Ableism and the Florida Shooting

Thought piece:

Florida Couple SlainAP Photo/The Pensacola News Journal, Karena Cawthon

When I first read about the murder of Mr and Mrs Billings infront of some of their differently-abled children, my first thought was to grieve for the children left behind. Then as footage of the well-orchestrated midday theft hit the airways, I began to question what would motivate such a well-honed team to attack the family home in the middle of the day. The police press conference yesterday focused in on the family grief and provided the key information about the suspected murderers: they were a multicultural group of day laborers, one of whom had done work in the home and knew the layout and the routine of the family. While much of the internet conversation has focused on either class or family narratives, I keep wondering why there has not been more discussion of the link between ableism and the daylight assault. The evidence of the case clearly shows an organized attack with an overwhelming use of man power and entrance in the front and back of the home that would prevent escape. So I can’t help but think they knew those children would be home. They knew that either parents or caregivers would have to be home if the children were also home. And they blocked the main entrances and exits to the home, meaning that both the children and the adults would be trapped inside. Most crime, particular by organized theives, is committed when they know no one is home and cannot identify them. When the target is a safe, as it was in this case, people usually show up, crack it and get out before they are seen. So I can’t help but think that these thieves assumed that differently-abled children would pose no threat to them.  And since none of the children were harmed in the attack, it also seems to argue that the theives had not planned to hurt them which would of course require them to assume they were not capable of comprehending either the criminal activity in their home nor the murder of their parents. Put another way, the dehumanization of differently-abled children in the home (ableism) allowed them to plot at robbery that was gauranteed to lead to murder and traumatization of child witnesses. Had those children been thought of as “equal”, for lack of a better word, the sheer number of children living in the home would have made attacking the home seem too risky. And so to me, it seems that ableism is a key component of this crime. This ableism is significant in this specific case b/c it cost all of these children their family and their home, but also in a larger narrative of criminality. Remember all of the crimes against differently-abled young women of color last year? All of them were targeted partially because of their abilities and the outrage about their extensive abuse seemed to be mediate by their color and their abilities as they garnered far less attention in the media than able-bodied white female victims of crime. And so I find myself wondering what would happen if we started to interogate the narrative of able-bodiedness at the intersection of crime. Would we find that there is an ongoing targeting of differently-abled people that goes unmarked and under reported or that these cases stand out b/c of their sensational aspects? (Obviously, I think the former is likely true and that their is evidence of it amongst advocates, especially in health care circles.) And if/when we document those patterns how could we use that to better address the abuses of marginalization and the potential to shift narratives about differently-abled people in our society to combat marginalization?

Free Book: Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride

Rather than post my multi-culti Pride pic again this weekend, I am offering readers a chance to get a free copy of Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride on (my favs) Southend Press. The book address a number of topics including sexuality, dis/ability, rural and urban divides, the class assumptions embedded in whiteness and queerness, gender, and so much more. I will be posting a longer review of the book as part of the series on dis/ability and queerness started here two weeks ago (I know I’m late in posting) but until then, you can read the description of the text at the link above. If you are in Arizona, you can also meet the author at the Society for Disability Studies Conference going on right now.


If you want a chance at the book, all you have to do is tell me why you want the book AND how you will use it in your own life and/or community to raise awareness about diversity and (gay) pride.

(Our next Pride give away will be a DVD bundle for the boys: Were the World Mine, Latter Days, Shelter, & Boy Culture)

Rob and Arnie [and Dawn] Respond to Complaints About their Transbashing Comments

Yesterday, Rob, Arnie, and Dawn used their entire morning show to respond to the bevy of complaints about anti-trans comments made on the show. Of the three, Dawn was never part of the initial complaint because she had objected to the language used to describe trans people in the original show and she did so again during this broadcast.

This is what they said specifically about the complaints:

Arnie claims his throwing a shoe at his child for being trans was “a joke” and added “maybe a tasteless joke” and further said

“I didn’t do anything wrong  here. . . .I am not going to hit my kid with a goddamn shoe. It’s ridiculous. . . I’m sorry that I want to make people laugh in the morning . . .If you want me to apologize for that, I’m sorry to people who have terrible lives. But I do not apologize to people for what I said b/c I’m not advocating violence.”

He also stated that he would quit his job before apologizing for his comments and went on to say later,

“What we say does not commit hate crimes. . . .It is just so goddamn stupid that we have to put up with this. There’s a difference.”

Rob also made no apology:

“you don’t hurt kids. that’s understood. But when you are having a serious conversation, sometimes you need to, what we call, release the pressure valve. That’s what Arnie’s role on the show is [mmhmm from Arnie in background] to make a point and release some of the pressure and let people laugh. I’m sorry that you might find it funny or I’m sorry, that you might not find it funny, that some people laugh, when Arnie [mmhmm from Arnie in background] who does not have a child [“No” from Arnie] talks about throwing a shoe at his non-existent son. You know what? Some people do laugh. And they know we are not serious.”

