RACHEL DOLEZAL

WHEW!

The RACHEL DOLEZAL situation discussed on Bi Net is fascinating as an issue in which I spotted an intersection between ablelism and bisexuality but having discovered a disablism issue within it I wanted to air my thoughts here to avoid any mistakes on my part. By the time I’d done that, others had picked up on the original ‘sanity’ reference.

Interesting for  me because it helps contextualise a lot of topics I was standing too close to when I was once accused?/misinterpreted/? called out? as trying to appropriate Black American culture because I used a phrase which an American POC recognised as relating to such but in my innocence had been an expression of academic interest in ‘learning from’ a Black friend as a feminist and survivor.  A literal expression of my visual impairment is impossible.

I don’t know if you saw the Onion article (!) on ‘not seeing colour.’ An satire on this phrase but ableist when you consider the plight of those of is trying to express that we really do  “I just see muddy blobs.” Notice how often I don’t see colour” is appropriating blindness as a metaphor leaving those with visual problems stumbling (damn, there it is again) for a way of convincing others that out deafness/inability to observe someone’s racial differences in dress is in fact a REAL visual spatial issue. Almost impossible to convince on that one and part of my classification in the DSM is drawn from my ‘refusal’ to shake hands with a psychiatrist (and risk falling over – no sticks, no feet!)  YET training tells is that racism more important than disablism and am I not appropriating an issue that is race related and surely ability is not ‘the main issue’.   It got nasty so I learnt a lot about thinks we in the UK don’t usually even consider.  Fast and painfully!

That’s taking our conversation on intersectionality to a whole new level! Good grief! How do you summarise THAT? You’ll have guessed I’m not one for summaries, folks! Especially well spotted quote by Merisa. Her identity is NOW an issue whether we like it or not. Some identity theorists would probably posit that a negation automatically creates a place in the dialogue for the question when is an identity identified by an outsider or otherwise NOT an issue? Even if we disavow her as neither queer nor black we’ve just raised the issue of sanity and potentially our own prejudices and sensitivities.

It is clearly a problematic and high octane situation both in gender politics and queer and Black politics (and having read a good few articles on how NOT to be a White ally I have to say, “….!!”

Its most disturbing element for me is that as bisexuals we have to deal with either the stigma of association with rampant racism, “See this is what bisexuals are- racist” _or_ the stigma of mental illness coupled with bisexuality “See bisexuals are nuts/don’t know who they are “. or perhaps most troubling for a bisexual with mental health issues the idea that we have to disassociate ourselves from mentally ill people in case they start acting like THAT!. . Certainly the comments threads following the articles display the full range of prejudices and microagressions that POC in America have to contend with as well as the hostile prejudices between various political viewpoints. It’s an eyeopener. More so if I wonder whether it is OK as a Brit to use this page though I’d miss it awfully as there is nothing so educated or astute available in the UK. But as a newbie, a non American and someone who is only just out

I’d like to raise one further issue: sanism. Please excuse this post if it seems unclear, I’m no longer working in academic Disability Politics full-time and i doubt I could lay out te arguments with the clarity LGBT identity discussions have simply because very few of us have access to the academic field that informs the discourse that describes our situation. however, I am a disability writer and activist so I’ve done my best to lay out my feelings based on current views on disablism, sanism and the language currently problematically used in common speech.

The non-bisexual element in the story – her claim to be Black and the questions this raises is one for both a qualified psychologist and the people most harmed by her appropriation of racial equality issues who I would assume to be POC. However, it is also an issue for people with experience of mental health stigma and mental health activism if she begins to be labelled as mentally ill prior to a diagnosis. A qualified physician is the person we need here if only because labelling her as ‘mentally unstable’ is damaging to people with mental health issues in the same way that that thread about ‘bisexual bipolar’ a while back highlighted that those of us who are bi with mental health issues feel labelled with stigma both ways when someone labels someone as unstable AND bisexual.
I can only speak to the ‘ouch factor’ for a triple identity person; bi, disabled and labelled with mental health issues that I’d be happy to skip having, although I can imagine the stigma of yet again having bisexuality associated with attitudes and conditions that most people shun is equally disturbing. As someone who only recently realised my true gender, I was horrified by the coupling of disability and homosexuality as ‘God’s mistakes’ by a Catholic bishop both because as a disabled person I find the concept of genetic ‘abnormalities’ being singled out for opprobrium to be dis/ablist and because I thought it equally distasteful to liken homosexuality to anything soiciety considers abhorrent. I had the luxury of observing it from both the angle of a disabled person and a soon-to-be-out bisexual. Academically speaking the obvious analogies are the social urge to segregate and remove all ‘deviant’ elements of society yet this is complicated by the fact taht whilst many people see homophobia and racism as abbhorrent a far fewer people regard disablism or sanism as equally dubious.
If she IS mentally ill – and it’s possible it is still worth considering that politicians and celebs with no diagnosis of mental illness come out with peculiar and outrageously offensive things every day and people accept them as rational, sadly. I know my Black friends will be furious at this appropriation and it is nauseating and disturbing but there is a further point. Sanism and the tendency for the mass media to refer to any statement as “crazy, mad, twisted”. We can, I think only speak from the identities we have on this one or risk making the mistakes that others do when commenting unthinkingly on bisexuality.
As an example of the phobia surrounding mental health even many physically disabled people shun people with developmental disabilities or mental health issues because of the way the general public often mislabels all disabled people as mentally
lacking in some way. In this they then demonstrate the stigmas found in the able bodied world and often the ignorance so that for example the anger of a person known to have PTSD is labelled as ‘manic’ (misapplied label) AND always disallowed as a valid anger once that person is known to have issues.
It’s worrying that as a society within any social group that by not wanting to associate with a problematic person we can dismiss her as unstable. SHE may be, but actually attaching the label of mental illness runs the dual risk of only reinforcing the ‘unstable bisexual in search of an identity’ and of alienating people with mental health conditions who might feel that the issue of racism and lack of education is being deflected much as any foolish action is labelled ‘dumb’ or ‘retarded’ by Twitter and Facebook users.
Rather long, I’m afraid but impossible to summarise without losing the sense for people unfamiliar with the concept of sanism or the fact that disablism might actually be a problem rather than an acceptable social commentary.

