April 2018

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Still Learning

Friday night, Ann and I went to a Disability Justice event at the University of Washington that our friend Tash had told us about. I love being around people with disabilities and our allies, so I loved this crowd of 50 folks.

There were introductory thoughts by people who could explain the difference between Disability Rights and Disability Justice. (I didn't even know there was a difference.) Then we broke into discussion groups, and Ann and I joined the group on Intersectionality (though Ann hadn't heard the word before. She said, "That was interesting. You all have your own way of talking, and I felt a little lost. I've never been in a place where people include their preferred pronouns in introductions.") That's how we always do it in the School of Social Work to respect people who don't identify with their apparent gender or people whose gender is (usually intentionally) unclear. Intersectionality, by the way, is a term referring to the intersections of oppressions. I am a woman (an oppressed gender), a lesbian (an oppressed identity), and a person with disabilities (another oppressed group.) Intersectionality refers to the ways in which those oppressions build on one another. 

I knew the progressive language of this university culture and felt comfortable. A young woman (cisgendered--which means that she identifies with the gender that she appears to be) led our group of maybe ten people who had chosen to focus on Intersectionality. (Our leader was a college senior who identifies as Native and Black, and she opened the larger meeting with a powerful song of invitation.)

Our leader invited us to sit on couches outside the larger room and opened the conversation with a question that I can't now remember. A couple of people spoke, one about something like people are people before their oppressive identities separate them, and the other about the difficulty of having invisible disabilities. I spoke up not because I really had anything to say at that point but because I was trying to help the conversation along. (I usually practice what I'm going to say in my head before speaking aloud, so I was a little uncomfortable with this. It's probably good to be uncomfortable about speaking when I don't have anything to say.)

I started by noting how the comments about the difficulty of invisible difficulties resonated with so much that I have heard from my research and interviews and the many people I've met with disabilities. Then I noted my agreement, also, with the comment about how our humanity unites us before our oppressions separate us. 

Then I made the mistake of using #blacklivesmatter and #disabledblacklivesmatter to say that all lives matter. This was a mistake because I am a white person, pasty actually, and I don't know what it's like to be Black in this society that has historically and to this day disrespected our Black citizens. #blacklivesmatter is important to say because in our society it doesn't seem obvious, even if it should be. At least that's how I understand it.

Folks talked a little about why #alllivesmatter just doesn't do it, and then it was time to go back in because we hadn't had much time. I wanted to defend myself as misunderstood, but given a little time to reflect, I'm glad I didn't. My mistake was in using an example laden with history and discrimination--a heaviness I have to understand comes whether or not I intend the offense. 

I just keep learning. Some things it seems I should have figured out by now, and it's not that I'm not trying, but I still have so much to learn, about my world and about myself.

I had once thought that I would become wise, and that with wisdom I wouldn't make such mistakes anymore. In those days, however, I thought of wisdom as a destination, a goal, a place I was going. Now I think of it as a state in a moment. Maybe some people,  people like Jesus and Ghandi, lived in that state in every moment, but I move in and out of it. 

Sometimes I wish I were better than that, but at other times I'm gentler on myself. Maybe meditation helps me forgive myself. I'll tell you now that I'm doing my best, and I'll ask your forgiveness when I fall short. 

When I'm good, I'll forgive you, too, if you need it, and we'll just be flawed humans together. 

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