29 April 2017

Ableist bullshit targets nonspeaking autistics/autistics of color. Also, the sky is blue.

In Portland, Oregon, a nonspeaking autistic high school student has just been nominated to attend a prestigious national program at the United Nations, after going through a competitive process in his state. Now, the national program staff have decided that he can't go because he is autistic and have refused to accept him.

His name is Niko Boskovic, and he uses a letterboard to communicate, by pointing at each letter to spell his words. The program is the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs U.N. Educational Pilgrimage for Youth, which brings youth from across the United States to the U.N. each year. (And they should be ashamed of themselves, and fix this, immediately.)

They are refusing to allow Niko to participate because he needs support to communicate. They are calling his mom, who has volunteered to pay out of pocket to travel to provide him communication support, a "chaperone" who is not allowed on the trip. That means that (a) they refuse to recognize her role as a human accommodation (like a reader, a notetaker, a transcriptionist, a personal attendant, or an interpreter serves as a human accommodation); and (b) they believe Niko is incompetent and less than his peers since a "chaperone" would only be there as someone to supervise him. Chaperones at middle school dances supervise the students in futile efforts to prevent "dirty dancing." Chaperones on school buses supervise the students in totally ineffectual efforts to prevent bullying, food throwing, and jumping off the bus (okay, maybe a bit more effectively at that last one). Chaperones of small children supervise the students to make sure they aren't accidentally wandering away from their field trips only to end up lost, hit by cars, or kidnapped. et cetera. That language makes it clear that they believe Niko is less competent and not on equal ground with his peers such that he is trying to bring a "chaperone" to participate.

Niko would be planning to bring his mother as a support person, meaning, to provide him with the tools he needs to communicate, participate, and take full advantage of the opportunity. This is horrifying and wrong, and not entirely dissimilar to when organizations like colleges and courts (as they do all the fucking time, for the record) deny d/Deaf and hard of hearing people the right to sign language interpretation (especially tactile for deafblind people) or CART captioning. (Yes, Niko not being able to participate in some educational program sponsored by a fraternal society is not in any universe the same thing as someone being denied interpretation at a hearing that could result in them being locked up indefinitely in jails/prisons that may literally kill them.) But it is, at its core, denying his right to communicate and to reasonable accommodation, and in so doing, demeaning his form of communication and presuming his inherent incompetence.

You know what this reminds me of? My study abroad experience when I was in college and older than Niko currently is.

Firstly, the staff member in the college's study abroad office insisted, in the most patronizing tone ever, that I should disclose to my professors immediately once abroad, not because of a specific cultural difference related to disability, but because I "just ... seem different" and that "it's obvious that you're different in any classroom." (Saying the word "different" in a tone of voice that sounded a lot like, "not normal and therefore maybe scary, unpredictable, or otherwise uncomfortable for other people to be around.")

Then, the external program's staff demanded to schedule a meeting with me on very short notice (right before Thanksgiving break), so they could question whether or not I would be "safe." They were worried I would not be "safe" because of details about my disabilities that I did not consent to be disclosed to them and that were not included in my file with the disability services office (meaning they only got those details by creepily looking me up online, again, without my consent).

Note also that at the time I was planning to study abroad, I had a cumulative GPA below the required 3.0 to receive approval from the university to do study abroad. I was also a declared major in a department that required its undergrad majors to study abroad in order to graduate. So I had one part of the university telling me I was not allowed to study abroad based solely on my grades (which were undoubtedly impacted by all sorts of ableism and insufficiently or not-at-all accommodated disability), and another part of the university telling me I had to study abroad or else I couldn't graduate.

And when I finally went and got separate special approval to go do it, I got hit with a double whammy super extra special dose of ableism, in the form of questioning whether or not it would be feasible or safe for me to participate in a program, and reminding me that unless I can pass for neurotypical to other people's standards (which apparently, despite all the hate mail I get deriding me for being "high functioning/mild/not really disabled" and thus unable to talk about disability, I don't), I "just seem different" (and meaning it with all the possible negative attitudes attached to the term).

Niko Boskovic deserves better. He went through the process to compete, and even knowing he is autistic and uses a letterboard, the Oregon chapter supported him and endorsed his nomination. The only reason the national program has denied his nomination and rejected him as a delegate is because of his disability. And that's ableist as fuck.

***

I also want to note that while I haven't been blogging a whole lot in the past few years, the other thing that's been nagging in my craw lately has been the recent news coverage of several autistic students in Florida -- one Filipinx, one Black, and one white -- subjected to appalling punishment and even arrest and police force as a means of control and compliance training, in response to their existing while autistic. Their names, respectively, are Seraph Isaac Jones (check that link for a fundraiser to help Seraph and family cover a neuropsych evaluation that could help him in fighting the awful fucking school), Ashton Gelfand, and John Benjamin Haygood.