Rather than offer an apology for their comments, they focused on their record of pro-child activism and nationalism and outlined their own abuse histories which did not include sexuality or gender oppression. Each segment was punctuated by the reading of threats they had received from transgendered people and their allies and letters of support from their listeners. Not until the end of the second segment did they read rational letters in opposition and only a few of these were read as opposed to irrational or threatening letters.  When a long time listener called to confront them about playing victims to activists trying to hold them accountable for offensive remarks, they stopped sounding happy to hear from him and responded by telling him “the spin” was that they had advocated violence against children and then cut him off/ terminated the call. They refused to address the issue of claiming victim status to avoid apologizing or address their actions.

On the positive side, both Rob and Arnie confirmed that they would never abuse a child and that Arnie, the one who made the shoe throwing comment, had no children.

Rob: “anyone who hurts a child emotionally or physically is an idiot and we do not support or endorse that. Everybody who listens to this show knows that.”

They did not seem to connect this comment with their words and actions in the previous broadcast even when a transgendered caller tried to illustrate their faulty “logic” by pointing out that she had been repeatedly abused while called similar names and still had not changed her gender identity. The caller pointed out that if Arnie and Rob’s comments had been correct such violence and humiliation should have changed her to a cis gendered man. They refused to address either the way they had linked transbashing to corrective measures against “transgenders” (this is the word they used throughout the show omitting the word “person” or “persons/people”) or the fact that this mentality is directly related to why some families abuse their transgender children.

Rob also spent considerable time discussing how popular and important the Rob, Arnie, and Dawn in the Morning show was to people in Sacramento. Not only did he mention their numbers but also the fact they had done 7 hour shows for free after 9/11. A good portion of the introduction was spent on their patriotism through the lens of 9/11 which rang largely hollow after Arnie demeaned a trans veteran who had served on 9/11 as well as given the country 22 years of service in the military before retiring.

Dawn: Thank you for your service.

Arnie: Thank you for your service. You know why?! B/c you fought for nothin’! With the opinions that you have right there, you fought for absolutely nothing! B/c look look, [off mic comment or sigh from Dawn] I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I have a rager about this . . .

Rob: [interrupting] We covered the shoe thing. Let’s get that out there.

While Dawn spent a considerable amount of time trying to get them to see how name-calling is abusive, they engaged in several well worn tactics to avoid accepting their responsibility (note all phrases in quotation marks in the list are exact quotes from Rob):

  1. They claimed they had a right to their “personal feelings” as if bigotry is a personal issue even when aired on national radio
  2. There show is meant to “reflect society not change it
  3. they cannot “stop for disclaimers” every time they use language people don’t like.
  4. that the quotes from the previous show were “out of context quotes” “or [quotes that] lack perspective
  5. freedom of speech (which Dawn also championed) and while I support fos the line crosses at saying you are “looking forward” to transbashing
  6. they are good people – variations of the phrase “people who know us” were repeated throughout the show as if saying offensive things or minimizing offensive acts through what you say is somehow excused by being “a good person”

They also tried to avoid the issue by bringing in other oppressions:

  1. child abuse – while they have never done a show on abuse against trans youth, they pointed out that they had championed children’s health and safety causes repeatedly in the past. They raise millions of dollars through annual fundraising for a local children’s hospital, they have dedicated shows to specific types of abuse like leaving children alone in hot cars, etc. B/c they did all of this important work for children in general, they feel they are therefore exempt from accusations about ignorance and abusiveness toward transgender youth. (Note: when Dawn brought up statistics about the abuse trans youth experience and the number of trans people who have been killed in this country, Rob, who claimed to have done research on transgender identity before the previous broadcast appeared to not know any of this information. How can he consider his youth advocacy relevant to the specific lives of trans youth if he is hearing basic facts about them for the first time on air?)
  2. differently-abled children – Rob pointed out they had also done shows for differently-abled children’s rights and to raise awareness and funds to help them. He then compared a debate about name calling of differently-abled children to that of the current transgender name calling they engaged in the previous show. “We’ve had this debate on the air before, not over transgender children, but over mentally handicapped/downsyndrome/mentally retarded children. In a community where there is no agreement on this, we’ve had parents of mentally handicapped children call us and say, ‘please use the word retarded, we’re not offended by it.’ And then a whole ‘nother group of people . . . in fact, there is a big story about people who are trying to ban that word. . . You should never, ever, ever taunt a mentally retarded child. And that’s an understood position of this show. And what we have talked to mentally retarded [children’s] parents, parents of mentally handicapped children, about is the fact that do you understand that it does occur behind your back, that people do say this, and that your child has these other challenges? Some of them say that they shouldn’t and they wanna change the world and many of them go ‘yes Rob, I understand that and thank you for having the responsibility to say that they shouldn’t attack my child.’ I don’t see this much different. We were trying, and again it is hard to stop the show and give a disclaimer when you are having a heated debate . . .” They believe this excuses them from calling trans youth “freaks” (repeatedly throughout the show they used the word “weirdos” and implied that was the only word they had used to describe trans youth during the show. In fact, they used the words “freaks” and “abnormal” and also referred repeatedly to trans youth as people with “mental disorders.”  At no time did during the show did they acknowledge these comments or this specific language effectively erasing it and excusing it through that erasure.)
  3. gay marriage – Rob supports gay marriage and Arnie does not. They have had shows about gay marriage. Rob also pointed out that he has a lesbian friend and “a gay hairdresser.”

