Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Norm Macdonald and Dehumanizing Intellectual Disability

Macdonald used the clinical term, Down syndrome, as an attempt to maintain his ability to make de facto "retard jokes"and use intellectual disability as a comedic punching bag without coming under criticism for doing so. In the aftermath of the Stern snafu, Macdonald's defenders on social media claimed the criticism levied against him for mocking intellectual disability was just another instance of oversensitivity. But the issue runs much deeper than questions of casual offense; Macdonald was implying that people with Down syndrome were subhuman and incapable of higher emotions.
This kind of dehumanization of people with Down syndrome and similar disabilities has an ugly history in the United States and around the world. It's a history that has led to sterilization, incarceration, institutionalization, and untimely death, with these horrific outcomes often linked to misconceptions about the full humanity of disabled people.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Donald Trump and the R-word

Donald Trump called Jeff Sessions "mentally retarded." Does it matter?

Maybe. Kinda. Yeah.
"Bad words are the least of the problems for disabled Americans, their families, and their communities, coming out of Washington under Trump. People with disabilities who engage in policy and politics remain angry and worried about many aims of the Trump administration, as they have been since he began his campaign. The most serious threats come not from Trump's personal character flaws and instincts to belittle, but rather from core issues of Republican ideology. The GOP has attempted to defund Medicaid, an effort stopped largely by the efforts of disabled activists. Republicans then repealed the individual mandate in their 2017 tax bill, potentially spurring rising health-care costs for the people who most depend on access to medicine. Under Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education rolled back protections for students in special education and has supported increasingly permissive standards for special education vouchers. Alas, when parents take disabled children to private schools, they surrender many of their child's hard-won civil rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. While it's true that 12 Democratic representatives voted in support of H.R. 620, a bill that guts core commercial protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a whopping 213 Republicans backed the measure. Sessions, the very target of Trump's ableist language in Woodward's book, rolled back key protections for disabled workers last year. While some of these moves came from Trump's cabinet and others from the GOP-controlled Congress, all are fully in line with decades of Republican policy positions."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

It's Ok to Study History!

From the article: 
This may seem like a roundabout way to present the conventional wisdom that stem majors are the only safe bet in the modern economy, and the humanities are dying out because kids no longer have the luxury of a useless major. But there’s an extremely important caveat: Students aren’t fleeing degrees with poor job prospects. They’re fleeing humanities and related fields, specifically, because they think they have poor job prospects. If the whole story were a market response to student debt and the Great Recession, students would have read the 2011 census report numbering psychology and communications among the fields with the lowest median earnings and fled from them. Or they would have noticed that biology majors make less than the average college graduate, and favored the physical sciences. Most 18-year-olds are not econometricians, and those that are were probably going to major in economics anyway. The census has been asking about college majors for almost a decade now and aside from a few obvious points—engineers make more money than journalists—the results are most surprising for how trivial the differences between most majors turn out to be.
Read it all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Kalamazoo and the Future of Medieval Studies

A statement from Seeta Chaganti on #kzoo2018 and #kzoo2019 and the future of medieval studies. On the Medievalists of Color blog -

A few thoughts:

While I do not for see a future in which I go back to this conference for many reasons, I remain deeply concerned with the future of my field. Over the past few weeks, as most of you know, Yiannopoulos used an online donation to send Nazi iconography to a Jewish journalist and urged violence against journalists. It is of course complicated. But siding with protection of vulnerable faculty, siding against the Nazi iconographer and inciter of violence, is a low low bar. I know where I stand.

Medieval organizations continue not to take seriously the threat of a medievalist allying with him.

The future of medieval studies is not set. It’s worth working for.

Story: Ableism in the Hospital

Every descent into the medical system for disabled folks, for everyone really but not equally, risks dehumanization. I wrote a story for Pacific Standard about one such case.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Going Forward: My book.

Last week, as many of you know, a group of extraordinary people in the disability community wrote an extensive critique of a 2016 media study that I co-wrote, making it clear that they were calling me out not only for the failings of the study itself, but also my conduct since then.

Here's the critique. You can read the media study here. You can read my thoughts detailing how I've tried to do better since then here. Clearly those efforts were insufficient and I am very sorry.

My experience in these situations of call-out and response is that long statements from people in my position become defensive, so I am going to be brief. I would welcome dialogue and conversation with anyone who can spare the energy to do so, but do not expect additional labor from people who have already given too much.

Going forward, here are a few additional steps:

1. I am cancelling my book. I will not finish this book on state violence and disability. I do not believe there is an ethical way for me to produce a book that will be useful in the fight against that violence. Like the media study, any longform work on this topic must be inclusive in authorship and led by people from within the most vulnerable communities. I should have known that from the beginning.

2. As a journalist, I will continue making referrals, offering mentorship, passing along contacts to editors, only participating in fully inclusive events, compensating people from marginalized communities whose expertise I tap, donating fees, and other related practices. Movement journalism is a fraught practice and I do not expect to be exempt from criticism for my work going forward. I will always listen to that criticism and do my best to incorporate better practices into my work.

Again, I am very sorry that I let the community down.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Staccato Rhythm of Twitter

At the end of last week, I started thinking hard about how I was spending my time. I would log into social media first thing in the morning and stay logged in all day, tweeting constantly in particular. Everything else that I was doing was happening between tweets, basically, and many of those tweets were in argument with toxic folks from the alt-right who seek to poison our social discourse.

