Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Duh!" - A love story (On Public Writing)

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times published an essay arguing that Trump is the most ableist presidential candidate in modern U.S. History. Lots of people in the disability community shared it, for which I am grateful, but I also saw a lot of people reacting by saying, more or less, "Duh."

It's true, of course, that Trump's ableism is entirely visible to anyone looking for it. It's also true that many default spellcheckers don't recognize ableist or ableism as a word. I wrote:
Naming something an “-ism” won’t persuade the bigoted to surrender their bigotry and might even harden differences. But sometimes it’s important to identify ideas and acts that marginalize and discriminate, to group them together, and to name them as a system. Trump is empowering ableism. Let that be one of the many reasons he should never be president.
Trump is ableist. I named it. Maybe some people will be less likely to vote for him or will work harder for his opponent. But maybe some people will look up the word "Ableism" and think about where else that phenomenon shows up. But for people already attuned to ableism, the reaction is, "duh!"

It made me realize that this is part of the role of public writing - to take common wisdom from inside groups and project it to broader communities. Done well, it amplifies. Done poorly, it appropriates.

This is part of why I continue to argue that the best model for academics writing for large publics is not scholarship, but teaching. When we cover The Carolingian Empire in 50 minutes, we compress, we edit, we summarize, we take insider specialist knowledge and convey it to a population of at most loosely interested people.

I wonder how many great writers hesitate to produce work for bigger audiences because they worry about the "Duh!" reaction from their insider community.

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