The Academy, the Opression Olympics & the N-Word: A Rant About a Book
I am trying very hard to be open-minded with things, especially as I approach them through course-work, in classes with other people who are personally invested in the work of the people we are reading. I understand that you can “like the person”, and think she was “just lovely”, and “wonderful” and, “doing important work” when you met her at that conference. And I am glad you can find her work “beautiful”. It makes me uncomfortable. Not because of the topic, but because of how it was positioned. It is a pattern I’ve seen before, and I know where it almost always leads to. This was the experience I had when reading Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge by Petra Kuppers. I was having a hard time with the Flaneur/Turtle conversation that the book starts with, and then, in the intro on page we start with the discomfort, for me:
“In relation to disability, the main themes that are aligned with specific differences are tragedy, loss, and dependency. Like people stereotyped by structural meanings of gender and race, disabled people use cultural interventions in order to subvert and query these meanings, and disability culture emerges as counterculture. The chapters of this book chart some of the forms that these disruptions of conventionalized meanings take. One problem with the allocation of ‘disability’ to a person is the cloudiness and uncertainty that surrounds the team. At most points in the recent history of Western civilization, the term ‘woman’ was relatively unproblematic: a deep consensus ruled this definition, pushing complicated cases to the margins, even though the definition has been challenged as less than natural many times, and continues to be a focus of analysis today.
In relation to this, the term ‘black’ shows more diffuse hold on specific forms of biology, complicated by the term’s historic changes, from ‘nigger’ to ‘black’ to ‘African American’, ‘Caribbean’, etc., from specific subcultures defined by diasporic experiences, myths of ‘homeland’ or religious affiliation. Like ‘woman’, or ‘gay’, or ‘black’, the term ‘disabled’ holds a history of both oppression and pride: after a long historic period of predominant negativity, disabled people have re-claimed their differences as a source of communality and cohesion in the face of oppression. Civil rights groups and forms of culture have founded themselves on the difference policed by the term” (6).
W.T.F. No. Really. Is this necessary? I feel like there is some ongoing game where people try to sneak the n-word in to see if anyone notices. Additionally, this books seems to premised on things I just am not okay with. I think we’ve gone from the myth of the black population of the world as the noble savage to the myth of the noble martyr. Further, how the hell are you going to name ever oppressed group in the world that has a defamatory slur attached to them, but limit yourself to using the n-word? So no, this does not get a pass for me. Sorry. All she did was let me know that she is probably racist.
You see, this is what happens. I am attempting to keep an open mind, just reading a book, I get to page 6 of the introduction and then, BAM! blackness… I am wary but on board out then BOOM! n-bomb for no reason. While I can keep reading, when I come across this as the case exemplar of oppression in society, I sort of write off the writer right away. The reason is simple, the conflation does not work, and, excuse my language, but that is a really fucked up place to start. It lets me know everything I need to know about an author. There is an assumption that at some point ever black person in the world was an n-word and then, somehow that magically stopped being the case, only not really, because she says that it is part of “black”. No. Sorry, but no. That is not part of my blackness. Some non-black people might think of me in that way. Hell, some black people might too. But those people don’t define my world. But part of this myth of the noble martyr, we are all so proud to invoke our nigger status to move through the world apparently… even by acknowledge our blackness we are reminding people of that. See, that didn’t feel too good, did it? I’d been so nice and taken the word out, and then BOOM!
Maybe my expectations are too high. No. No. Sorry. To take on that position, of being the “n of the world” as John Lennon & Yoko Ono so…. unfortunately put, is a really horrible way to see yourself or imagine your position. In addition to being racist, it makes me feel really sad for you and how you are imagining yourself. But thank you so much for letting me know. You feeling that way lets me know how you feel about me. As such, I reserve the right to not engage with you or your scholarship because I will never be a whole person for you. I will never associate myself with a word that has no redeeming value for me and is not how I see myself, the people I come from, or the people like me. While I do understand the movement of the word through society, I choose to align myself somewhere else, where I am not defined as the Other or by the (Relative) other. Instead, I celebrate that I am alive in a time where I can engage in world making, and make a world where that place you try to pin my beginning point ends up being the end of our relationship.
I will not drink your kool-aid. I do not believe in comparing wounds, nor do I believe in competing in the oppression olympics. That is a game that erases not just me, but also you, because when you do that, you don’t allow a place for intersectionality. You don’t allow a place for people to just live their lives. And while I do appreciate the people who tried to save this book, and came down on me for my critique of it and attempted to show me how wrong I was with this film that she choreographed and directed? Yea… just look at the framing.