What I love about these deflections is that most of them brings up further oppressive thinking on their part while in no way addressing or correcting their anti-trans behavior. So they have stood up for differently-abled children who they call “retarded” AND they think being trans is the same as being mentally challenged AND they report that during that show they said insulting differently-abled children is not ok but they cannot do the same thing for trans youth b/c it’s just so hard to “give a disclaimer.” They are also pro-gay marriage, except not all of them are, AND they punctuated that with the offensive and stereotypical “I have gay friends” AND one of them is “a hairdresser,” in fact that person is Rob’s haridresser which means Rob would not have met him otherwise and likely does not socialize with him, but some how that counts AND Rob believes supporting gay marriage which has traditionally not addressed transgender marriages and was recently criticized for it failure to so in the NY Times is some how related to how they treat trans people or that they are supportive of trans people.

They also managed to do this with race when Arnie said:

“why do people rob liquor stores. do they do it because they hate the Pakistani guy who works there or do it b/c there’s a screw loose . . . I’m tired of this!” and later he added “There are people outside of the gay community who are killed, there are people who are outside of the transgender community who are killed.”

Now while I agree that many people who are violent are inclined toward violence to begin with, as I pointed out in my previous post on this issue, we have a plethora of current examples of people who were already inclined toward violence acting out and shooting people because of fears and hatreds they cited learning from talk radio. These include rampages against the immigrant community, liberal politicians, and pro-gay rights churches in the last 6 months. Secondly, in an attempt to avoid addressing the very real issue of transbashing and transphobic murder, Arnie makes a blatantly racist comment by putting forward the stereotype that Muslims, in this case Pakistanis, own all the liquor stores. AND he manages to minimize the racist violence that small store owners of color experience because of racism and anti-Mulsim sentiment at the same time that he minimizes the violence against the transgender community again.

As in the previous broadcast, Dawn offered the counterpoint. Dawn brought up the murderers of transgendered people and made the link to name-calling. And oddly it sounded like she read part of my blog b/c she hits the points I made in order of my having made them, or perhaps her list is similar to mine because those of us who get it can all come up with the same list of transbashing issues that this show helped encourage whether they meant to or not. She continued to critique their lack of apology for name-calling and the import language has in creating or exacerbating space for violence against marginalized communities. At the same time, however, she denied that Rob and Arnie were implicated or that the shoe comment was out of line.

“They don’t have those type of sick minds.”

Ultimately, their minds are not at issue. What is at issue is that they made comments that either erased or made light of violence against trans youth. Though they claim that neither of them supports child abuse, and I don’t think they do, they refused to listen to letters, callers, or even research that shows that the type of abuse they referenced in their show, both the shoe comment and Arnie’s comment:

I look forward to when they go out into society and society beats them down.”

reflect and exacerbate, and at least in the case of the latter encourage, real violence in our culture. Saying you don’t support child abuse and then refusing to deal with how your words and actions minimize existing abuse and may encourage ongoing or new abuses is hardly an anti-abuse stance. While Rob and Arnie see themselves as the victims here, the 288 names of murdered transgendered people, many of them women and youth, proves differently.

“Arnie doesn’t like transgenders. Arnie does not want to accept them. [“no” Arnie in background]. . . And I [Rob] do not necessarily disagree with most of what Arnie believes based on my research.”

Since they are claiming that quotes from the initial broadcast were taken out of context, I encourage you to listen to the entire show. I’ll admit some of it is hard to listen to but I want you to be clear about the entire content of the show and to be able to place the quoted material above within the larger frame of their decidedly unapologetic response.

  • pt. 1 (many of the quotes in this piece come from this segment)
  • pt. 2
  • pt. 3
  • pt. 4 (this is labeled “supporters and haters of Rob, Arnie, and Dawn” @ their site but they only offer one letter of support for transgender rights before returning  to the people who agree with them)
  • pt. 5
  • pt. 6
  • pt. 7

You can continue sending your complaints to the radio show, but I’m not sure what good it will do.

John Geary
Vice President & General Manager
(916) 339-4209

Arnie States
On Air Personality
(916) 334-7777

Rob Williams
On Air Personality
(916) 334-7777

You may want to contact their advertisers instead. I could not find a list of their sponsors and the sponsor ads are not part of their archived shows, but you can find out who sponsors the show by listening to live broadcasts and writing it down. The one pitfall in doing this is that you will help spike their numbers and that is really all anyone at the station cares about.

