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language and (dis)ability

I had some issues with Project South’s stated intentions to be committed to inclusivity of all identities and attentive to multiple forms of oppression, but uses language that I felt reinforces ableism. One of Project South’s stated guidelines is “Oppression exists by not in our space: the existence of oppression (racism, classism, sexism, homophobia/heterosexism, etc.) is not debatable. Oppressive behavior will not be tolerated.? (23). However, the toolkit uncritically relies heavily on language that is connected to normative ways of sensing/knowing. Particularly, I found problematic the phrases “step up, step back?, “visionary/vision? and “we see? and other such language that relates to seeing, visualizing, stepping and experiencing the world through senses that not everyone uses. This critique stated, I appreciate the general intent of the organization’s mission.

Here are just a few examples I found in the text:

In popular education definitions (20):

Inclusive: “We see ourselves in relation to all people, including those of different ethnic groups and nationalities, social classes, ages, genders, sexualities, and abilities.?

Visionary: We are hopeful, creating an optimistic vision of the community and global society we want for ourselves and our families.

In “Building Blocks for Our Movement?:

“Three essential building blocks for our economic and social justice movement are critical consciousness, vision, and strategy—CVS. [. . .] Vision is the big and bold picture we create of the world we want for our families, our communities and our plant. Strategy is the plan we collectively make to change the world in which we live into world we envision (12).


Project South is certainly not alone in social justice organizing that are purportedly committed to dismantling all forms of hierarchy and oppression and yet reinforce subjugation of people with (dis)abilities through the use of problematic or uncritical appropriation of language. Project South is certainly not “the worst? offender of this kind of misappropriation of sensory/ableist language, but it really offends me that the organization states outright that it intends to be inclusive of people of all abilities and yet disregards their epistemology through their use of visionary and “stepping? language. It is not my intent to disregard the really important work Project South is doing, but rather, to make a point about language and inclusivity as it relates to ordering structures and social change. What do you think and feel about this critique? Do you feel like Project South is using language in this way? Can you think of other organizations that do similar things? Is that sort of hypocrisy between stated intentions and language reality something to be tolerated?

Comments

I think it is important to critically pick through project south and I am sure that board of PS would be more than happy to read your critiques.
Language in social justice movements are as important as the beliefs, goals and action of the group. To be aware of what is said and what is implied is central to any person, group or organization. More critique, such as yours, needs to be done.

I found your complication of the language that is used in the handbook very important and critical to understanding how easy it is to homogonize every victim of oppression. I myself didn't even think twice about revisiting and analysing the words that we use commonly to fight against oppression. This is why I completly agree with your blog and found it helpful in looking at the text again.