Sarah Katz, Poetry Editor
A Go-To Guidebook to Resisting Ableism in Trump’s America: A Review of Resistance and Hope: Essays by Disabled People, edited by Alice Wong
The night that 63 million Americans elected Donald Trump to be U.S. president—despite mocking Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Serge Kovaleski, calling deaf actress Marlee Matlin “retarded,” and his long history of violating the Americans with Disabilities—produced feelings of fear and dread in disability activist Alice Wong.
As she explains in her introduction to Resistance in Hope: Essays by Disabled People, Alice was searching for signs of hope when she asked herself: “What can disabled people share with the world during this time of uncertainty and unrest?” The sixteen essays she solicited from multiply marginalized disabled individuals living and working in various conditions around the country offer a radically hopeful response.
Together, they offer a collective vision of a future in which deaf and disabled are visible and integral members of the community who have unfettered access to healthcare, an equitable justice system, and even a more inclusive hip hop culture. Everyone, abled and disabled people, regularly faces their respective privileges, confronts issues internal and external to the disability movement, and supports others as needed. Disabled people care for themselves as much as they do each other. They have a set of shared values and move together, interdependently.
I call these essays “radically hopeful” because every contributor to Resistance and Hope is not only disabled, but also of color and/or queer—realities that make survival in a world that wants to, at best, invalidate them, all the more tenuous and fraught. Yet, they are all surviving, and, beyond that, they’re building better conditions for themselves, their peers, and the disabled people of the future. Each essay functions as a “how-to,” which makes Resistance in Hope a powerful guidebook of “crip wisdom” that disabled people of all backgrounds can consult as they strive to resist all -isms and build the world they want to see. I can’t overstate what an immense and rare gift to the disabled community this book is: with this guidebook, we can begin to carve out a more defined path forward for the disability movement.
That path starts with a set of shared values. Lydia X.Z. Brown, a young east Asian person, argues in their essay, “Rebel – Don’t be Palatable: Resisting Co-optation and Fighting for the World We Want,” that, to begin to discover those shared values and strengthen the disability movement, we must be aware of one’s own privilege. They write:
Reflecting on the privilege that I have, I’m neither going to solve it or erase it, but I do have an obligation to hold myself accountable for the privilege that I benefit from and for my capacity to harm. However, I also have to hold compassion for myself and for movement, to build a movement based on disability justice means to embrace interdependence and how we need one another in this process.
I find Lydia’s words that “to build a movement based on disability justice means to embrace interdependence” while also holding “compassion for myself” resonant. Privilege, after all, is not a punishment. It’s a reality. If each of us is honest with ourselves and each other about our respective needs and privileges—without self-flagellating—then we can begin to focus the movement. To restate, if each of us can recognize how society privileges a few over the many, then we can start to move forward together. After all, how can the disability movement move without all disabled people? We are only as strong as our numbers and our range.
Former Deaf Poets Society editor Cyree Jarelle Johnson’s essay, “Barron Trump’s (Alleged) Autistic Childhood,” is in consonance with Lydia’s words. Disability justice is inherently interdependent, they write: “[I]f rich, white, autistic boys are harshly scrutinized for benign behavioral irregularities, other autistics will continue to bear the brunt of the fallout.” What they’re saying—and they make clear that they’re not defending Barron Trump—is that the stigma of autism affects everyone in every strata, even at the level of the president’s own family. Even the president himself is ignorant of his own abusive rhetoric and the impact on his own son. That is frightening. But, while awful, Barron’s experience being stigmatized for being “allegedly” autistic is not as complex or stigmatizing as also being a person of color, queer, or otherwise. So there’s much that must be undone—and each strand of -isms tugs at the other, only being undone as each strand is made undone.
I’d love to highlight every essay in this book, one by one, telling you about the sentences I loved—my copy is full of underlined sentences and barely legible, excitedly scratched marginal notes. But my notes will not compare to reading the actual book, whose pieces augur a new, more expansive approach to creative work that centers on disability justice—work that doesn’t just “resist,” but “resists for,” as Mia Mingus puts so eloquently in “Building Back Belonging, Hope, and Possibility.” They write:
For more than a decade now, I have been involved in what I refer to as “building alternatives work.” It is work to build the world we want, long for, and ache for, and it is work that has sustained me and continues to sustain me during these turbulent and scary times.
Resistance is only as powerful as what it is in service of. Resistance by itself—resistance just to resist—is not meaningful and will lead to burnout very fast.
As a woman who is white, straight, cis-gendered, middle-class, and a mostly aural-oral deaf person living with chronic pain—who is also a founding editor of The Deaf Poets Society, a D/deaf and disability-focused publication of literature and art that strives to be intersectional—I found the points that the writers in this book articulated important. I know that I have an enormous amount of privilege in comparison to other members of The Deaf Poets Society staff, the contributors whose work we publish, and the readers who engage with the issues we publish. I know I have to constantly be honest with myself about that privilege. And I know that I, and you, too, have a part to play in this resistance.
May this book give you, as it has given me, the tools to build alternatives in the face of all that is unknown and uncertain.