Here are advertisers that have already pulled their funding. (Note McDonald’s also released a statement saying that their longstanding support of diversity in general and in their workplace prevents them from advertising with a show that does not.):

  • Chipotle
  • Snapple
  • Sonic
  • Bank of America
  • Verizon
  • Carl’s Jr (CKE Restaurants)
  • Wells Fargo
  • Nissan North America
  • AT&T
  • McDonald’s
  • Disability and Queerness: Meeting at the Intersections I (Devotee Movie Review)

    devoteeTomorrow is our first summer reading group meeting on the intersections of dis/ability and queerness. The text for tomorrow’s session is the film Devotee. The film is about a 43 year old man named Herve who was born without arms or legs who is looking for love. After an unsuccesful and somewhat humiliating moment with a sex worker, Herve thinks he has found the perfect man, played by Guillaume Quashie-Vauclin, in an online chat room for devotees, people who are attracted to various kinds of physical difference.  Unfortunately, Herve discovers that like so many devotees he has met before, Guillaume’s character is only interested in his own gratification. Despite the resulting painful breakdown of their friendship, and abrupt end of their sexual one, the film does not end on a desolate note. Instead, at movie’s end, Herve finds himself deep in conversation with a man with his own physical issue about the meaning of difference, the role of humor and pain, and the potential to find love in a world that finds fault in any number of differences. The film ends with the promise that Herve may finally have found what he was looking for.

    Despite the film’s official description that Herve is hoping to meet overly attractive men, I think he is no more interested in ideal bodies than any other gay man, which is to say he lives in the same culture and therefore has the same desires however idealized they maybe. I also think the official description of the film over emphasized Herve’s differently-abled status and ignored his age, weight, and demeanor as additional factors that make it harder for him to find a partner in a “perfect body,” youth obsessed culture. The poster itself depends on this same culture by putting Guillaume, not Herve, front and center, as well as in the background photo on the wall. Note, while Guillaume is naked and alluring, Herve is little more than 1/2 a head on Guillaume’s shoulder.

    The promo for the film creates this same erasure of the main character Herve. When he is pictured, the shots are tighter than they are in the film in order to erase his physical dis/ability:

    The marketing problem seems at odds with the point of the film which is to center Herve as fully realized and completely deserving of love and passion like anyone else.

    Thus, in the film itself, Herve is a fully realized character in his own right. He talks openly and honestly about his dis/ability and his life. When Guillaume’s character finally arrives at his home, Herve is quick to correct Guillaume’s selfishness in the bedroom and point out how that selfishness stems from ablism. He let’s Guillaume know what works for him and what he needs from a partner with a directness and honesty that I wish all of us could pull off.  And when his forthright discussion of why Guillaume must take him seriously as an equal participant in the bedroom leads Guilluame first to angry denial, then horrified sorrow at his own selfishness, and finally to break it off b/c he isn’t willing to accept Herve as a subject in his own right, Herve confronts him and then let’s him go.

    The film also contains an interesting discussion about visible dis/ability and non-visible dis/ability and what they mean for one’s access to equality in our society. Herve assumes that being able to “hide” one’s abilities is easier than having them written on the always visible body. His conversation partner argues that visible or not discrimination occurs from the moment  one is marked as different. And he further points out that once you are aware of the way people will react you live with the same fear of rejection and sense of loss as anyone else stigmatized by ablism.  It is an important conversation that does not resolve itself nor take sides.  And like those moments when Herve is talking about who he is, his family, or his desires from a partner, I wished that this scene had lasted longer.

    Unfortunately, Devotee often struggles with the gaze of the filmmaker to make its point about Herve’s agency. The film begins with a long slow shot running the length of Herve’s body. The camera lingers on the edges of his limbs and the position of his right arm in the morning. In fact a considerable amount of time is taken up watching Herve manipulate his body that would have been better spent on the poignant story. Thus the gaze serves to otherize Herve in many ways and to exoticize him for the curious and the devotee alike.

    Devotee also mobilizes the spectre of race in really trite ways. Guillaume is black and beautiful. While nothing is made of his race in the movie, his blackness stands out as the counterpoint to his own ablism. In fact, both of the men Herve sleeps with are men of color and both react negatively to him. The sex worker he hooks up with in the beginning of the film takes a double take at his body, and even goes in the bathroom to puke, but ultimately wants to be paid. Guillaume takes better care of Herve’s feelings, but ultimately only wants to satisfy his own desires and curiousities regardless of Herve’s needs. It is only when Herve meets the white neighbor of his Parisian friend, that he makes an emotional connection and a potentially gratifying sexual one. Tho the issue of race is unspoken then, the laying out of difference on the screen clearly argues that qoc are more ablist and implies, including a line from Herve about thinking Guillaume would be “different,” they should know better given the racism they experience. It’s a comparison I wish the queer community would move beyond so that we can address both homophobia and intersectionality in fruitful rather than divisive ways.

