Tuesday, September 11, 2007

-isms and -centrisms

I've been thinking about how there's no word for "disablism" comparable to sexism, racism and homophobia. But, there is a concept-word ableism (comparable to androcentrism, ethnocentrism/Eurocentrism/Anglocentrism, and heterocentrism). And yet, the texts that I have been collecting for my thesis that theoretically challenge "disablism" don't challenge ablism, in fact they tend to reproduce it. I think that's likely to be one of the observations that I explore - the fact that challenging the "-ism" often takes the form of reinforcing the "-centrism".
So, for example, there's this poster I've been analysing (you might have seen it around, especially at train stations, it's pretty common). It has two men-of-colour standing next to each other in a train, with their faces visible, and two separate white women sitting with their faces turned away or heavily cropped. The text says "We're working for our future. Just like you." I'm arguing that this text creates an (objectified) "us," who is coloured, and a (subjectified) "you" (the viewer) who is white; the poster tries to combat racism - stigmatisation of coloured people - by saying they are the same as white people. This reinforces the centrality and even the "normality" of whiteness. It also serves to erase any distinctiveness of people of colour (as either a group, or as many different groups. In fact, I'd argue that the grouping of the two men together (with quite visible "racial" differences) contrasts with the separateness of the two white women - suggesting a sense of "them" (coloured people) being a homogenous group, while white people are allowed to be individuals). The text reinforces Anglo-centrism, while trying to challenge racism.

Another poster (it's less common and it took me ages to find one I could photograph) has the icon for a disabled person, but holding a tennis racquet. The main text says "See the person, not the disability" while much smaller text says "Disability means possibility" Again, while this text is obviously trying to combat "disablism" - stigmatisation of disabled people - it does so by reproducing ableism. It does this in several ways. It objectifies disabled people (who are the person seen, not the person seeing), while subjectifying non-disabled people (because those with disabilities don't just see disability, they experience/live it!). It also tells the viewer to ignore any distinctiveness associated with disability, erasing disability culture(s), disabled experiences and disabled perspectives on the world. And, the word "possibility" to me is like Yooralla's "People helping people achieve" - what is "possible" seems to be things commonly associated with ability - like playing tennis. It reminds me of something I read that suggested the internet was created by people on the aspergers-autism spectrum, to meet their needs (intellectual and communicative). What this idea opened up for me was the idea that people with disabilities aren't just impaired able-bodies, who are able to do things that able-bodied people do, but not so well (unless they are super-crips, as Eli Clare calls them) - disability is a mode of inhabiting the world that has various limitations and various possibilities - possibilities that aren't immediately obvious to people whose main experience of disability is ableism. I believe that the experiences of disabled people are a necessary part of an elaborated understanding what disability can mean.


Karl said...

I agree with your analysis of the posters but believe it would be difficult to find an alternative in a short, snappy slogan. Part of the problem, too, is that as soon as you categorize someone, you're narrowing your view of that person. Somehow, the point needs to be made that all of us are more than our .. um.. most salient features? But I also take your point that the culture that springs from being a minority needs to be allowed to flourish rather than be squashed.

Overall, though, I guess I just don't like the implication that we have to judge the people we see, either as different and inferior or as one of us and alright.

Re. Disability/differences encouraging unique and valuable ways to look at things - I've always been jealous of signing and love the idea of being in a crowd venue and being able to "listen in" to a conversation on the other side of the room. I also imagine (but don't know) that the subtle shadings you'd get from the way you sign something would have a wider dynamic range than in spoken language.

Karl said...

Reading through what I just wrote, I hope I'm not putting words into your mouth.


grey said...

hey! thanks for your comments. really thoughtful. do you think *i'm* saying that we have to judge people as either different (and inferior) or one or us (and OK) or that the other texts do? I don't think that. Basically, I want to look at texts that categorise people as "different and good", cos I think this is problematic too and is the most common way people respond publicly to marginalised identities. I think part of the challenge is to see how we can talk about others without ignoring their differences, or reducing them to their differences ... hmmm, definitely interested in your thoughts - hence the blogging all this :>

grey said...

and also i was also thinking about your point about brevity - it's so true - it is really really hard to get a short, snappy slogan that isn't hopelessly reductive. i'm thinking about my methodology at the moment - as well as looking at the short snappy texts, i also want to look at the associated websites (usually indicated alongside the brief snappy message). i want to use these to explore if they do actually offer a more complex vision than is presented in the brief text - so far, usually what I see in the brief version is confirmed when i look at their vision as articulated at length. some of my other texts are so much more generative and offer a richer and more inclusive vision. i guess, i'm trying to explore how things can be done better ... i guess i'm arguing that brevity is usually neither the reason for reductive representations, nor is it really sufficient explanation. it is however, an added challenge.