Friday, August 08, 2008

Insults to Discriminatory People

I've heard many people who support cure and prevention of autism say they find the word curebie insulting. Recently, I found a man who thinks white men are best saying he finds the words racist and misogynist insulting. As an autistic rights activist, he compared those words to the word retard, that so many autistics find insulting.
Instinctively, I dismiss those ideas. It's nothing alike. But then, I stop to think. Is it similar? Is calling a discriminatory person a hurtful word because they're discriminatory morally equivalent to calling the target of discrimination a hurtful word?
On closer reflection, I come to the same answer. No. But now I know why they aren't really the same.
Firstly, being a racist, a misogynist or a curebie means you are hurting others. When you show your opinions to other races, women, or disabled people, you hurt them. This is a fact. A big part of people's dislike for these terms seems to me to be an unwillingness to admit they are hurting someone. But that's why Native people have such high rates of alcoholism, child abuse and suicide. It's because they are harmed, systemically harmed, by racism. That's why women are more often depressed, more often victims of sex crimes, and make less money on average than men. We are also systemically harmed by sexism. And that's why adult autistics have such high rates of depression, why some autistic people wish they were never born, why prenatally diagnosed autistic people very well might never be born. We are systemically harmed by disablism.
Secondly, it is a choice, to a certain extent. Your beliefs largely depend on what you have been exposed to, but if you decide to accept that your beliefs are hurting someone and make a commitment to change, you can. You are born with your race, your gender and your pattern of abilities, and those are extremely difficult to impossible to change. I know it's possible to have facial surgery and bleach your skin, but you don't become a white person that way - though you may be able to fake it. Technically, people who've gone through a sex change surgery aren't exactly the other gender - they're physically in between, and genetically their natal gender. And there are no cures for autism, even though some autistics can learn to pass as neurotypical. It's harder than it sounds, too. Even I have trouble passing perfectly, and I'm only very mildly autistic. But even mild autism pervades how you think and by extension, how you behave.
There are some things very hard to change that hurt others. A good example is pedophilia. It's probably about as hard to change as being gay. And there are a bunch of ways people are working on preventing and curing pedophilia, and that's valuable research, for the sake of the children that pedophiles are attracted to. Your beliefs aren't easy to change, but compared to your sexual orientation, it's no big deal.
And one last thing. Autistics, black people and various other groups have chosen names for themselves, that offend no one. Curebies, misogynists and racists haven't. They don't seem to just want a different name - they don't want any name for what they are (except maybe 'normal'). I can't accept that. I need to be able to name those attitudes, and the people who hold them. That's how we can stop the harm these attitudes cause - by looking at it clearly.

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Blogger Tera said...

They don't want any name for what they are (except maybe 'normal'). I can't accept that. I need to be able to name those attitudes, and the people who hold them. That's how we can stop the harm these attitudes cause - by looking at it clearly.

I've seen this in some people who aren't transgender who object to being called "cissexual." ("Don't label me!" is one argument they give). The problem is that they're used to considering themselves the "default" kind of person. (They have no problem with people being labeled "transgender", for instance).

Also, white people tend to center racism on individuals, rather than behaviors and systems. So if a person of color points out that they think/said/did something racist, they get defensive and say stuff like, "Well, *I'm* not in the KKK!" or "*I* didn't own slaves!," etc.

This misunderstanding is behind the myth that there's such a thing as "reverse racism." Can people of color be bigoted towards white people? Yes. But racism needs a systemic power imbalance to work.

I think a good way to start tackling sytemic prejudice is for people with power (white people, men, heterosexuals, non-disabled people, etc.) is to have words for all their privileged classes and identify themselves by those words (even if only to themselves). Because part of the problem is that the people in power don't *need* labels, since they're assumed to be the standard sort of person.

9:49 PM  
Blogger elmindreda said...

Actually, they may be genetically mixed or of the opposite gender as well. Gender isn't binary at any level.

2:15 AM  

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