    The film is also extremely low budget with little to know character development and extended storyline. As I said, time wasted on a sort of ablist voyeurism could have been spent telling us a more in depth story about Herve and his relationships. Given how well the moments where this development does happen were handled, it could only have made this a better movie.

    I am looking forward to our discussion tomorrow about the film. If any of you all have watched it, please weigh in, I’d love to hear from you.

    Blog Against Disablism Day

    Everywhere around the world, differently-abled people are incarcerated in poorly funded and/or poorly trained programs, prisons, or group homes. The MDRI has created a short film documenting their research into the ongoing problem in Latin America, Central Europe, and elsewhere. The film, Forgotten People, can be seen by clicking the title or clicking here. While many think of the incarceration of the differently-abled as an antiquated solution absent from the so-called “First World,” one needs only look at the prison population to see how many differently-abled people, particularly those who sit at the intersections of class, race, and/or gender and dis/ability, end up in jail. While many overly developed nations have state of the art mental health facilities and groups homes for people with MRDDs, they also have abusive places and providers who are abusers and predators. Thus the issue of state sanctioned ablism is a global one.

    • For a list on dis/ability rights and Universal Declarations on the Rights of the Differently-abled click here
    • If you are aware of a facility in your area that needs investigating and litigation to protect people’s rights, consider alerting Disability Rights Advocates

    Many differently-abled people are advocating for themselves and for their communities. Please consider working to support these efforts and not just those who provide top down charity to differently-abled folks.  (When I am back to blogging, I will spend some time on these organizations, but I did not want to miss writing today.)

    Assembly Required

    I just got my copy of Raymond Luczak’s book, Assembly Required, for a proposed faculty book group next semester on the intersections of ability, sexuality, and popular culture.  I’ve already suggested Eli Clare and just to push it into the poetic and the blogosphere as pop culture, “Tears and Beauty” by CripChick but I am looking forward to reading Luczak as another potential recommendation for our reading. As the video above points out, he is the editor of two anthologies on the Deaf queer community and the first to publish an anthology on the subject. I’ve been tempted to suggest one of the anthologies but we’ve tried to commit to single authored texts for the first book group . . . Mostly, I’m just excited that a few colleagues and I finally got a grant to bring these pieces together at the larger university level reading and hopefully what that will mean for inclusivity when everyone puts their syllabi together in the future.

    Poetry is Political: Brave New Voices on HBO

    Everybody has been weighing in on HBO’s new series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, a show based on books written by a white woman about a feisty African woman detective in Botswana. While all of the attention has been on this quirky, multinational, show and the centering of women as authors, detectives, and main characters, very little has gone to the show that immediately follows it on HBO’s Sunday night line up.  And while I too am enthralled by Jill Scott’s triumphant return to the spotlight as the titular character of that show and the setting of my favorite fluff genre (detective novels) in mother Africa, I want to encourage those watching to stay a while and watch the latest offering from Russell Simmons that immediately follows it.

    As a poet, who got her start in venues like the Nuyorican and local woc poetry cafes, I was glued to Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam. For me, it was a chance to see some of the best creative and political minds throwing down their craft for a multi-racial audience even when I wasn’t living in an urban poetry center. White, black, Asian-American, Latin@, Arab-Amerians, etc. all gathered to speak their truths with the mostly amazing lyrical craft that had largely been hidden in smoky clubs and college campuses since the Beat generation left the national imaginary. Poetry never left us mind you, but we as a nation seemed to leave it once with Beat and then again after the 70s flourishing of cultural poets.

    Def Poetry Jam was a chance to remember the meaning of poetry in our political and socially conscious lives, with themes ranging from CSA, physical abuse, and rape, to various oppressions, to reclaiming his and herstory and celebrating one’s self, to any number of other things. And though at its height it attracted wannabees looking for cred as well as more celebrities than unknowns, it was always a place that reminded us theory comes from the forgotten corners of urban decay just as much as from the ivory towers. And when it was gone from our airwaves, I felt the world outside of poet circles and urban poetry centers (like CA and NY) slowly forget again about the brown sistahs trying to get to class through an array of government sanctioned pitfalls, and the black brothas trying to be more than all the things they had literally beaten into them to be, and all the poor white kids who knew that whiteness was a construct b/c they had limited access to it, and the Boricuas stylin’ about freedom and home, and the Asian-Americans telling you where you could stick your mama san, and the Arab-Americans breaking down the military industrial complex’s intersections with racism and sexism, and the black sistahs claiming their rights to their bodies and their sexualities in a world that denies them both.  All of those voices, once center stage in the cable owning populace’s mind . . . gone without replacement. And while these lyricists went on to poetry slams and Def Poetry tours, the national interest waned with the loss of a weekly slice on tv, once again making the realm of the cultural poet much more removed from the ears of those most needing to hear them.

