Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Here I am Baby, signed, sealed, delivered - I'm "Crip"

Subtitle or alternate title : What is "Crip", what does it mean, and why it is important to me.

The interconnection between labels and empowerment has been seen again and again throughout civil rights movements. For example, the reclaiming and redefining of the label "Queer" in the GLBT movement. Until recently the label "queer" was considered an extremely derogatory and creul slur agaisnt a GLBT person. However, in the new wave of the GLBT movement "queer" is now used by some as a political term or identidy, and/or by some to describe their sexuality. ( In the latter context, "queer" is an umbrella term that describes any identidy that is not hetereosexual.) In a similiar sense the disability community has been reclaiming the slur "cripple". (If you are not already aware the terms "cripple", "gimp" "dumb", "vegetable", "deformed", "retard", "midget"and "victim" are considered to be extremely offensive words and derogatory slurs.) The derogatory word "cripple" has been transformed into a label of empowerment (when used by people who identify as having a disability within this context). One offshoot of the reclaiming of "cripple" is the label of "crip":
In Simi Linton's book " Claiming Disability: knowledge and identity" she describes the phenomenom in the following way.
'In reclaiming 'cripple' disabled people are taking the thing in their identity that scares the outside world the most and making it a cause to revel in with militant self pride.' (Shapiro 1993, 34). Cripple, gimp, and freak as used by the disability community have transgressive potential. They are personally and politically useful as means to comment on oppression because they assert our right to name experience." (17)

Thus, one of the reasons I decided to start this blog is because of the complex power dynamics hidden within language. What we say, and what we choose to label ourselves as, colors our self worth and thus our understanding of our identity within society; whether it be concious or not. Language is extradonarily powerful. In short, it can assign worth to an object and/or devalue an object in as little as one sentance. Framed within this context, one can see how important it is to carefully contemplate how one chooses or agrees to label oneself. I believe, that when a group of people are denied the right to name their identidy, a most complex power dynamic is set up. It is almost as if they are denied the right to have an identidy seperate from the oppressor or the group that is doing the "naming". They are constantly seen as to be in relation to the dominant group,; not an independent or empowered group within itself. Basically, the politics surrounding the language of their "naming"- "others" them before their experience or apparent differance can be fully realized. Although, I am not sure of the process or power dynamics of "othering", I would argue that a large dominant group of people labeling a smaller group of people, may be the first step or one of the first steps in the process of becoming the "other".

Therefore, I am declaring my state of rebellion agaisnt being the "other" and the beginning of my process of becoming a "crip".

I walk with a limp. My left foot turns inward and when I am tired or sick, I almost entirely walk on the side of it. Due to my CP, my muscles are tighter and I could be described as walking on my toes. I function independently in almost all areas of my life, but I do need help going up and down steps that don't have a railing. Unfortunately, I have spent a better part of twenty five years trying to hide it by limiting my public activities to things I know will not accentuate my "walk".

How oppressing.

Where did I get this idea that I must hide and apologize for the very human imperfections of my body? How did I come to embody the narrative that how I move and/or look is not valid or acceptable enough for public display? I do not know the exact answer to this, and even if I did, it is not something I could coherantly explain via a blog post at midnight. However, I do believe that the beginnings of my harmful embodied narrative started with the labels of " disabled" and "Cerebral Palsy".

Since I can remember these labels have been attached to my name - mostly in a medical context, and occasionally in a social context. Equally if not more important, they are some of the primary labels I have used to describe myself, my identity, and my experience. When deconstructed I can see that the very nature of these labels degrade my identity and experience in that they compartamentalize it to such a great extent. For example, for better or worse, I understand the descriptive term 'disabled' as a way to describe me as nothing more than my physical parts. Physical parts, that by the very definition of the word, can never live up to their "intended" or "normal" function. Physical parts, that by the very definition of the word, are less than, as in they are less than able. Furthermore, the constant labeling of "Cerebral Palsy" although useful in some medical settings for diagnostic reasons served as a reminder that I have this imperfect body, whose worth is entangled in terms other people use to describe it.

It is difficult for me to fully describe this lived power dynamic, so I will try to use the following example. Imagine how a body image and body politic may change if every time an overweight woman went to the doctor, she was referred to as the ' woman with fatness'. Imagine also that her body fat was often measured to gage an adequete increase in her weight in order perhaps for the doctors and to effectively suggest methods that may make her life more "normal". Finally, imagine that the woman was one of the only visably overweight women wherever she went and her identity was often connected to her fatness. For example, people may revere her for living such a "normal" life despite being fat; she may be considered a "fat inspiration"; and people may ask her "how come you are "fat" what happened?"

Just by pure life experience through labeling, one can see that not only is this woman's identity rooted somewhat in her "fatness"; but it is also rooted within the context that her "fatness" should be changed or normalized.

How oppressing.

Now, consider if the woman were to say "I am not a woman with fatness, I am just fat! This is my body type and nothing is wrong with it; we all have different body types - and mine is fat - stop trying to sanititize me into non existance."

Could that small change in language trigger a change in identity? Could that small change in language trigger a change in power dynamics with the dominating or "naming" group?

I say "Yes it can!"

The labels "disabled" and "Cerebral Palsy" - attached to me by other people - describes a very compartamentalized, medical, and physical version of my experience; that is in a sense very, very "othering". While the label "Crip" loosely describes my body type and a community of people with whom I share lived experiences. There is no value or medical judgement attached to "crip". It is not seen as a prescription for a harder life or social awkwardness. "Crip" just is. Just like some people are brunettes, some people are "crip" - and the label ends there without any added judgement, apology, or connotation.
I, therefore, believe that by "cripping" language and labels such as "disability" I (and we) can change the process of being "othered" and internalizing the "othering". Because even though I am very new to this, to me, "crip" is not an "other"; "crip" is "crip".

1 comment:

PhilosopherCrip said...

Great post, Ava. I would also add to it that the term Crip has potential as a term for political solidarity as well (maybe another similarity to the term Queer?). That is, there is no such thing as a "mild or severe crip" there is only crip (some use assistive devices, some use personal attendants, but we are all crips). Naming not only others crips from the mainstream, but it also others us from our own community. By embracing cripped language, we can do some work toward challenging our oppression divides us through labels. That is the disability hierarchy is only possible through the medicalization of disability and the diagnostic labels that map onto it. If we are all just Crips, then we are all just one unified political force.

This can be problematic too though. For more on all of this, see my essay http://www.philosophercrip.com/2008/12/29/some-words-about-a-word/ and the (constructively) critical comments left there.