I've been trying to figure out how to continue to engage with the news and stay in touch with my community without letting the staccato rhythm of Twitter dominate not just my writing, but my thinking. 

I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm working on it. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

On Journalism and the Ruderman Report

Dear friends,

Last week I got rattled by death threats and decided to take some time away from social media to try and think more deeply and do some good writing. You can see more about the threats from the end of this article, as the author screenshotted some (but deleted my name) towards the end of this important piece. I just started thinking on Thursday and Friday about how much time I was spending on social media, how it was occupying way too much of my brain thinking about twitter threads and instant commentary, rather than more thoughtful analysis, wondering why I was spending so much of my time in a land of people who could send me pictures of murdered journalists and who thought that was fun. I decided to take some time off.

At the same time, a group of amazing activists published a long critique of a white paper I co-wrote in 2016 on the media coverage of police violence and disability. I was alerted to it late Friday night after I had already decided to step away from social media for a bit. I understand that some of those activists feel I am trying to dodge accountability for my failings and I understand why they don't trust me. Trust is earned and I haven't earned it. I am not trying to avoid this critique or hard conversations about it. I am, rather, grateful for the labor that my critics put into this commentary and deeply apologetic that my failings made it necessary. But I was also not in a good position to respond quickly then.

I believe in accountability - meaning one must read critiques, think hard about them, enter into dialogue where requested, NOT demand more emotional labor from critics though when not invited into dialogue, and take affirmative steps to improve.

Here's the critique. You can read the original white paper here.

I am still reading and processing, but want to say a few things now.

1. The Ruderman white paper was flawed specifically around my writing (not my partner's writing) around race and decisions he and I together made about authorship. We should have either built a more inclusive team or declined the project. We imagined - or at least I imagined - that this paper would be a narrow commentary on media which would be released into a multi-voiced world of commentary around police violence and disability. It would serve as a tool for journalists and be launched surrounded by other resources, other voices, to which the paper would direct them.  The event launch never took place for various reasons. Worse, the white paper was received as trying to be authoritative (and failing) and standing alone, a result for which I take full responsibility. When you write something that fails for so many readers, it's the fault of the writer.

2. Since it was published, I listened hard to the criticisms that emerged, and so changed a lot of things about how I work, taking these affirmative steps. I built a subsequent white paper around an inclusive team of writers in which I did the media analysis, but commissioned a number of diverse disabled writers to make affirmative statements about how to do better, while including a substantial resource page. I offer to mentor - including brainstorming, reading drafts, structuring pitches, and connecting to editors - any disabled writer who wants to move into mainstream media. I have done so many, many times. I routinely respond to requests for comment, writing and speaking queries by suggesting better fits from within the relevant community. I offer to donate portions of my writing fees to the people I interview (this is not standard good journalism ethical practice, but I think appropriate where I am aware of ongoing financially marginalized status). When I do participate in events, my first question to people inviting me to speak is to ensure the event is appropriately diverse.

I am eager to hear other affirmative steps I might take.

I recognize these steps are insufficient for many of my critics and that nothing except to stop writing entirely is sufficient. I take responsibility for having been so disrespectful that they have come to such a position. I will keep listening, learning, and trying to improve and hope they will change their minds.

3. Disability journalism is changing and changing rapidly as editors realize that disabled people and disability issues need to be included in politics, social justice and identity sections, not just health/science/medicine. We have seen an explosion of great writing by and about members of the broad disability community and editors increasingly aware of the issues.  The more writing gets published the more space there is for more writing. There are many zero sum games, but I do not believe formal journalism is one.  It may become one in time, but right now I see opportunities opening almost daily. I share them, I send specific connections and suggestions out when relevant, and am really pleased by the changes in just the last five years. I take no credit for these changes, to be clear, but I celebrate them.

What I'd like to see more of is an inclusion of fairly basic disability awareness in journalism training. My goal over the next few years is to push journalism schools to bring in (and pay fairly!) local experts to help up and coming journalists do better. Every beat, from weather to sports to fashion to politics, has a disability component. Every journalists needs to know how to do better here.

4. When Ethan Saylor died, I watched too much of the white parent community, in particular, read the event as a singular tragedy requiring response. I read the event as a typical tragedy resulting from the criminalization of noncompliance in American society. That criminalization creates intense risks when intersecting with racism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression, as Crenshaw teaches. It's less usual for that violence to fall on people like Ethan - or my son, an increasingly large non-verbal white middle class suburban boy. It's possible though. My son likes people but often breaks boundaries, reaching out to touch. He especially is interested in police officers and uniforms. These are my personal stakes. So in my writing, I hope to help white Americans in particular understand that you can't train police out of these behaviors, but rather we have to de-police as much of America as possible. I want to be an interlocutor between the brilliant activists - many of whom are my most fierce critics - and the white parent communities to which I belong. I still think that's a good mission.


Over the next week I am going to re-read the critique carefully and slowly. I will read future critiques too. I will enter into conversation about journalism, a fraught yet vital practice, in any context with anyone who wishes to converse. I regret my failings and once again want to express my gratitude for the labor of those calling me out. I will try my best to not make that necessary in the future.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

On Hiatus

Last week I received a series of death threat tweets. They weren't credible death threats in which there's reason to fear action, but they have been weighing heavily on me and pushed me to think about the ways that toxic - and even not-toxic - social media drags me away from other kinds of writing.

Until my book is finished, then, I'm going to try to step back from social media except to announce when new pieces are published. I'm also putting the blog on hiatus until the book is finished.

Then I hope to come back full throttle.