coverage of the
Queer Disability Conference
San Francisco State University
June 2 &3, 2002
aims to provoke, delight, amaze and offend you
To the Editor:
It was with great
dismay and concern that I read the feature "A
Conversation about the Conference" between yourself and David
J. O'Connor. As a committed anti-racist Irish/English/German/Spanish
"white" activist, I found your comments about the conference's closing
plenary quite disturbing.
First, I'm worried
and saddened by your referral to a "hijacked plenary." This is loaded,
wounding language in a post 9-11 world. Referring to folks of color
demanding the space they deserved and psychologically (dis)abled/crazy
folks demanding the space they deserved but did not receive at the
conference as a "hijacking" inexcusably perpetuates the utterly
abominable racist and ableist images of "crazy Arabs" that currently
saturate all forms of media in this country.
of "hijack," according to Random House Webster's College Dictionary,
is "to seize by threat or force." It means violently occupying a
place the "hijackers" have no right to be. Does this mean that people
of color and/or crazy folks, when there was not a single workshop
session addressing their vital struggles and concerns, had no right
to occupy the only space that was belatedly relinquished to them
after concerted negotiation with the conference organizers (not
taken by force)? Does this mean that people of color and/or crazy
folks had no right to be at the conference at all unless they docilely
went along with an agenda that completely excluded them, and afterward
had only positive things to say about how hard the organizers had
Far from "hijacking"
the closing plenary, and "unfairly putting the organizers on the
spot," psychologically (dis)abled folks and folks of color were
the ones "unfairly put on the spot." They had to work to organize
ad-hoc meeting spaces, then demand that privileged white and/or
non-psychologically (dis)abled folks listen to the painful effects
of our racism and psychological ableism.
You refer to the
"wisdom" of Samuel Lurie observing that the "magic of the conference"
made it possible for the keynote space to be given to these communities.
After acknowledging the grievous error of an all-white, non-psychologically
(dis)abled organizing committee, Eli Clare and the rest of the organizers
did the only thing they could rightfully do to begin reparations
for blatantly racist and psychologically ableist behavior. I do
not think that acknowledging that they "knew better than to organize
with an all-white committee" but "did it anyway," is particularly
"magic," nor do I see Lurie as particularly "wise" for congratulating
white folks for being generous enough to give up space that had
to be demanded of us.
Despite the painful
reality that white supremacist thinking shaped the entire content
of the conference, you claim white privilege is "already recognized"
by (dis)abled people who benefit from it, reducing the vital concerns
of non-white and psychologically (dis)abled folks to "merely guilt-tripping
the converted." If this were true, where was the collective outcry
at the beginning of the conference by every single white and/or
non-psychologically (dis)abled individual attending the conference
when we realized the inexcusable gaps in the conference program?
You also state that you wished to "shake the program in [these communities']
faces," referring to the paragraph-long explanation in the program
excusing conferences' shortcomings. Why should non-white and psychologically
(dis)abled/crazy folks be expected to be content with this token
acknowledgement of the intense pain privileges cause? The same paragraph
challenged attendees to "learn and stretch" beyond these shortcomings.
Yet, in your conversation, you minimize the critical concerns of
these communities, accuse them of emotionally manipulative behavior,
and label them "hijackers." Somehow, your contention that folks
of color and psychologically disabled folks were speaking to an
audience that was ready and willing to deal with their racism and
psychological ableism doesn't ring true.
remain: what are we as relatively (but not minimally) privileged
white and non-psychologically (dis)abled individuals going to do
to make sure the wounds of the first Queer Disability Conference
are not re-inflicted? How are we going to move beyond "outreach"
to specific communities (which implies that they join an already
set agenda and power structure, instead of shaping the agenda and
taking power for themselves)? We must use our privileges to self-educate
and support the work already being done by (dis)abled communities
of color and psychologically (dis)abled folks (as well as other
communities that were missing from the conference), so we can begin
to rebuild broken trust. We must let go of defensiveness, and open
ourselves to the honest appraisal of our failures provided by the
people we have hurt. We must let go of defensiveness and open ourselves
to change. We must let go of defensiveness to become responsible,
accountable people. Our survival as a viable movement is at stake.
Colin K. Donovan
who equates my use of a common English idiom with racism is making
a linguistic connection that would not have occurred to me, or,
I believe, to most people. The definition of "hijack"
makes no reference to Arabs, nor did I make any effort, subtle or
explicit, to stretch it in that direction.
anger and pain are evident. I regret having contributed to those
feelings, however inadvertently. In discussing politically correct
language in the September-October 2002 issue of "The Gay &
Lesbian Review Worldwide," Stan Farwig writes, "I also
believe a great deal of energy would be put to more productive use
and emotional drain avoided if an old precept were followed: 'To
take offense only when offense is intended.'"
different view of the closing plenary, readers may want to consult
An Open Letter
to the Organizers, by a nonwhite participant.
BENT: A Journal of CripGay