Cripping Capitalism

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My cab driver this morning asked me what kind of work I do when I’m not busy hauling my cats to the vet, like I was this morning. When I explained what I do and what “Who Am I To Stop It” is about, his response was disheartening, but common.

Driver: Oh, art? Wow. You know cuz those people with traumatic brain injury? They can’t do things anymore.

Me: I had a traumatic brain injury. I do things.

Driver: Oh. Well. Did they do art before their injuries?

That’s it. No apologies. No nervous throat-clearing or other sign that he knew perhaps he’d said something awful. Maybe to him it wasn’t awful. After all, this type of response is so very common. Not just with TBI, but with other disabilities as well. And not just disability.

Remember how women have been working for ages in this country to prove that we’re not so overly emotional, physically fragile, and mentally unstable to be able to vote, work, or hold political office? Are any of you, gentle readers, aware of how people argued that when African-American people were freed from slavery in the legal sense, that white well-to-dos argued that their rate of disability went up? They used this to try to justify that people should have been kept enslaved. You know, for their own good.

Please do not think I equate disability status with gender identity or with ethnicity, race, or nationality. I only point out something disturbingly common among these (and other marginalized or disenfranchised) groups: the U.S., since Europeans colonized it, have had no time where we weren’t trying to say disability is bad. And then say that certain people without disabilities are bad because they kinda sorta have some disability-ish traits. Feeble-minded, physically fragile, incapable of remaining healthy on their own.

Lewis and Clark College is hosting their 34th Annual Gender Studies Symposium March 11th through 13th. This year, the symposium especially focuses on work, production, consumption, and how those things interact with gender and sexuality.

Caitlin Wood and I are presenting a workshop called “Cripping Capitalism” at this symposium. Our interactive workshop will examine the relationship of feminist activism, capitalistic exploitation, and experiences of disability. We’ll explore questions of human value, the U.S. emphasis on “hard work,” and the question of “gainful employment.” This include such arguments as should we continue to put disabled people to work at places like Goodwill Industries because it’s better to work for a few dollars an hour or less than not at all? You know, satisfying work like hanging clothes, learning how to earn a living (???), and the ubiquitous argument that it’s good to have disabled people spend time with their peers rather than mixing with the non-disabled community. What about those who can’t find work in an accessible environment? What about those disabled folks who (gasp here) choose to not work? Do we get to just decide they’re less valuable humans? Seems that’s what our culture’s already doing. Come talk about it with us!

34th Annual Gender Studies Symposium
Material Conditions: Gender, Sexuality, and Capitalism

Cripping Capitalism: Disability, Feminism, and the Controversy of Work
Wednesday, March 11
11:30 a.m.- 1:00 p.m., Gregg Pavilion
Free and open to the public
Near TriMet bus #39
Accessibility information for Lewis and Clark campus