Roughly one in five Americans lives with a disability. So where is our pride movement?
Not long ago, a good friend of mine said something revealing to me: “I don’t think of you as disabled,” she confessed.
I knew exactly what she meant; I didn’t think of myself as disabled until a few decades ago, either, even though my two arms have been pretty significantly asymmetrical and different from most everybody else’s my whole life.
My friend’s comment was meant as a compliment, but followed a familiar logic — one that African-Americans have noted when their well-meaning white friends have tried to erase the complications of racial identity by saying, “I don’t think of you as black,” or when a man compliments a woman by saying that he thinks of her as “just one of the guys.”
This impulse to rescue people with disabilities from a discredited identity, while usually well meaning, is decidedly at odds with the various pride movements we’ve come to know in recent decades. Slogans like “Black Is Beautiful” and “We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It!” became transformative taunts for generations of people schooled in the self-loathing of racism, sexism and heterosexism. Pride movements were the psycho-emotional equivalents of the anti-discrimination and desegregation laws that asserted the rights of full citizenship to women, gay people, racial minorities and other groups. More recently, the Black Lives Matter and the L.G.B.T. rights movement have also taken hold.
Yet pride movements for people with disabilities — like Crip Power or Mad Pride — have not gained the same sort of traction in the American consciousness. Why? One answer is that we have a much clearer collective notion of what it means to be a woman or an African-American, gay or transgender person than we do of what it means to be disabled.