I like the comment about psychiatry as a ‘poor defining criteria’ even though I agree with the caveat on prejudiced diagnoses. I’ve had a lot of ‘friends’ and even some clinicians diagnose any behaviour that in any way contradicts their view of appropriate behaviour from me as ‘mentally ill’ in the KINDEST terms whilst ignoring identical behaviour in my family or in themselves. As views of insanity are incredibly culturally constructed as well, Frances Donnelly. I think the difficulty with assumptions that she must be very unwell or would only do so were she mentally unwell, are a logical cultural process for many but that doesn’t allow for the fact that this is *potential* mislabelling red alert and triggers interesting questions on a saneism issue. And then if she is defined by some people as mad and some as bad and there is enough press the two often become synonymous to some people
Many cultures in which Western views of ‘mental illness’ do not apply would see many mental illnesses as shamanic. Here our politicians are frequently referred to as ‘insane’ or have traits many diagnose as megalomaia and who yet hold office despite damaging behaviour and socially destructive attitudes. Her attitudes ARE culturally destructive and abhorrent racially but we are on questionable ground as to whether here this definition of ‘illness’ arises out of anxiety that biphobia labels all homosexuality but particularly bisexuality as pathological and few wish to associate with overt racism or be tainted as a whole social group. Culturally the terms ‘mad’ or ‘mentally ill’ are often used without understanding its nuances and therefore our anxiety with labelling does not condone her actions but questions the response to them.
Interesting, we were loathe to step into a challenge the ‘main’ thread perhaps demonstrating both our fear of stigma and our lack of a common language within even a linguistically fluent group who know how to spot mislabelling of bisexuality.

As someone who came late to the realisation that there was any hierarchy in which I was NOT the bottom rung, I think I can see your point about how abuse would confuse her sense of appropriate and appropriation.
From aged 8 when I started to be bullied at school for my disabilities, I assumed there was a hierarchy. ‘Nice’ people came top. I didn’t. There are lots of ways at looking at whether I felt my younger siblings ‘ought’ to be on the lower rung but it was made pretty clear no one was, without ever descending into violence – except psychological and the only people my family seemed to suggest were (but of course it will predate that in the home…. or I would have resisted bullying?) I felt myself (possibly slightly parallel to my abusers- and grateful for the affection of the one child in my school (he was Black and adopted) who befriended me – he and his brother were the other ‘outsiders’ along with the disabled and traveller children in our tiny UK community. I can analyse the motivations in the light of isolation and due to what I just discovered about my family in this thread! Ouch!
It can really blur the boundaries of what can BE appropriated when one’s family adopts but is also abusive – a child is confused and thinks it goes both ways.
My family’s middle-class semi-overt racism (UK style) and my mother’s (unofficial) rejection of me as the disabled adult in my teens in favour of unofficially adopting my very blonde sister’s biracial best friend is a bit of a window on how ‘adoptions’ can operate to abuse or exclude family members. I’m only surprised that it took me ’til this year to recognise it in play in my own family dynamic! Fascinating! It took a POC calling me out (not that she knew the history) to make me ask myself why my family could refer to Caroline as their ‘daughter’ but I was attacked for calling her my ‘sister’ as a white woman. I feel no kinship with her yet I was surprised when Black people were hostile of my ‘sister’ references to other Black women or of my ‘half sister’
I know now that there could be a complex web of need for validation where the adopted and birth children have been played against each other and threatened with implicit rejection. The ‘need’ to ‘adopt’ the racial characteristics that seems most favoured then makes a confused logic of it all which the adult has to disentangle the appropriate from the toxic. . The other option being overt racism!

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