Friday, September 28, 2018

Worth Your Read: The Supercrip Narrative

Before anyone gets upset about the use of the word "crip" (short for cripple) and "supercrip" (super cripple), I should point out that words grow and change over the years.  Those words, especially the first one, are being reclaimed and redefined to be part of an identity, rather than the extremely offensive derogatory categorization they've been in the past.  Similar transformations have occurred to the word "queer" via the LGBTQ+ community, and the n word (I am way too white to type it out), by the African Diaspora.

Like the n word, however, it's unwise for a person that isn't a member of the group to use it in reference to someone of the group.  So, unless I as a white person would like to be insulting and an awful person, I should never go around referring to any African Americans as the n word.  Similarly, an abled person shouldn't go around calling me, or someone in a wheelchair, a "crip."

The main thrust of this article was more true a decade ago than it is now.  There are now dozens to hundreds of "my life with autism" books, though of course none of them as widely read at Dr. Grandin's books.  However, Grandin does not seem to me to be the towering giant the author sees her as.  She is joined in the big leagues by John Elder Robison, Dr. Stephen Shore, and Ari Ne'eman.  While I'm sure the audience for these and others will never been as wide or as devoted as those for Dr. Grandin, that's kind of the natural result of being the first.

Then, too, she's human.  We are all, to a point, products of our upbringing.  I'm not sure what my generation's "black people" will be, but the civll rights movement will follow sooner or later.  First it was women, in the earlier 1900s...  then it was African Americans around Dr. Grandin's childhood.  In the 80s to the present, it's been the LGBTQ+ people.  I'd like to think that if we get stable artificial intelligence, my generation will treat it like people... but most likely the population will be yet another subset of humanity that I'm currently blind to.

All that said, I don't disagree with the author about the problematicness of Dr. Grandin's platform.  While I haven't personally detected the blatant racism of the 50s in her literary works, her marked distaste for video games and computers rubs me the wrong way.  She mostly speaks of them in terms of addiction, which, while important, is not the whole of the picture when it comes to technology.  Any kind of addiction is serious, and that is of course important to address... but after a while, the whole thing starts to come off as "new things are bad!" which is a classic fallacy of aging generations.

Finally, I sighed pretty hard when I read about people's concepts of "overcoming autism."  Dr. Grandin has done no such thing.  She is still autistic, and no amount of achievement, public speaking, or medication will make her not autistic.  She has, like many of us, simply learned how to blend slightly better with the general population.  She accomplished this by way of much experience, proper medication to handle her anxiety and other comorbid issues, and various other supports.  It is flatly laughable to assume that if you took all those supports away, she would still be perfectly fine.

We, none of us, will ever not be autistic.  I've not seen the behavior the author describes, where people ease their guilty ableistic selves by simply nodding approvingly at the one autistic person they think has "overcome" their diagnosis, but I wouldn't doubt it's happened.  One of the stereotypical US white people tendencies is to avoid conflict when possible, and acknowledging your own biases, and indeed, that disability itself exists, will cause internal conflict.

Even that isn't enough, though.  Society itself, and all the people in it, must adapt to us, not merely sit back and expect us to bend ourselves into pretzels to fit in.  Perhaps the next group to have a visible civil rights movement is... us.  

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