I’m loving this practice, an intentional effort to develop a deeper, more embodied understanding of the 10 principles of Disability Justice (as articulated by Patty Berne and Sins Invalid). It’s the middle of month 1, the first principle of “Intersectionality.” Here are some of the things that are coming up as I reflect, read, and talk about Intersectionality in the course of my days. I would love to hear what’s coming up for anyone else diving into these principles.

Different relationships to the multiple systems of power exist at the same time. AT THE SAME TIME. One does not negate another. I kind of “knew” this, but I can feel it sinking in more deeply. The systems of power that are enacted upon and through my body-mind are always operating. In this body-mind, it means, for example, that in the system of power that is white supremacy, my location in that system is white, which confers access to certain power. At the same time, in the system of power that is Ablebodiedness, I occupy a particular location. In the systems of power that are gender and body size and appearance I have particular locations (my locations in these system changes somewhat over time, and of course there are many other systems of power.) I experience the world in particular ways due to my locations in all of these systems.

Moving beyond the one-dimensional model of privilege-oppression is helping me get through some blocks I didn’t realize I had. I am appreciating some of the critiques of privilege theory that talk about the ways we can get stuck relating to that one linear dimension in a performative way, to gather social capital, rather than just recognizing what’s true so we can get on with the bigger business of liberation. I hadn’t realized I was a bit stuck there — wanting the areas where I am oppressed to somehow negate the areas where I have privilege, to place myself at a location in that one dimension, in order to prove my worth. It’s a very self-centered place, which blocks the ability to do an honest assessment of what power is operating, and makes it impossible to really take in what is happening for others. I have a feeling this is a very common place to be stuck.

Reading and seeing Eli Clare is an enormous part of this growing insight for me. In his writing and speaking, he models a clear focus on awareness of all the dimensions of power that are operating. It’s so important for me to see this modeled from someone who shares similar locations as me in some of the different power systems. He is white, disabled, queer and trans, and close in age to me. His anger about abuse of disabled people or gender non-conforming people in this world does not overshadow or displace his clear seeing and fury about white supremacy. He is clear on the fact that whiteness protects him, even if he can’t see all the ways, and that it’s vital to always ask the question.

So, for me: even in the midst of fat-phobic, homophobic, gender essentialist, ableist oppression, how is whiteness protecting me? Because it still is. Asking this question, emerging from the absorption of a singular “I’m oppressed!” idea of myself, emerging from thinking about my locations in any of these power systems as dictating my value as a person, allows for the possibility of truly seeing outside my own experience. What’s happening for those who don’t have the protection of whiteness?

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