    As I think about it, I have this thought, I shutter at: Thank G-d for youtube

    Youtube’s selective re-presentation of Def Poetry Jam not only brought those poets back into the popular imaginary but opened up new audiences. In my mind, it helped rescue the cultural, political, poet from the halls of academe as professors, classroom “doodlers”, or guest speakers.  All of which have their place but all of which are bound by some increasingly high ivory towers these days. It also reminded that poetry was accessible in the streets not just bookstores and cafes where everyone is already pretty invested in the scene.

    Rafael Casal A.D.D.

    (discussing the problem with medicalizing creativity)

    “Tell kids they are inferior and then have them buy back their efficency”

    Whole new generation of poets has come up since those days, and they still remain the wild, passionate voices, of their high school English classes, the songs of minds land locked by redistricting and ghettoization, the sweet, sad, harmonies of little girls staring out classroom windows looking for their reflection, and the scribbled down notes left on the 5 am bus rides to clean houses in the suburbs with mami, until now.

    Russell Simmons Brave New Voices brings the poetry slams that most of us poets have participated in at one time or another to the small screen. The show highlights 45 teams of youth in 45 cities. Many teams are from urban centers tho some are from college towns. They feature the voices of youth of color and white youth. Differently-abled and temporary able bodied people speak together about their experiences at all of the intersections. The poets speak about their dreams as young people from all genders as well, and in so doing they highlight the struggles to dismantle sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Thus their diversity highlights both the ways in which poetry is transgressive in giving voice to the marginalized and also transformative by providing a pathway through which they can imagine anti-oppressive, decolonized, worlds.

    Alysia – That Girl

    (poetry critiquing the way young men treat young girls they don’t recognize in public)

    “I am so tired of being your hamper”

    In the two episodes that I have seen already, a young white female poet discussed her own body image and how the media was erasing real bodies from her world. In it she avoids the oft-heard rallying against the cosmetic industry or super models and instead focuses on the actors and actresses that dare to be normal rather than a false version of perfect on the screen, and how they inspire her to keep being herself. As she talks about her poetry that celebrates these figures, she gives one of the most salient critiques of online social networking and its impact on real life social interactions in high school that I have ever heard. She says simply that everyone is so scared of being blasted on the internet in a feeding frenzy over a simple mistake or moment of clumsiness that they spend all day every day trying to be perfect, putting forward an absolutely perfect face, perfect life, perfect everything so they won’t be shamed. And she reminds that it is only when the mask of perfection comes down that people actually connect to one another in any real way . . .

    In another segment, a young black man talks candidly about his relationship with other poets and with his craft.  He comes across as a little nerdy and full of life, a happy and vibrant presence. But when he opens his mouth to speak his poetry, a different voice emerges, talking about how he struggles to interrogate the versions of manhood that lurk within him.  Like the girl mentioned above, he offers no easy answers like blaming his desires on videos or video games. Instead he weaves an analysis of masculinity in the U.S. that takes accountability for one’s own actions and intertwines them with messages sent about women’s roles and women as sexual objects from various arenas aimed at young men. In the end, he paints a violently conflicting image between who he wants to be and who he finds himself sometimes being in his head and how all of it is wrapped up in a racialized sexism that focuses on the black female body as always available, always lacking bodily integrity, always an object of scorn and violation.

    Like the poets of Def Poetry Jam, Brave New Voices gives us a glimpse into the fierce, politically and socially aware minds of poets. More than that, by focusing on young voices, it acts as a counter-narrative to the mainstream myth of political apathy amongst today’s youth. It shows us vibrant, critically aware, youth combating all of the oppressions of our worlds while struggling to find themselves and embrace the power of their voices. Their analysis is often more nuanced and heartfelt than any academic. And while I am quick to teach that radical theory and practice comes from all directions, all educational backgrounds, all cultures and experiences, I think the U.S. still remains a hierarchical society that denies youth, the working poor, poc, etc. the right to an intelligent voice.

    Speaking as a poet for a moment, I remember my first real public performance and all the people I invited to come see me. I remember looking out at the audience from off to the side and not seeing one academic face among the people who had come to show me support (academic = professors/advisers). The feeling of abandonment that swept over me nearly silenced my voice right then and there. And even the ovation I got that night, thundered like a distant stream through the haze of disappointment.  As a professor myself, I know now that there are a million reasons we don’t go to all of the student events we are invited to (no matter how small the campus is, how close we may live, or  how dead the town). But I can’t help but think that for some of those invited, what kept them away was the idea that young women of color had nothing really relevant to say anyway. And noting when and where they did show up, and for whom, nothing they taught me after that, nor what I have learned about how we academics do things, could ever shake that impression.

    Brave New Voices is on a very short run on HBO. It only has a 7 episodes. 2 have already aired. So if you haven’t been watching, I hope this encourages you to do so. I can’t begin to imagine how powerful the remaining 5 episodes will be.

