Conversations on social media about privilege and oppression often have comments along the lines of “it’s not the minority individual’s job to educate others as to how they are being oppressive or blind to their privilege.” And this always strikes me as problematic or as, generally, less than ideal.
On the one hand, of course.
Of course, it’s not my duty as a disabled person—the example I will use as a stand-in throughout this post—to tell every able-bodied person how or when they are being oppressive or to tell them how to be more aware of ableist institutionalization. Minority stress is real, and we shouldn’t add to that.
Alternatively, however, if someone wants to learn, I have an ethical responsibility to assist in that process, as I am able. And different people see and experience differently. Someone who has yet to experience disability, cannot necessarily learn about disability without assistance from others, others who have personal experience or who are experts. Ableism is so thoroughly built into society that people sincerely cannot see it. Certainly, other able-bodied people can and should assist, and this burden should not fall completely on people with disabilities, but in some regard, no one will be able to educate like someone who has experienced disability or studied disability.
This is especially problematic when the person with a disability tells someone genuinely interested in learning, “You are are being ableist. You need to change. And it’s not my job to tell you how or educate you on ableism.” And I see disabled people telling others this all the time.
It’s also important to remember that disabled people can be mean, disabled people can also even be ableist, disabled people can be racist or sexist or xenophobic, too. Being disabled, or a minority in another way, is not a free pass. And disabled people do not have a free pass to unilaterally determine what or who is and is not ableist—that would invoke essentialism and introduce an entirely new set of problems.
Everyone needs assistance seeing what they can’t see, and everyone would do better to simply be kind and open.
Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda