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  • Aaron Wright

Cultural Humility and Disability Discussions in the Age of Cancel Culture

I recently misspoke on social media; and the determination as to whether or not this is to be a death sentence or teachable moment is yet to be determined. In the meantime, it has lost me a guest spot on a podcast, an interview; and it has earned me multiple blocks as well as a scathing rebuke of what I’m “pretending” to be.

After I watched a video of predominantly white families, created by middleclass white women, who were championing the slogan that “All Children Matter” as a form of disability awareness, I felt compelled to comment and offer suggestions. I did not mean to be inflammatory or cruel, but noted that if we are going to use the word “all” to describe a protected population, the accompanying visuals and stakeholder input needs to be representative of “all.”

Later (and not directed at anyone in particular) I posted a sign that said if BIPOC were not included in one’s advocacy, then they were by default only advocating for white people. Which is a statement I stand by. In fact, I would rephrase that statement to say that if you are not including BIPOC representation and voices in your advocacy, you are only strengthening the narrative of white supremacy that has existed in this country since her inception. And that is a narrative that has lethal consequences for non-whites, especially the disabled.

Later I was asked if Asian people were included under the term BIPOC. And instead of doing the right thing and saying I was unsure and reaching out to my Asian friends/colleagues for comment, I said I didn’t think so. It was a rash and unsure (and biased) opinion I had formed by reading pieces about Asian identity which noted that some Asians do not identify as POC, but rather under acronyms such as API, APISA, or ESEAPISA.

I was immediately branded as hypocritical for criticizing someone for their misstep; while being blind to my own biases. Was it a fair categorization? I don’t think so. Regardless, I immediately acknowledged I was in the wrong and set out to learn more and broaden my perspective. I did not, nor have I ever blocked or “cancelled” anyone for pointing me in a better direction.

Social media means a lot of different things to people. For me it is a means to reach out and share ideas, expand my community, and help spread disability awareness. It is also a place for me to learn about others. But for many, the digital world may be their sole source of advertising for their ego, brand, or business; and as such, something to covet, restrict, and carve a defensive perimeter around.

In Alison Park’s blog “Rethinking Diversity” (which is a really good read if you are interested in Diversity Equity and Inclusion discussions) Alison notes that “pro-black antiracism is vital, and will not ‘cover’ all racism.” So in that context, my pro-black antiracism stance has been more explicit. Point taken.

What I did do, that I rarely, if ever, have seen on social media is apologize and attempt to open a dialogue. I’ve done so publicly and I’ve done so privately. But instead of dialogue, I was handed vitriol. A vitriol I have not shared and the antithesis of what I am attempting to do.

Here is what I emailed privately to the group that I “offended” by identifying a lack of diversity in their message:

Dear X,

I wanted to drop a quick note to express my apologies and reach out to you. I imagine that you are upset and potentially hurting after the general response to the video; and likely mine specifically. I wanted to let you know that I commented not as a reflection of what I believed your intent to be, but as a general statement about how we should support the disability community.

One of the things that has evolved for me over the last 15 years has been the humility to know that I will make mistakes at various points in the advocacy process. And when I have made those mistakes, I have tried as best as I can to embrace them as a path to growth. As parents of disabled children, we have to advocate for a group that we don’t belong to. And our children belong to a community that is wider and deeper than I ever imagined when I started on my family’s journey.

Inclusion is an often raw and fraught subject for anyone to navigate, and it is one that has a seriously unpleasant history in this country. I have learned the hard way that if I am to be inclusive, I need to solicit a wide variety of voices, especially if I want those voices to feel like I am speaking in their best interests.

I believe that what you are doing has the ability to influence the hearts and minds of people who have not walked our path. That is powerful and important.

I fully understand if you are no longer interested in having a dialogue with me. I hope you can understand that my intentions/actions were not meant to be cruel; but I can appreciate if they felt that way.

I wish you and your family the best and I will continue to support [your organization] in any way I can.

I have had no response as of yet.

Humility isn’t about if we screw things up, but when. What do we do with the when? Do we fight to protect our ego, the status quo, or our business model - or do we make the hard choice to listen? With every denial or wrong we create; we only further injure the ones we are trying to support. Being an advocate for a group to which you do not belong requires at least two things: Listening and the awareness to know that the agenda is not about you.

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