    Here is Episode 1 to get you started

    If you live in a place with poetry readings, take some time to go out and support your local poets. They need to know their words matter and you get the chance to seem some of our best and brightest cultural critics, perhaps before they even break and everyone knows their names. in the Hot Seat Again: Differently-Abled Readers Protest

    htp What Sorts of People

    readings7In a recent discussion over at Historiann’s about the meaning of’s Kindle technology, several people pointed out that while we may not like the Kindle format it does have lasting and important benefits to differently-abled readers. In my comments there, I was thinking about my students with vision impediments or mobility issues who already prefer, or need to, read their text from a screen rather than handout or book.  They can enlarge the font or scroll through the text when turning the pages would require assistance. For them Kindle is an extension of technology they are already using, as well as a mainstreaming of that technology to all users regardless of abilities.

    What many of us did not think of, is the number of people for whom sighted reading is impossible or for whom read text works better that are aided in their reading by the Kindle. Kindle 1.0 had voice technology that would read the text. Forvoice-stick-reading-device-1 people who want to read on their own, it meant the liberation from only being able to read texts available in braille or spending hours on a single sentence to being able to read any digitized text in’s , and presumably other compatible formats’, holdings.

    With the revamp of the Kindle to 2.0, made the decision to discontinue the voice function.

    The Reading Rights Coalition, made up of differently-abled groups currently benefiting from Kindle 1.0, and their allies protested outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009, from noon to 2:00 p.m.  The group is asking everyone to please sign a petition to get to put the voice function back into the Kindle so that everyone has equal access to their books.  You can sign the petition here.



    • reading in cafe/unattributed
    • blind woman using reading stick technology/ unattributed

    The Last of the Philosophy, Eugenics, and Disability Posts is Up at What Sorts of People

    As promised, I am linking to the last of the 4 panel papers/videos of the discussion about Philosophy, Eugenics, and Disability at What Sorts of People.  The final paper by Rob Wilson, entitled “Building Inclusive Communities Through Practices of Collective Memory: The Case of Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta.” begins with a brief philosophical discussion of the purpose and/or potential need for collective memory and the state of the field, but very quickly focuses in on a discussion of the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta that targeted differently-abled women for enforced sterilization on the basis of physician or caregiver say so.  The latter also returns us to the case of McEachran’s involvement discussed in a previous paper. One of the really exciting pieces of this still forming research talk is information that Leilani Muir, the first person to successfully sue Alberta for wrongful sterilization, is writing a book about her experiences and the movement that built up around her case.

    Again, please go check it out and sharpen what you know about the links between ability, eugenicism, and women’s rights.

    What Sorts of People Series on Eugenicisim, Philo, and Disability

    The bloggers over at What Sorts of People have been posting both the video and transcripts from their 4 person panel at the Western Candian Philosophy Associations annual conference over the last month. As Implied by the title of this post, their panel addressed Eugenicism, Philosophy, and Disability. I’ve been reading the transcripts with keen interest not only in the ongoing links between eugenicism and thinking around disability rights but also the legacy eugenicism has within the university.

    For those unfamiliar with eugenicism as a doctrine/pseudo science, basically eugenicists believe in controlled reproduction for the “good of society.” It is predicated on the belief that savagery and civilization are inherent qualities linked to specific races, locations, classes, and abilities. Only certain groups (white, able-bodied, upper class, heterosexual, etc.) should reproduce. Often, we talk about eugenicism in terms of race and culture since the most widescale examples of eugnicism include Nazi Germany and the forced sterilization of Indigenous and Puerto Rican women under a law penned by George W. Bush long before he was made president. However, eugenicist interference in the reproductive rights of women has a long history with regards to dis/ability and incarceration, as well as any number of poor women, women of color, and other marginalized women. That history can be traced to prominent feminist canonical figures like Margaret Sanger, current pregnancy prevention programs like C.R.A.C.K, and ongoing discussions about the sexual and reproductive rights of differently-abled people in national and international news.

    The two opening talks in the series give some historical background to eugenicism. Dick Sobsey’s “Varieties of Eugenics Experience in the 21st Century” takes a look at social connections and how societies are constituted prior to eugenicism and then after as well as a pop culture, easy access, look at some of the key concepts. In his talk, entitled “Preventing Disability: Nordic Perspectives”, Simo Vehmas outlines the basic history of eugenicism and then breaks down its impact for differently-abled people in Finland. One of the key points of his talk is the location of controlling differently-abled people’s sexual expression and sexuality as part of a control of their reproductive rights. So that they are rendered asexual and forced to be so as part of the eugenicist agenda even tho sex and reproduction do not necessarily have to be linked:

    the sexual activities of women with impairments were regarded dangerous because sex in their cases resulted with great probability in a birth of a child with similar characteristics, similar unwanted characteristics.

