Monday, July 04, 2016

Totall UU inside baseball: A layperson has questions and opinions on ableism

I've had a couple of discussions about the ableism, and ableist language, issue where I've been varying degrees of welcome due to my being a layperson who isn't actually in this conversation.  I've actually talked about this a lot with a lot of ministers, though, and if an outside view is helpful, here you go. (If it's not, I assume you didn't click on the post.) 

Obviously, these questions come from a point of view, because pending more facts, I think I've come to one:

- When I was a kid in the 1980's and "retard' was the playground insult of choice, even MY PARENTS (not known for political correctness, my dad doesn't believe in recycling) told me that nice people don't compare their friends to the mentally retarded.  It's just something decent people don't say.  The explanation, as I recall it, was something like: "The mentally retarded are often good people and they have difficult lives and the last thing they need is to be somebody's symbol or somebody's insult." 

So...  If my parents are a reasonably conservative cultural barometer, we've been hip to the idea that casually talking about the MENTALLY disabled as lesser isn't cool since like 1985.  Why is talking about the PHYSICALLY disabled so different?

- Someone I talked about this with it hip to how comparing the spiritually unenlightened to the blind or the deaf is not OK, but is quite strident on the point of wanting use language implying, or spelling out, the superiority of those who can walk.  What's the difference there?

-Working on accessibility issues within our congregations is absolutely a higher priority.  But to me the argument of "we should be working on installing ramps rather than working on using different language" makes the opposite of sense.  If we're cleaning up our language, we're spending a lot of time thinking about how to be good to folks who have trouble walking.  In general, my impression is that meetings in non-accessible spaces don't happen because a meeting planner is like "MUAHAHAHA I will EXCLUDE the DISABLED." But because they don't think about it.  I have no idea why getting people to think about their language WOULDN'T get them thinking about the larger issues. 

 Is the concern that a minister will spend so much time thinking about improving their metaphors that they won't have TIME to ask for ramps, or what?  

- Y'all do realize that the newbie minister at the center of this* isn't calling for the end of all metaphor, or even the end of all body metaphor?  She wrote on her public facebook page "Able bodies are some of the bodies, and as such, must be included in our liturgy. At the same time, they are not the only bodies. (More is possible.) In addition, the really important question is whether metaphors set up able bodies to be the best and disabled bodies to be the worst. (Our bodies are awesome.)"

- As I wrote here a lot in my blogging days, I think slippery slope arguments are inherently kind of dumb and the refuge of people who want to paint dramatic fictional situations to hide their lack of facts.  But my objection has, shockingly, not lead the world to stop using them.  The slippery slope argument du jour seems to be "If we get rid of ableist metaphor, pretty soon we will have to get rid of ALL metaphor"  

Oddly, I heard this same argument one time when I posted something on facebook about how writers really need to knock it off with the "comparing the skin tone of people of color to food and beverages" thing.  I had writer friends respond with horror at the idea of, I don't know, not being able to get across to their readers that a black woman is beautiful if they can't talk about her "cafe au lait skin" in exactly those cliched terms.**

But I can't believe that we didn't have those arguments back when the subject was "the superiority of white over dark" and "the superiority of the masculine and the feminine."  And metaphors about light and darkness and maleness and femaleness AREN'T entirely gone.  We're just more mindful about how we use them.  We do better.

Why are people so objecting to doing better here?


*FWIW, newbie lawyers do not start big arguments within bar associations.  So good on UUism for being a different sort of environment.  And I  really think the newbie minister's courage is to be commended.  

** My skin is pale and freckled, not unlike a Shepard's pie with paprika sprinkled on top.  

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