That's the same state, by the way, where Arnaldo Eliud Rios-Soto, a Latinx autistic adult, was involuntarily committed and then confined indefinitely in a long-term residential institution operated by a for-profit corporation with a decades-long history of abuse and neglect of disabled residents in multiple states ... that being after nearly being killed and witnessing police (thankfully nonfatally) shoot Charles Kinsey, a Black man and a behavioral therapist working at Arnaldo's former group home.

The same state where Reginald Cornelius Latson (better known as Neli), a Black autistic adult, has also been confined, indefinitely, in the very same institution as Arnaldo ... after suffering solitary confinement and other abuse for years in Virginia prisons stemming from his arrest after police were called because he existed in public while Black and autistic waiting for a library to open. (That's after the governor's "conditional pardon" by the way.)

What strikes me about all of this ableist violence in/near schools and similar environments, is how ordinary it is. 

In the past several years, I've met and talked to hundreds, if not potentially thousands, of autistic and other disabled people. Almost every single one of us has survived at least one (and usually) multiple traumas, often beginning with family of origin or the school system, or both. Just from my friends and people I interact with regularly, I bear witness constantly to the devastating impact of ableist schools, ableist doctors, ableist police, ableist social workers, ableist bureaucrats, ableist families, ableist neighbors, ableist bosses ... on the literal physical and mental health of disabled people, especially those whose experiences lie at the intersections of disability, race, gender, class, and sexuality. 

Intersected disabled people are dying. Intersected disabled people need material help now. Intersected disabled people are surviving the violence of exclusion, rejection, and isolation every day.

I'm glad these stories are receiving attention in news media, but to those of us without the same privilege and power, it's not news. We've always already been living this violence, and it needs to stop.

06 January 2017

Racism, Ableism, and Much-Needed Reminders on Chicago Torture Case

Content/tw: mentions and brief descriptions of sexual violence, torture, racism and specifically anti-Black racism, ableism


photo: a set of six street signs that say, Racism, Sexism, Heterosexism, Classism, Colonialism, Ableism. in the middle is a green banner that says Intersectionality, which is a term coined by a Black woman scholar, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.

(1) The vast majority of everything I've said here, other people have been saying also (even if in different words/language), including and *especially* Black Disabled people. Like Cyrée Jarelle Johnson and Mrs. Kerima Çevik at Intersected. Listen to them. Follow them. Amplify their voices.

(2) What happened to this young white disabled person in Chicago -- his name is Austin Hilbourn, according to some sources -- was wrong. (For those who somehow missed the news, four people tied up a disabled person and beat him, cut off parts of his scalp, and taunted him, while livestreaming it to Facebook.)

(3) This attack was deeply ableist.

(4) The four people who targeted the disabled victim knew him from their school. That means it is highly likely that they knew Austin is disabled, even if they didn't know anything specific about what kind of disabilities he has. As a former disabled high school kid, trust me, everyone can peg the disabled kids. It also means they very likely targeted him because they knew he is disabled and therefore vulnerable and easy to attack.

(5) This type of ableist violence is NOTHING new. The reality for disabled people is that our entire lives are often marked with violence and abuse -- violence that is extremely more likely, more deadly, more brutal, and more erased when the victims are disabled AND marginalized, targeted, or oppressed in other ways. The statistics are horrifying. Anywhere between 83% and upwards of mid-90's-something percent of developmentally disabled "women" (people designated that way by researchers) are raped at least once in their lifetimes, and somewhere upwards of half of that number at least 10 times by the age of 18. Somewhere between half to 70% of all people killed by police are disabled, making Black Disabled or Indigenous Disabled people the most likely to be targeted in police killings. The numbers go on and on and on. They are appalling not just because of what they are but also because they attach to real people's lives and repeated, compounded trauma. Violence against disabled people is SO FUCKING ORDINARY and so often dismissed in the icky approach of "omg who would ever hurt a disabled person?! so horrible!" as though it never happens when in reality it happens all the time.

(6) The only new things in this instance, that are being sensationalized wildly by the media, are that the attackers, who are Black, yelled at the victim, "Fuck Trump supporters" and "Fuck white people." Prosecutors have charged the attackers with a hate crime. Because of these facts, (white) media has decided that this is a case that must be about anti-white racism.

(7) Anti-white racism does not exist. Racism is not just individual bias or prejudice; it's a system of power relations in white supremacy where racial bias and prejudice are backed by claims about science, political institutions, and social/cultural/economic structures.

(8) Obviously the attackers are *prejudiced* against white people. No one aware of the known facts here could possibly think otherwise. But again, (a) prejudice is not the same as racism, which requires an entire system/history/structure of devaluing people (not) in a racial group; and (b) it should be pretty fucking obvious why four young Black people might be prejudiced against white people given how violent and pervasive in all parts of society white supremacy continues to be.

