Hello!

I have been having lots of thoughts lately after my last post. Some are directly related, some not, to the topic of my last post (which was on sanism).

I don’t always have the time and energy to write things that are complete and make sense. I’m slowly figuring out different ways of recording thoughts. And one thing I’m trying is recording voice memos.

I just recorded a voice memo a short bit ago and then transcribed it immediately after. The topic is on the common disability advocate saying, “disability is not a bad word.” I was going to deeply edit and make it “better”, but I think the way it exists as a transcription is already an offering. So instead I only did some light editing and am sharing it with you the way it is right now.

This may be messier than most of the writing that I’ve shared, as it’s a lightly edited transcription of a voice memo. But hopefully some of it still resonates.

Thank you for reading – and again, I welcome feedback, thoughts, reflections, ruminations.

With love,

Nancy

*The rest of this post is the transcription of my voice memo.

Okay, so this voice memo is on Friday, February 24, 2023 at about 2:20 PM.

I am recording myself because I was trying to write this out and I can’t seem to really process as I’m writing it out so I thought saying it out loud would be more helpful.

Something I’m processing right now is my thoughts around disability advocates’ continual advocating for “disability is not a bad word”. Just how disability advocates are continuously saying “disability is not a bad word”.

It’s kind of funny, because, you know, there was a time when I would have been such an avid advocate for that. I would have so pridefully and happily said “disability is not a bad word” alongside all these other disability advocates. In some ways, I still do, I mean it’s funny because I’m wearing a shirt that says those exact words on it right now. Like I’m wearing a shirt that has it, right now. So, obviously, it’s had a grounding in the way I understand disability and the way that I’ve grown in my disability advocacy. 

But these days, especially after having spent time reflecting on how I have really learned to internalize white supremacist and colonial ways of being and language and thought, I am coming to realize that the way I have grown in disability advocacy has been grounded in white supremacist and colonial language and thought as well.

And so when I hear people say, or see people say, “disability is not a bad word.” It just hits differently. It doesn’t feel right to say those things anymore. And I think it’s essentially because… I think of how in my native Hmong language, there is no word for disability. And it’s not that Hmong people aren’t developed in disability advocacy or in disability. It’s not that disability has never existed in the Hmong culture. It definitely has. And I think it’s not that we’re not developed in our ways of thinking around disability–I think it’s rather that we think of disability in a different way. Like, our experience of disability is different. And that’s not a bad thing.

I think [the internalization of white supremacist and colonial language and thought is] reflected in how there is such an emphasis on trying to find a word for disability [and] trying so hard to frame that word of disability as something that’s not bad. [A]s soon as you say the word “disability” and “disabled”, in mainstream cultures, in white supremacist culture, there’s going to be that, “Oh, disability is a bad thing” and… [with] that binary thinking that is so natural in colonial and white supremacist ways, obviously [disability as a word and concept is] going to have some negative connotation in white supremacist and colonial ideology. Maybe it’s not that Hmong people are backwards and that we don’t understand that disability is not bad, but maybe it’s that we never saw disability as something that was contentious in that way in the first place.

Maybe as Hmong people, our ideas of disability are so different that we didn’t even need a word for disability because the way we function as a community has a different understanding of varied experiences of the body.

Maybe it sounds like a euphemism to talk about disability [in that way]. Maybe talking about disability in euphemisms seems like something that’s terrible and wrong. I understand the viewpoint of, yes, disability is not a bad thing. But I think it’s not necessarily that Hmong folks see disability as a bad thing. It’s that…

I don’t know how to say this in white supremacist, colonial language that would be able to grasp what I’m trying to say. It’s just that… you know, even in the Hmong language when we talk about disability it’s very contextual. Like the way we talk about illness and disability… it’s very contextual when we talk about those experiences. It’s not like, “oh that person is disabled”, it’s like, “oh that person has a broken leg and so they can’t walk as well as other people.” [T]hat’s how we would describe it in Hmong instead. Nws lov ceg, nws taug kev tsis taus li luag tej. You know?

So, it’s frustrating to me that we push this notion of intersectionality, and this notion of leadership of those who are most impacted, and this notion of anti-capitalism and working against white supremacy and colonialism, but at the same time, we keep pushing for white supremacist and colonial language to talk about disability, to talk about our experiences as people who are not abled. We keep pushing for that in our advocacy, and we’re not remembering that… there are ways of being and different language and thought that maybe we should consider too. And it’s not that “hey disability is a bad word and that’s why Hmong language doesn’t have a word for it.” No, it’s so contextual. The context of disability in other cultures is different. Maybe it’s not about that binary. Maybe it’s about the varied, multitude of experiences that exist. And we need to understand that those other varied ways of existing, exist. And maybe we need to start centering them instead of centering just the word “disability” and “disabled” and white colonial language and thought in the way that we do disability advocacy.

It makes me honestly kind of angry the way that I see disability advocacy done even within the Hmong community, where it’s like we view our community as being backwards and wrong when it comes to disability. But no… our way of being as Hmong folks informs the way we approach disability issues and the existence of disability. And there’s something we can learn from that in our disability advocacy instead of saying that, “hey, no, we need to teach [Hmong folks] white supremacist colonial ideas of disability so that they can better themselves.” No, that’s just wrong.

I’m going to end this here, because I think I’m needing to [transcribe these words so I know what I’m saying].

I just think, you know, [how we] think of disability, even the language and mode of thought that we’re using in disability advocacy, that’s something we need to challenge too.