    The second 1/2 of his talk goes on to suggest that with regards to dis/ability rights the issue of “informed consent” as an out clause to forced sterilization becomes a misnomer. Which raises several questions around the reproductive rights of differently-abled women: How can consent be given? by whom? And does the failure to establish consent then mean that no differently-abled patients can be sterilized even if they request the procedure themselves?

    This part of his talk also includes a discussion of how abortion was used as a eugenicist tool to enforce sterilization by requiring those getting abortions to also get sterilized. While there was no similar uniform and stated policy in the U.S., many women of color and differently-abled women have reported to being forceable sterilized during abortions or told that complications with the abortion required sterilization or hysterechtomies that are not certain were actually required. Others have reported going in for birth control and being talked into sterilization. So that these issues permeate marginalized women’s reproductive choices regardless of legal policy or illegal practice. And when we think about reproductive rights the continued failure to adequately address the impact of eugenicism on both the past and the present of many marginalized women’s lives has often translated into a racially and ability divided movement in which marginalized women are stigmatized as ignorant or arch conservative when that might not be the case.

    Finally Simo questions the autonomy model that has replaced overt reproductive interference as potentially modern day eugenicism:

    paradigm change in prenatal practice. Whereas previously, the main goal was prevention of disability but now the main-and this was based and it was even admitted that this goal was based pretty much on eugenic principles-but now the main goal is providing people with autonomous unlimited freedom for choice and so the success of prenatal genetic testing and various measures is measured by freedom of choice. So autonomy is the prominent value, everything is based on autonomy. In practice this means that the more tests there are available, the more choices you have and the more freedom you have. This is the kind of logic, which can be… and people actually, I think, believe this, although of course it’s not very credible, because more medicalized and technical pregnancy gets, women are more and more at the mercy of doctors who are the only ones who actually know what’s being tested and how to interpret and understand these test results.

    As this quote points out, the increasing medical testing involved in pregnancy not only creates a situation where women are reliant on doctors who may be invested in unspoken prejudices about ability, race, class, and sexuality, but the emphasis on able-bodied delivery remains intact. Worse, because it now follows a freedom and autnomy script, the desire for able bodied children, testing to prevent the birth of differently-abled children, and the potential for termination of differently-abled fetuses becomes a function of “freedom.”  That language leads to ideological acceptance of eugenicism as evidenced in discussions excusing or empathizing with parents who kill their own differently-abled children intentionally or through long term neglect.

    The third installment at WSP deals with naming, history, and honor. More specifically, Philosopher Martin Tweedale discusses the decision to stop awarding the John McEachran prize to students in philosophy because of McEachran involvement in eugenicist driven sterilizations of inmates in Alberta Canada. His target was primarily people with mental and physical disabilities and indigenous peoples and took place over several decades. John McEachran was also the founder of the philosophy and psychology departments at U Alberta and one time Provost. The prize established posthumously in his honor was funded in such a way that it could not be renamed nor the monies funneled into other programs and awarded through other means.

    The debate surrounding defunding the prize related to issues of honoring exceptional student’s work, ensuring that student need was met, and whether or not a man who had participated in heinous research should have the positive contributions of his career permanently blotted out as a result. With regards to the latter, anyone who has read my thoughts on the DW Griffith award knows that I think we can acknowledge the positive contributions of people without permanently enshrining them or honoring them or others through them in ways that erase their offenses or render them irrelevant or lesser. Nor do I believe that it would be honor to receive a prize in the name of someone who had forcibly sterilized people on the basis of a racist, classist, and ableist belief that certain groups of people should not be allowed to reproduce in the same way, I see no honor in receiving a prize named after a person who cemented the myth of the black rapist and valorized the creation of the Klan at a time when lynching, burning, and deadly beatings of black people at the hands of said group was at its height. Tweedale offers a more complex opinion in which he argues that the university was never implicated in MacEachran’s research nor did have the resources to replace the needed prize. (Can you be implicated in life of a man if you choose to honor him and others through him in a prize that does not acknowledge his offensive legacy?)

    This talk arrives at WSP blog at the exact moment that historians, anthropologists, and philosophers are knee deep in discussions about ritual and honor over at Dead Voles. For me it provides another unique layer to the discussion of how we honor past academics tho clearly from a different standpoint. Given how many times we have uncovered eugenicism or unethical research in our intellectual histories, the decision making at the U Alberta and the reflections Tweedale is engaging in in the talk may provide early steps to the redress many of us involved in university level governance may one day have to take.

    You can, and should, read the series at their blog using the following links

    They have not, as far as I know, posted the fourth and final speaker’s work on the panel. But as you can see from the synopsis here, it is well worth the read and the thinking it should raise. For feminist bloggers thinking through the discussion of how to be more accountable to differently-abled women and to engaging disability rights, the second panel discussion is a good jumping off point. (Then again, based on that last comment by Piny 3/30 at 1pm, maybe not . . .)