BA and BFP always get me going…

Background: a professor for a women’s studies class wrote about how he assigned Full-Frontal Feminism (FFF), a book that was accompanied with much criticism, to his class and that it was a hit with the students. To sum it up it was basically “HA! you radical women of color (WOC) bloggers, I know woc who LOVED IT so there!!!” BrownFemiPower (BFP) framed the follow-up discussion in her post to not to be around FFF but how women of color are tokenized and ignored in women’s studies departments. This professor attempted to discredit every point BFP made and when Black Amazon (BA) followed up, she was made to be a spokesperson for all women of color. Gotta love it.

One of my favorite words is the term “crip on a stick.” A dear friend and activist was at a planning group for some community festival and when they did not have any Native American people present, a committee member actually suggested creating life-size images of people in ceremonial outfits, putting them on sticks, and dancing around in a circle with the stick images during the event. Ridiculous, huh? Now we use the term Crip on a Stick to describe people in the Disability Rights Movement who are brought in to meetings to be that one token crip, young person, person of color. etc.

And this is where the conversation quickly swerves to a whole different thing…

I’ve been that crip on a stick quite a bit (in fact, try the first two years of my involvement in the disability community). Because so much of the way young disabled people find out about the movement/community is through gov-funded programs, many (and I would dare say most) young people in the movement start out as these type of crips. We are taught to think disability activism means being that one token young person on every single board and committee in the country. And this entry probably sounds like utter hypocrisy because I still excessively serve on these boards and committees. This is what happens when a movement is run solely through the nonprofit complex and is dependent on government and philanthrophic [like charity] funding.

Obviously we NEED representation—I’m not arguing against that. My point is that this tokenized representation [a person just being a symbol] may come off as a good thing (getting X group to the table) but in reality, a tokenized person is often used first as a tactic to invalidate [cancel or take away] points made by others.— i.e. “We HAVE a woman of color on our board and she LOVES this idea. You’re wrong.” Secondly it is used as an excuse not to act on something—“Can’t you see we’re already talking about youth issues? We have a young person on our committee!” (And of course this is just a side note but I’m not sure that person counts as a youth when they’re going on 30, my friend.)

Not only are there rewards for the people who are these tokenized figures, but there end up being strong penalties [problems] for those that don’t (i.e. losing funding for important programs). People who choose NOT to go this route and instead do other types of activism end up facing the consequences of not being on these boards. They may choose to focus on radical community-organizing or infesting their group with concepts of disability pride and identity and in return, they miss out on all the networking and connections with powerful people.

The way everything is organized (dare I say “the system”?) is designed for us to be submissive. When we aren’t, whether we are disabled people, women of color, queer people, young people, people who don’t have class privilege or all of the above, we are told that this is not the time or place, the issue is not actually an issue, or there is something wrong with our tone (BA did a great post on this a while back).

My favorite song by Immortal Technique ends with this:

“I don’t look at a few token Latinos and black people in the public eye as some type of achievement for my people as a whole. Most of those successful individuals are sell-outs and house Negros. But, I don’t consider brothers a sell-out if they move out of the ghetto. Poverty has nothing to do with our people. It’s not in our culture to be poor. That’s only been the last 500 years of our history; look at the last 2000 years of our existence…So in conclusion, I’m not gonna vote for anybody just ’cause they black or Latino they have to truly represent the community and represent what’s good for all of us proletariat.”



Filed under community, disability, race, woc

21 responses to “BA and BFP always get me going…

  1. I agree with you, but I also try to remember that our minority disability culture is less than 50 years old. As it stands now, I think we as a wholee have seen some success. We just can’t sit back and accept that as all we can get. Now is the time to push as a community for inclusion.

  2. A lot of good/important points here. Great post.

  3. nd when they did not have any Native American people present, a committee member actually suggested creating life-size images of people in ceremonial outfits, putting them on sticks, and dancing around in a circle with the stick images during the event.>>


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  5. Why can’t people just be judged by what they bring to the table and not their labels? Great post!

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  7. Wow, you made the post I have so wanted to make these last few days. I’m sick of seeing autistics-on-a-stick at these things, with our views being ignored, our community being ignored, but these autistics-on-a-stick being used to show how much we agree with whatever is being done to us (NEVER “with” us).

    I’ll probably link to this tomorrow. Thanks!

  8. thanks for saying that joel, there were so many times where i was going to click this entry into private mode because it very much fell off topic of what was being discussed (feminism excluding women of color).

