Guest Post: Ableist Nons

This post was authored by regular Misandry Angie guest contributor Alex Conall. 

Let me be clear at the outset that I am not playing, or at any rate not intending to play, Oppression Olympics here. (Fuck Oppression Olympics.) I am simply remarking on a phenomenon I and many others have observed. To wit:

It is a great deal harder to convince people to be anti-ableist than to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, or anti-queerphobic.

(In fact it is also rather harder to convince people to be anti-ableist with regards to some kinds of disabilities than others! Funny how this hierarchy-of-disability stuff works.)

I think I’ve put my finger on why. It’s the nature of ableism, in contrast to the nature of (for example) racism.

Generally speaking, one can—one doesn’t necessarily, of course, but one can—understand the basic similarity between people at different points on an axis of privilege. Women, men, and people of assorted other genders are fundamentally alike, for example. There is literally nothing members of any given gender can do that members of any given other gender cannot (not even pregnancy, if anyone was going to gotcha me with that: trans people exist), however typical it may be that most men don’t or won’t do women’s work or vice versa. Non-men typically know this from experience; men often come to know this from listening to articulate, convincing members of other genders.

Now, I am not going to argue that people who are marginalized by reason of being neurodivergent, mentally ill, or developmentally disabled (in future: “ND/MI/DD”) are not, generally speaking, as articulate and convincing as non-ND/MI/DD non-men generally are. How could I? I’m neurodivergent and mentally ill! I simply observe that no one has ever thought “being both cis and female” is a mental illness. No one has ever thought “being black” is a mental illness. No one thinks “being lesbian” is a mental illness anymore, or if they do they need to be reminded that that queerphobic bullshit came out of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders decades ago!

What ND/MI/DD folks have in common, however, that even folks who are only physically disabled do not have in common with us, is we are assumed not to be capable of understanding the facts of the situation. Even the most sexist, racist, full-of-patronizing-bullshit white man is willing to assume a non-ND/MI/DD black woman is capable of understanding his point of view. He might well have the logical fallacy going on where if she doesn’t agree with him then she must not understand him, but he will assume she is capable of understanding. Right up until the point where he decides she’s—well, insert slur against ND, MI, and/or DD folks here.

Consequently, non-ND/MI/DD folks (“nons”) typically believe, any ND/MI/DD person asserting facts about ND/MI/DD folks contrary to the nons’ beliefs—however articulately and convincingly—must be at least one of lying about the facts, confused about the facts, mistaken about the facts, or not actually speaking for the relevant subset of ND/MI/DD folks on account of not being one. No one that articulate, nons think, could possibly be that—well, insert slur against ND, MI, and/or DD folks here.

That assumption. That ableist assumption that only nons can know the facts about neurodivergence, mental illness, or developmental disability. We don’t tolerate the parallel sexist assumption that only men can know the facts about womanhood. We don’t tolerate the parallel racist assumption that only white people can know the facts about blackness. Why do we tolerate that ableist assumption?

…Oh, right. Because of the nature of ableist oppression, and hierarchy of disability.

—Alex Conall


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