then walk for the very first time with the help of leg braces and a gait trainer. Self-determination isn’t going to look the same for everyone.

This essay is not only a push for the Black community to being more inclusive of people with disabilities in the practice and idea of Kujichagulia, but also to make it (self-determination), the strive towards freedom more contextual and less hegemonic. Such a move would allow us to also make a break away from essentialism that we sometimes see from defenders of Black culture. What if all Black college football players decided to boycott the NCAA until they, and all other student-athletes were paid? Or imagine a world where Black writers didn’t have to be the only ones left to navel-gaze of the history of white supremacy? Hear me out, but maybe what if Black scholars started doing work independent of White theorists and started appreciating the intellectual history and labor of Black people? What if Black self-initiative looks like not needing the approval of Whites, whether they be conservative or liberal or Marxist? We cannot have any form of racial reconciliation or racial justice without first developing a self-respect for our own work in a world where there exists a preferred hierarchy of values.

 

Photo Description:  Photo is a drawing of the 7 Kwanzaa candles, from left to right, 3 green candles, 1 yellow candle, then 3 burgundy candles.  Photo was taken by Katallna-Marie Kruszewskl. found on flickr.  

on ableism and progressive politics #txgov #txlege

abbot ableism

As long as I have lived in the state of Texas, the one thing that stood out had to be the toxic nature of personal attacks when it comes to state politics. Attack ads, the atmosphere of negativity, and hateful rhetoric when these are lifted up as the norm, only benefit the powers-that-be; in this case, the Republican party. It was really disheartening for me to see candidacies dismissed in public because of candidate’s race (governor’s race of 2002 comes to mind, with the “affirmative action campaign”). Racial diversity was delineated as something that was divisive, even if the candidate at the time was reflective of what Texas will look like in the very near future.

General questions of enfranchisement aside, after boring governor races the past decade or so, this year’s race (which is at the moment getting close, with Wendy Davis within single digits) is becoming far more vicious than I can remember during my time here. It all started last year with the sexist monicker the GOP gave Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie.” The label of “Barbie” of course is a commentary on Davis’ looks. Texas politics is a good ole boys club, where men would prefer to play with G.I. Joes rather than, ew, girly Barbie dolls. If you want to have a debate on abortion, fine, but how about criticize people for their ideas rather than devalue them for their gender.

Unfortunately, far too often, the cycle of personal attacks is also perpetuated by by Texas liberals and progressives too. The latest ad by the Wendy Davis campaign simply atrocious. I won’t share the video here, because, google is your friend, but the ad starts out, “A tree fell on Greg Abbott.” At that point, you know this campaign video will not be about ideas; it was going to be an ableist personal attack. With all do respect, ableism is NEVER OKAY, first of all. Secondly, ableism is never the answer to sexism. This is why intersectionality is important. Just as the “Abortion Barbie” is derogatory and plays into the mythology that sustains the exclusion of women from Texas politics, so too do the harmful image & oppressive story told by the Davis maintain the system that denies basic access to churches and private businesses to persons with disabilities. In the end, when it comes to Texas’ toxic state politics, all Texans lose.

For more:

Davis Ad with Empty Wheelchair Sparks Firestorm– Texas Tribune

If Wendy Davis Thinks She Can Win an Election by Pointing Out Her Opponent’s Disability, She’s Wrong– Mother Jones

‘I’m a successful biped’! Tweeters predict Wendy Davis’ next campaign ad– Twitchy

Of Demons & Spiritual Warfare: Mental Demons & Beyond Ableism

Content Note: Discussion of depression, mental health issues, ableism

“28 When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who weredemon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. 29 And they cried out, saying, “[a]What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before [b]the time?” 30 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. 31 The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going tocast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.”

This passage and a few others in the 4 Gospels gives one of the famous accounts of Christ ‘casting out demons’. But as we navigate through this series for the month, we’ll come across different kinds of instances of demonic activity in scriptures. Of course, one of the themes is WHAT IS a demon? Is it the embodiment of evil or an actual being?… or maybe a little of both? And in what way does humanity’s crafted pop-culture units- movies, films, etc.,communicate even “secular” understanding of ‘demons’ ?

First thing’s first! It’s very clear that many folk ( some even Xtian! but many agnostics and atheists too) claiming that the demons spoken of in scripture are really just mental/psychological demons and they didn’t have another name for it at the time.. you know, since ‘modern science’ has all but disproven something like this, or at least made it very tough to believe..

Well, the problem with this is that it automatically concludes that those born with any number of mental/development disorders (including any number of intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism, etc.) are just perpetually demon-possessed and therefore unclean or inferior and to the extent that they could ‘have these demons cast out’ , they’d be healed and more righteous. I.e. disgustingly ableist. Now, I’d like to believe that most folks who make their case to all demons being only psychological don’t quite mean it this way, but this is essentially one notion we’re left with.. We must be mindful of that when we’re discussing the idea of ‘mental demons’.

The idea of a demonic stronghold in one’s life or in society as a whole, is often illustrated in scripture as something that the person may not have been born with as a biological/medical condition, but more so because of the presiding evil order of ‘the things of this world’. Perhaps because of empire? Let’s take a look at one- depression!

Depression is one of the leading psychological illnesses of our time in America. The recent death of Robin Williams helped to bring to light something that so many folks struggle with daily. Some say that that depression is akin to an illness that is diagnosable that we had no part in contracting, still I’ve heard other say it’s a matter of feeling a deficit in life purpose. Regardless, many will always state that if the person dies as a result of suicide due to struggling with depression, then “they had demons that they couldn’t overcome…”- so even in our Western materialist secular society we still hear the invoking of the demonic in everyday parlance when it comes to a disease as mentally burdensome as depression and suicidal thoughts. At its core, depression feels like a heavy burden on the mind of the sufferer that often coincides with some other event external to the person. Bullying, unemployment, and yes- even racism!

The mental burden placed on the mind of the one who if forced to immerse into some presiding hegemony often results in suicide. We see this in the sky-high suicide rates of Indian farmers who are struggling and embarassed by their inability to provide for their families because of corporate agro giants like Monsanto rendering them poor. Also, there’s even this article: The Link Between Racism And Depression , detailing the link between racism and depression. And speaking of colliding worlds causing depression, here’s this from the study : ‘”What’s more Asian-American women have long had the highest suicide rate of other women that age. Asian-American women age 65 and older also have the highest suicide rates for elderly women. For immigrants in particular, cultural isolation, language barriers and discrimination add to the problem”

One common theme we see between many cases of depression is the idea of , as stated earlier – a painful sense of purposeless, almost as if you’ve been forgotten or forsaken.  And I couldn’t help but think of the consistent theme of “the old forgotten mansion” or “shack”, etc. that is also haunted. It’s almost as if being forsaken/forgotten is a prerequisite for the demonic, even in popular fiction! And who feels more forgotten than those who are oppressed by empire?

Let’s meditate on the link between being forsake and forgotten. The idea that Christ came to set the captives free. ( think, the phrase – “God-Forsaken!”). Christ’s ministry and power over the demonic proves that God has not forsaken His creation.

Until next time – we will explore notions of the demonic further and from a different angle, then!

For relevant posts on Ableism and Jesus’ confrontation with evil, check out these recommended posts:

Jesus heals a possessed man, or a man with epilepsy? by Sonja at Women In Theology

The Failure To Bother To Love: On Ignorance and Ableism by Katie at Women In Theology

Christianity, Disability, and Nonviolence #TheNewPacifism by Rod here at Political Jesus