Through the Lens of Disability

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Yesterday one of my favorite commenters wrote this:


I have been forced to realize this as my world has been restricted due to chronic pain disability. I choose to push myself to work full-time, which means I have negligible time in which to read and enlighten myself. I work, I come home, I cook/eat/shower/clean and go to bed at ridiculously early hours - honestly I get most of my reading done during my work breaks. I am also an infovore and yearn for new knowledge, but I have a choice between loopy-because-of-pain or loopy-because-of-meds. 

My point is basically, this has all forced me to realize I simply can't be the learned, knowledgeable person I would so much like to be. I like to think I'm a pretty damned smart person. The people I work with are upset that I am "only" a secretary and not something higher-skilled, intellectual-leaning. I loved school, but cannot sustain that type of learning if I value my ability to perform basic self-care. So I move through life learning based on lived experience, of myself and others. And I have come to think it is just as valid a school as is traditional academia.

Great White Men have contributed very much to our society, but so have many others who aren't studied and taught in classrooms. As Ta-Nehisi points out, much of the base of his intellectual approach was formed by hip-hop and other (generally-regarded-by-outsiders-as) "unserious" arts. Those ideas are just as worthy of contention as those of St. Augustine. And yet no one would think it reasonable to point and laugh at the educated white kids who don't know Nas. (FWIW, I don't know Nas either.) But if the ideas of Nas have sense and create a meaningful theory, why don't those kids know Nas, and aren't they just as worthy of ridicule for not knowing his work? The answer is yes, they are, but that is exactly what demonstrates why no one should be ridiculed for not knowing a particular author, artist, or work, even the very Big and Important ones. 

Another thing my disability has taught me is that as long as it gets done, the way you got there doesn't matter (or rather, is just as right as the conventional way). Adaptation is very important for disabled people. And it is just as applicable here: TNC, and other Black thinkers, have arrived at a worldview that is fully-formed and worthy of study and debate. Does the result not count because the method was not conventional? Must outsiders conform to the inside path in order to have their outside-influenced views accepted? Maybe there's more to this world than we can all learn about in a lifetime. Maybe we are all limited beings. Maybe, if the world is so vast and so full of curious and layered experiences ripe for examination and enjoyment, none of us can expect every one of us to know every bit of it. Maybe we can appreciate the place the other person comes from without making sure they first display the correct status markers to be considered serious. Maybe a whole lot more people are "serious" than we have ever allowed for. And maybe our "serious" canon isn't as universal as we've always presented it.

I really appreciate this comment--but more than its content, I appreciate the lens which is one which I have never had to consider or really encounter in any deep sort of way. This is not the first time this has come up--I recall some conversation about identity and the hearing impaired. And it's come up in other blog posts as a kind of side-note.

I don't really have a coherent, or frankly even polite, way to ask this question. But here is what I think: so much social justice writing is about what society owes those who we perceive as getting the short of end of the stick. It's called social justice for a reason. But what I like about this post is that it isn't simply about what the world should do about physical disability, but how a physical disability shaped a person's life, regardless of societal responsibility.

I'm putting this thread here out of sheer curiosity. As I've said I've seen some of my commenters, from to time, allude to their disabilities. I guess I am asking how it feels beyond the realm of social justice? How does disability shape a person and their approach learning, or anything? I know "disability" is a big word. I'd like to leave it that way on purpose. 

Speak your peace please. But be nice. There's nuff sarcasm on this blog. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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