(9) We know Austin is white. We have no idea whether or not he is a Trump supporter, or could even vote and if he could, whether or not he voted for Trump. Anyway, it doesn't matter whether he voted for Trump or not. This kind of violence is not okay no matter who it targets. It is wrong. It is fucked up. And as someone who is extremely anti-Trump myself (which should be obvious to anyone who follows this page), it's additionally fucked up that the attackers did this in the name of resisting Trump.

(10) BTW, even the police have said they believe the victim was targeted for being disabled, not for being white. Though, to be clear, even if he was targeted for being white, (a) he was also targeted equally for being disabled, and (b) it still doesn't mean the attackers are reverse racist; it means they're prejudiced against white people, and ableist assholes to boot.

(11) Yes folks should be outraged that this happens. Feel outraged that the attackers did this. Feel outraged that the prosecutor described them as kids who made mistakes but shouldn't have their lives ruined over them. But where was your similar level of outrage every single damn time Black Disabled people are tortured, abused, raped, and murdered? Whether by caregivers, teachers, the police, or strangers? And where the violence is *clearly* tied to disability, to race, and often the entanglement of the two? And where similar words are spoken -- that they're good kids / good parents / good teachers / good officers, who made mistakes / snapped / lost it -- those words result in zero accountability? Where is your outrage for Korryn Gaines? Tanisha Anderson? Kajieme Powell? Melissa Stoddard? Terrance Coleman? Kayleb Moon-Robinson? Neli Latson? The young Black Disabled person who was brutally and viciously raped by several white football players, all of whom have gotten off scott-free for their attack? And many, many others?

(12) The four attackers in this case will most definitely end up in prison, with severe charges, and spend significant amount of time locked up, with hate crimes charges. The vast majority of white people who torture, abuse, rape, or murder Black Disabled people will not.

(13) White folks trying to call this the "BLMKidnapping" (Black Lives Matter kidnapping, for those unfamiliar with the acronym) are completely missing that (a) the attackers never once invoked Black Lives Matter as a movement; (b) even if they claim to be supporters of it, didn't do something Black Lives Matter actually advocates for; and (c) when white people commit obviously racist crimes, like the attack on a historically Black church in Charleston, it's not blamed on every white person nor are all white people expected to take responsibility and apologize or be publicly excoriated in the media.

(14) The rush to associate this attack with the Black Lives Matter movement, along with vicious and dehumanizing comments about the attackers -- like calling them monsters, calling for horrible things to be done to them, etc. -- calls to mind the lynch mobs that in a frenzy, would round up young Black people to publicly and brutally murder them in retaliation for crimes they supposedly (and maybe in some cases, actually) committed, while celebrating their violence. These rhetorical responses are racist as fuck.

(15) The attackers did something horrific and wrong. Perhaps unforgivable. The victim will have to live for the rest of his life with the trauma of not only the abuse itself but of having his torture livestreamed for the world to witness at the hands of his own classmates, people he probably saw on some consistent basis even if he did not really know them well or personally. He might never fully recover from what happened in some senses of the word. Undoubtedly, he won't receive disability culturally competent trauma-informed care. The attackers have done this. But in no way can or should caring and committed people attempt to turn this around and add to the racist shitshow by basically calling for the public spectacle of humiliation and violence against the Black attackers either.

(16) I don't believe in relying on police or prisons to promote "justice," so I'm not going to be calling for these four people to go to prison, because I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea that prison/punishment must be the only possible solution. HOWEVER, these clear and undeniable disparities in how these cases are talked about by media and treated by police, prosecutors, and courts, provide more evidence of how UNJUST the in-justice system is in handling hate crimes against multiply-oppressed people in particular.

(17) Remember, ableism and racism and part and parcel with one another. White supremacy depends on ableism to further its eugenic mission -- of deciding which people are valuable, worthy, and desirable, which people are functional, healthy, normal, and fit. The victim in this case is not just any white person -- this person is someone whom white supremacy would also reject as not the best standard of whiteness, e.g., ability. Stop talking about this case if you cannot understand one basic fact -- disability justice requires racial justice. Disability justice requires the end of white supremacy. Black and Disabled communities are not separate entities that must now be pitted against each other; they overlap in deep and intricate ways, and Black Disabled artists, scholars, activists, organizers, and community and cultural workers have already been working for decades or longer at the intersections. Folks like Leroy F. Moore, Jr., and Patricia Berne, and Talila (TL) Lewis, and Jazzie Collins, La Mesha Irizarry, and Brad Lomax, and as far back as Harriet Tubman, alongside many, many, many others. They understand/understood these truths because they live them in ways that I, as a disabled east asian person of color, still don't, because of how our experiences against racism differ profoundly.

(18) The latest events in Chicago have got me shaken up and enraged and devastated, because not only has a fellow disabled person been subject to appalling ableist violence, but that very same violence has already become an excuse for virulent and violent anti-Black racism that will inevitably target my Black Deaf, Mad, and Disabled comrades the most -- and unless those with relatively more privilege and power keep speaking and keep amplifying their work and their voices, they will be the only ones left defending their humanity and right to exist.