Autistic Future
August 11th, 2019

Intersectionality

One of the great­est con­tri­bu­tions the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty and var­i­ous move­ments for dis­abil­i­ty rights and dis­abil­i­ty jus­tice make to the wider world is the asser­tion that every­one gets basic human rights, and there can be no com­pro­mise on that. That pre­cept is the best of who we are. At times, var­i­ous groups with­in our move­ments and com­mu­ni­ties have slipped up and made appalling argu­ments that they are more like than dif­fer­ent from nondis­abled peo­ple. Some­times, some of us are guilty of argu­ing “at least our minds/intellects/bodies… are fine” or accept­ing unac­cept­able behav­ior toward some dis­abled peo­ple on the basis of oth­er traits, like race or gen­der. At our best, how­ev­er, we have an unyield­ing way of demand­ing the full scope of human rights for every­one. That is who we must always strive to be, both because it’s right and because it’s the only way to ensure our own safe­ty and well being.

We don’t all need to be activists on every issue. Activism often works best when peo­ple dig into par­tic­u­lar issues, gain­ing knowl­edge, expe­ri­ence, and exper­tise, devel­op­ing deep con­nec­tions with the com­mu­ni­ties they serve. How­ev­er, we must always resist the temp­ta­tion to com­pare and con­trast, to treat human rights as zero sum, to throw some­one else under the bus in an effort to save our­selves or improve our own lot. The only kind of peo­ple we should­n’t accept in our work are those who don’t accept human rights as uni­ver­sal. This is both for moral rea­sons and because peo­ple who can’t accept that kind of basic ground rule have a long track record of ulti­mate­ly exclud­ing us from the cat­e­go­ry of peo­ple they believe deserve the full scope of human rights. There is no safe way for the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty to align itself with some­one who rejects some peo­ple’s human­i­ty. Some­one who has crossed that line once could do it again. It might be in regards to some­one else today, but the group being dehu­man­ized and scape­goat­ed could be ours tomor­row.

Prop­a­gat­ing the idea that human rights are for every­one, that no one is too impaired, or too any­thing, to deserve them, and that every­one is enti­tled to live in the world is one of the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties’ biggest con­tri­bu­tions to the wider world. Any of our lead­ers who buy into the lie that human rights are a zero-sum game and argue for the rights of dis­abled peo­ple or some group of dis­abled peo­ple above, rather than along side of, the rights of every­one else has bro­ken what should be the most basic ground rule of life in our com­mu­ni­ties. Any such con­duct by a dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty leader should seri­ous­ly under­mine our con­fi­dence in that per­son­’s com­pe­tence to guide, pro­tect, and speak for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. It should also under­mine our con­fi­dence in that per­son­’s moral char­ac­ter and wor­thi­ness to lead. Our com­mu­ni­ties will not sus­tain them­selves over time if we engage in can­cel cul­ture, refus­ing to let peo­ple make mis­takes, be account­able for their actions, and, ulti­mate­ly, learn and grow, but lead­ing us is not a right. It’s a priv­i­lege and a dif­fi­cult task, one for which not every­one is qual­i­fied.

The fact of the mat­ter is that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are mar­gin­al­ized. We face exclu­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion. Our expe­ri­ence teach­es us what mar­gin­al­iza­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion are like, and the plainest les­son of those expe­ri­ences is not to treat any­one else that way. We must also reject every moral prin­ci­ple or eth­i­cal sys­tem that fails to grant every human being cer­tain basic rights uncon­di­tion­al­ly by neces­si­ty. If any­one is exclud­ed for rea­sons of iden­ti­ty, rather than con­duct, it’s a safe bet we will be, espe­cial­ly peo­ple whose dis­abil­i­ties relate to cog­ni­tion or men­tal health. Our moral intu­ition at its best and our self-inter­est both align with inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty. This prin­ci­ple is so fun­da­men­tal to our safe­ty and abil­i­ty to thrive that we can­not accept any­one who fails to under­stand it as a leader.

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