  9. I disagree, it does not fall off topic at all. I know what you mean, you’re thinking of the dude that shows up to feminist sites to inject, “But what about the men???” I don’t think that counts here, but that is because I love intersectionality, I love when we can show how oppression is oppression is oppression, whether we are talking about race, disability, homophobia, transphobia, etc. I don’t think you are changing the subject, I think you are expanding on it, with some really good examples of how this works, how POC can be pitted against POC and PwD can be pitted against PwD using the exact same strategies.

  10. This is what happens when a movement is run solely through the nonprofit complex and is dependent on government and philanthrophic [like charity] funding.

    favorite. idea. ever.

    This is so amazing because this is what radical woc feminists like incite! have been organizing against–but for different reasons. but to go back to what donna is saying–when you use an intersectional approach, you begin to see how all these things are linked, even if the *reasons* they link are not all the same. I’d love to hear more about how this plays out within the context of organizing within the PwD community–has the idea of grassroots mobilization become as foriegn within the PwD communities as it has in other communities? in other words, if you are a rabble rouser, do other PwD look at you as a trouble maker? And how do you personal combat this or deal with it?

    I ask because most of the communities that i have organized have a really hard time even conceiving of organizing outside of the not for profit complex–we’re radical weirdos with “interesting” ideas. haha.

  11. aw donna and bfp, thanks for your thoughts!

    there are DEFINITELY radical disabled folk organzing (ADAPT, FRIDA, Not Dead Yet, etc.) but as a whole our movement is very much tied to services and programs because we need these programs to live. examples of this are Centers for Independent Living (CILs), a place where disabled people can go and get peer support,information about community living, advocacy, etc. is federally funded. The purpose is to be an advocacy center but when they’re cutting your budget every year, what is it actually saying (and how much radical advocacy can you REALLY do?) There are tons of fabulous CILs but a lot of them are bureaucratic agencies run by nondisabled people (which is everything a CIL is NOT supposed to be.)

    I guess a lot of this started because one of the first lenses of disability was the charity model and disability was addressed by non-profits. It’s hard to get away from that… plus the idea that disabled people share commonalities and should organize is still a radical notion itself because most people [including disabled people who internalize ableism] see disability as something that just “happens” to people, a burden to live with.

    but yes, i can definitely hear you about being a “radical weirdo with interesting ideas” as people still don’t see disability pride, identity, and culture as even a priority but how can you organize if people are ashamed of themselves? how can you advocate if you are not connected to what you do? what really fuels your fire? that’s a big aspect of the service-oriented part of our community.

    if this doesn’t sound like it makes sense, it’s because i hate these little comment boxes! i can’t see the words i write, argh.

  12. wheelchairdancer

    Way YAY


  13. I have been the token disability rights person (the joys of an invisible disability – they never really knew what to do with me!) too many times to count – I really hear what you’re saying in this post.

    If this is off-topic, I don’t want to be on. /Eddie Murphy in Coming To America.

  14. I have never understood the whole pingback thing, so here is my post, inspired by the above:

    All These Blues

    I couldn’t figure out what to call it, then finally just named it after the song I was listening to…and how perfect was that?

    ((kisses and hugs)) and thanks for being so insightful!

  15. Jim S.

    I click around various sites hoping to hear something new and to be educated. Today I have been educated.

    Thank you.

  16. Aaminah

    Awesome awesome awesome. Post, comments, all. THANK YOU

  17. Evonne

    Thanks for the entry, and thanks for keeping it public; I came here via Joel Smith’s blog. 🙂

    Certainly, yes, having a person on a committee as a “representative” of a particular cultural group shouldn’t be used as an excuse to ignore the valid concerns of outsiders in that group.

    Here’s another thing, though, and I’m not really sure how it fits in to the discussion — probably just as a spoke of a tangent. Having occasionally served as “token minority” (and also having seen other “token minorities” fail miserably at internal “education” — i.e. conducting inservices on “awareness” that dissolve into rehashings of stereotypes), I worry about the folks who *do* serve on committees as representatives of the target group becoming jaded and losing some of their effectiveness as advocates because they’re busy wrestling their own inner conflict. Meaning, facing what are often condescending attitudes on the inside (“Oh, honey, certainly we respect your input; it’s why we hired one of you! Hush now, and sit there and look exotic.”) at the same time they’re getting grief from their peers on the outside. I imagine it’s pretty withering to be called a “house Negro” just by virtue of serving on a committee, especially when you’ve already got all sorts of guilt and prejudice going on — and *particularly* when having opinions that seem to resemble those of the majority doesn’t make you any less a member of your cultural group. Lest we forget: “You’re a ___ so your political views should be ____”, on either side of the fence, is offensive as hell.

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  21. I just came across this thread. It’s still just as relevant as it was when you first wrote it.

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