Stop centering us: Disability and white supremacy

During a recent discussion online about an article on disabled parenting, several people shared their thoughts about the decision to parent as a disabled person. A couple of people mentioned specific concerns, listing a variety of what-if scenarios explaining their hesitancy to start a family even if parenting is a desire of theirs.

Many of these scenarios are backed up by evidence proving their fear. My husband and I were well aware of the stories about disabled parents confronting discrimination and, in some cases, having their children removed simply because they are disabled. However, neither of us thought much about this when making the decision to start a family. These thoughts hovered in the background, but they were not front and center in our minds.

Even after having our kids, and I have to give a big, obligatory knock-on-wood here, the biggest concern we have encountered is a lack of accessibility, mostly in the way of print and digital information. And once we bring this issue to the attention of whomever is in charge, the immediate accessibility problem is usually resolved. Accessibility is a big problem and should be a priority for any business, organization, entity, but in the grand scheme, not being able to use a digital platform to sign my kid up for camp does not compare to people constantly remarking on a perceived inability to care for your kids, and having your children removed.

In the same discussion, someone pointed out that black and brown disabled parents are more likely to battle ablism as a disabled parent than us white disabled people. It’s so true, but I had not thought about this. As much work as I think I do to be an anti-racist, I failed to see my privilege seeping out of my comments.

Despite the fact that I’m blind, I’m white, married and middle class, all layers of privilege I experience that make me less likely to be a target than fellow disabled people who are BIPOC and do not have access to the resources I do. I took a step back and truly had to confront my privilege and how my actions and comments feed white supremacy.

My husband is part Lebanese, and while he has an ethnic quality to his appearance, he identifies as white and does not believe he has experienced racism ever. I can only speak to my experience though. As a white woman who is as WASPY as they come, I frequently benefit from institutions and services that often exclude people of color and tend to do so intentionally. By failing to acknowledge this, I uphold white supremacy.

To my fellow white disabled peeps: We need to do the work. We need to confront this head-on. We need to stop centering white experiences and dismantle these systems often benefitting us but holding BIPOC back.

Yes, we are equally disabled. Yes, we will slam up against a system created for non-disabled people. We will be stifled by ablist microaggressions daily. But we have to realize and acknowledge that disabled BIPOC experience this on a deeper, broader level. Disability is another disadvantage they have to hurdle in order to exist in this world. And when white disabled people refuse to accept and acknowledge this, we uphold the white supremist ideals that have permeated this country since its inception.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: