From Inspiration Porn to Consciousness: A Conversation with Badasses of Different Abilities

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League of Badass Women Podcast Episode 7 is out. It is a frank, uncomfortable, powerful and necessary conversation, especially when improving ourselves as leaders.

Badasses Jamie Silverman, Barrie Ginsberg, Cristina María and Valerie Orth dive into the taboo subject of how able-bodied people and people with disabilities interact. We discuss the crucial role consciousness plays in combating oppression, and how to build personal awareness around how to treat people who are different from you.

Take a listen on Soundcloud or iTunes Podcasts, and let us know your takeaways in the comments below. #beheard #podcast

This is the transcript of the League of Badass Women Podcast Episode 7: From Inspiration Porn to Consciousness: A Conversation with Badasses of Different Abilities.

Cristina: Really, I’m a fucking badass woman if I am looking at these people and instead of anger and hatred I’m consciously aware of where they are coming from.

Intro:

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Valerie: Welcome back to the League of Badass Women Podcast. I’m your host, Valerie Orth. For this very special episode we are going to just jump right in, starting with our first ever returning guests from New York City.

Jamie: I’m Jamie Silverman. I’m a creative director in advertising. I’m a runner and hopefully soon to be triathlete. I really love participating in the League because it gives me an opportunity to talk about things I don’t really have the space to talk about otherwise.

Barrie: Hi, I’m Barrie Ginsberg. I live in New York. I currently work in advertising but I’m actually starting Grad school in August

Valerie: So you all recently had Power Talks on unpacking power and privilege. Can you discuss privileges that came up that you were surprised about either in yourself or other people, or maybe a privilege you hadn’t really thought of before?

Jamie: Barrie, I know we talked a lot about physical privilege. I had recently run a half marathon and while I was running there was this woman who was on crutches and it was obviously pretty crazy to watch a person running a half marathon on crutches because that’s an insane feat. So my boyfriend and I researched her a little bit because we were curious about what her deal was and we subsequently found out that she had… basically while in Thailand was fleeing from an attacker and fell down a hill and broke her spine and was subsequently raped repeatedly for a very long time by the person who was attacking her and decided to turn that into a strength rather than a weakness and decided to dedicate herself to physical fitness and has since then trained for both a marathon and half marathon. Just as a person who, as I said I’m hopefully soon to be a triathlete so fitness is very much a part of my life and I have the privilege of being able to get up every single day and go out for a run and feel great about it or sometimes not feel great about it, but it really struck me that on a day where I have a shitty run it’s like nothing in comparison to people who, like this woman, who everyday is a struggle for her and she overcomes it and does these incredible things in spite of or because of her trauma. That was really remarkable.

Valerie: I just want a clarification on how you would define your privilege in that situation.

Jamie: Able bodied. Being an able bodied person in every single sense of the word. I broke my leg whenI was in 7th grade and I remember how horrible it was just getting around my school on crutches. And there are some people who deal with that every single day. We take for granted the fact that we have functioning bodies or fully functioning bodies every single day and I think it made me more cognizant of the plight of people who are not equally able bodied.

Barrie: I would say that was one of the things that surprised me the most from our conversation, because Jamie kind of led with that story and I hadn’t been thinking about that the fact that my ballet training was something that was actually a privilege. The fact that I could spend 6 days a week, 30 hours a week coming in and actually, kind of, go to the studio those 6 days and give my body everything that I possibly could throw at it and I was still able to walk and definitely work my way through that like that whole thing that I know there are people that just couldn’t do that. That was something that I was able to have the privilege of being a part of, just literally by being able bodied.

Jamie: Definitely, and also just the fact that we can, like, go to work every single day and have our work situation be easy and not have it be a struggle. I think all the time about just getting on the train and what a horrible experience that must be for somebody who is in a wheelchair for instance; finding the subways that have elevators built into them. Being able to get around your own city is a privilege.

Cristina: I’m Cristina Carrasquillo and I live in Puerto Rico. My passion is performing arts that pushes boundaries and exposes the audience to different types of art forms, not just the traditional ones. It’s across lines of activism, healing and social change. Right now I’m working for a anti-racist decolonizing organization called Colectivo Ile.

Valerie: Cristina is a dear friend of mine. We worked together in California for years. She’s a member of the League of Badass Women and she’s quadripalegic. So after talking to Jamie and Barrie about our able bodied privilege I wanted to call Cristina to see if she’d share some of her perspective. I told her a bit about our conversation and also questions Jamie and Barrie had for her.

What if you lived in New York City and weren’t able to walk up the millions of stairs in the Subway station and the elevators are down half the time and you can’t live in a cheaper apartment that’s on the fourth floor walkup? Their question is what do you wish able bodied people knew or would do or be more conscious of around people with disabilities, physical disabilities? And I don’t want you to have to represent every single person with a disability. So any personal stories you want to tell?

Cristina: Well, I think you said the word — it’s consciousness. There’s no common sense on how to treat a person with a disability or how to treat a person, a black person — what’s racist for them and to know everything, you know? But I think the answer to that, even for me to treat a black person — I’ve never experienced once, to be black and to experience racism first hand. And the same with disability, the same with any kind of oppression, group that’s oppressed. You know, there’s not a common sense type of formula that you follow. I think the best recipe I keep saying is to speak out of a place of pure consciousness. It’s about knowing what you’re saying, knowing what you’re asking to the person and whether it’s relevant to ask.

I experience a lot of very unnecessary questions, some of them could be taken as insensitive, I don’t take it as insensitive, because when I get asked those questions I just take it from who it comes, you know? The person isn’t really conscious about their own privileges, the person might be nervous, they just want to start a conversation because they’re nervous and they just ask the first question they can think of.

To give you an example, here in Puerto Rico it’s very rare that you see a person like me; that goes to work, that drives, that used to moving around and that’s pretty much fearless about Puerto Rico, which is very different from the United States. Over there you see people in wheelchair all the time. At least I used to be more aware of them and see them all the time. And it’s very common to see them working in a profession. Not just any job. Here it is very different. Here I am like a monkey, you know? So they see me doing shopping and that inspires them, you know? They see me going, walking to the beach on my own and that’s a source of inspiration for them. They see me, they see my personal life — they come into my home and, not like you they just met me, and that’s like WOW, you know? That’s a wow for them . That we call in our community, that we call inspiration porn. It’s like everything inspires you because I am in a fucking wheelchair or because I’m different from you. So I think about being conscious about what questions do you ask, why do you ask them, when you offer help, why do you offer help, and whether that person needs help- you’re watching that person do it on its own and when you help that person, in your mind you’re helping that person, you’re basically cutting their wings, you’re cutting my wings if you’re trying to brush my teeth. You’re cutting my wings if you’re trying to lift the box that I’m used to lifting. You’re cutting my wings if you’re trying to help me in any way that I already gained control over. You know, I already gained control over my life, just be aware of that. And like I said, I can speak for myself, not other people.

My experience is very different from many people who are quadripalegic here in Puerto Rico because they have not had the opportunity to be out, to live in a cosmopolitan city. That it’s really fast, it’s really… you learn to be really hard. You need to defend your rights, you’re constantly fighting for your rights, you’re constantly fighting for your disability, you’re constantly fighting to be heard, to be valued, to not internalize your own oppression, to not believe that you are really less than them. To not believe that I cannot do it, that they can do it better than you. So those sort of things are the things that I experience here. It’s a lot of inspiration porn. Things that I wish I had an answer every time they say something stupid like that I wish I had an answer but it’s a really lost battle. So I just sometimes answer, sometimes I question them back, you know? Sometimes I have the time and I say tell me how I inspired you.

Valerie: About ten years ago Cristina attended a Landmark training.

Cristina: I had a really tough time with the coach. I felt that she was really unaware of her privilege, she was really unaware of how ableist she was being. So I spoke up and I had everybody jump on me, like hold on. If you’re not coachable then let me know because then you don’t belong here basically that’s what she said. Are you going to be coachable or are you going to be not coachable? I’m not coachable because you’re not hearing what you’re saying. Because everyone was kind of agreeing with her, the audience, I got really nervous. I internalized my oppression and I went away and I said I’m not coachable. There’s something wrong about me. There’s something wrong with me being disabled and thinking that I can be here, you know, I cannot be here. So I went back to internalizing every fucking oppression and stigma there is about me.

Valerie: And by the next day she turned it around.

Cristina: Because I went home, I processed it, I talked to my dad, I wrote about it and I grabbed the microphone again and spoke my mind. I said, you know none of you here have led my life, none of you here know exactly what I grow through and the type of things I face as a person with a disability and I’m not talking about my whole community, I’m talking about myself, which I bring light to how to treat other people with a disability, but you guys are way off if you think that that’s the correct approach to tell a person that’s not coachable because it disagrees with you or it’s calling on your privileges. That shut them up. They couldn’t say anything to that.

So I went back to my seat and I stayed there and I was completely tranquil. I was like, I said what I had to say, I feel more in my place and I’m strong. And later on a guy came to me and told me I just want to share with you that you inspire me so much. And that’s a big trigger for me because you remember I was performing artist and that phrase came a lot to me right after the performance, you know — “oh my god you inspired me so much.” And I want to know why, why was I inspiring to you, because I want to learn, you know? I’m not being sarcastic — here in Puerto Rico, I’m sarcastic because if I inspire you because I’m doing groceries and I’m buying a piece of bread and that inspires you then tell me what the fuck are you thinking about, but that day I was really serious. Why am I inspiring you? And the guy couldn’t say, he couldn’t put it in words and he just stayed quiet and he said well you know just the way you grabbed the microphone again and speaking and putting your words out there without fear of what other people might think. And that was not enough for me to inspire you. And I’m like, I’m sorry but I’m still not buying it. That’s called inspiration porn and you’re not convincing me. I’m not an inspiration porn so please don’t use inspiration so lightly, you know? And then we moved on from that, but there’s tons of examples.

Valerie: If he were actually to be honest with you, if he came up to you what would he have said do you think?

Cristina: Honestly, I don’t know, I don’t know what goes through their mind to say stuff like that. I think he thought he was giving me a compliment that I wasn’t going to question. Like a way of patting me on the back. Good job, you know? I don’t need that. I know I’m doing a good job. I’m doing a really fucking good job and you don’t need to tell me. Now if you have something to add to that, your perspective on that, if you have a question about it, which I’m sure you would want to have questions before you start talking, then that’s different. Let’s have a conversation. That’s a loaded comment. You inspire me. So for me you have to go deeper, so that’s why I say consciousness is the key to all sorts of not knowing how to handle people that are different from you. Being conscious about what you say and not… don’t use consciousness as this word that it’s a buzz word, you know? Read in the dictionary what consciousness means, if that’s what you need to do, and apply it to yourself. Don’t talk about politically correct, don’t use those terms that are just… really you’re just looking for buzz words and that’s what gets on my nerves. Be fucking conscious about what you’re asking, what you’re saying, when you’re offering help, if that help is needed. Be conscious that human beings adapt to whatever circumstances that there are. Human beings adapt and so will you if this were to happen to you. So thinking that way, be conscious about it and don’t expect us to teach you, because we have a lot to deal with, with society. Society makes us handicapped, not us.

I have different abilities, Abilities that you might not have like a blind person has abilities that you don’t have, because all their senses are way more sharper than yours. So the same with me, you know? My brain is used to solving things for me to survive in this world, for me to survive in a world that’s ableist that’s not going to adapt to me. I have to adapt to it and that I’m constantly struggling and fighting against, reclaiming myself and defending my rights. I’m constantly having to do that and on top of that I have to teach you? So with you doing this interview to me I’m really open to talk about and in a way teach, yeah okay, but I say that the secret ingredient is to be conscious and to don’t just… to understand what that means, you know?

Valerie: Well, and honestly I was hesitant to ask you to do the interview, because…

Cristina: I know you were.

Valerie: Because, you know, I was like 1. I don’t want you to feel like you’re representing every single person in a wheelchair and 2. That I don’t think people should have to teach other people. I don’t think black people should have to teach white people. I don’t think people with disabilities, different abilities, have to teach able bodied people. I’ve just known you for so long and we’ve had these conversations and I think our friendship, I’ve learned just being with you. Anyway, thank you for doing this interview because I would’ve totally understood if you didn’t want to do it.

Cristina talked about an article she was asked to write that caused a shift in her own awareness.

Cristina: So he asked me to write an article about the queer economy and what that means for me and he sent me a bunch of questions to kind of start thinking about what he wanted and one of the things that I wrote about was how I feel fabulous and why I feel fabulous being different. And what makes me over there, at that time, now things change because I’m in a different place, but at that time what made me feel fabulous honestly is to know that I get out of my house and immediately I have an audience expecting for me. It’s just inevitable. Everyone is going to look at me. In the train everybody is going to stare, everybody’s going to ask questions that are out of place. Much less than here, but they would do it. And to me, in the beginning when I moved to the US and when I started being in a wheelchair and that was a really difficult thing to bear, to the gaze and unwanted questions, but it came about that that was kind of a, it became funny at the time because I wrote it and I’m like actually it makes me feel fabulous to know that these people are just a bunch of ignorants and that’s where they’re coming from and that’s why they look at me as if I’m performing. I perform 24/7 for people.

Valerie: But do you mean fabulous in a sarcastic way or are you taking it in and saying…

Cristina: No no. Really, I’m a fucking badass woman if I am looking at these people and instead of anger and hatred I’m consciously aware of where they’re coming from. Or the lack of exposure to people with disabilities, not knowing how to react when there is a person around and that transition for me is huge. From going to oh my god I’m embarrassed, I don’t want to be around people that are staring at me, oh my god they’re so insensitive to this is who they are, they’re just unaware. They don’t have the capacity to think in another way other than what they see, the first thing they see it’s a wheelchair. They don’t see the human being sitting there. For me understanding that, individually, it was very empowering, very important.That’s what I mean by feeling fabulous.

Valerie: You’re also an incredibly aware person. I mean, our day in day out work is anti-racist work just like you said earlier — I don’t know what it’s like to be a black person. So you’re aware of that so you can kind of apply that same concept, right to people that don’t know what it’s like to live in a wheelchair.

Cristina: So just to give you an example with you and me, like we’re friends and there are things that you learned along the way of the things I could do. For you, I could do anything, cause you saw me, you know, and I could basically do anything until I got that pneumonia that just said no you can’t.

Valerie: In 2008 Cristina caught pneumonia that kept her in the hospital for a month and a half.

Cristina: For you, it’s like an awakening — she looks strong and she’s like in your face and she has no fear but she’s fragile. Her health is fragile and it’s okay to be like that and it’s, for you it’s a point of awareness when you realize that, but that’s you, because you have your life and we were really really close. That doesn’t happen to everybody that I see in the street.

All my friends, that I considered friends, didn’t see the wheelchair — they saw me. And they wanted to be with me, the human being. And I think the wheelchair a lot of the times gets in the way of having a real relationship with me that genuine.

Valerie: One of the things I remember becoming more aware of specifically was walking down the street with you and being unaware that you needed a ramp in the sidewalk to cross the street, but like I would just step off the street and we would be like, I would be like several feet away from the actual ramp to get to the crosswalk and I remember it consciously like oh yeah, Cristina needs to go to the ramp. I need to go over there with her.

Cristina: You’re aware. You’re a person that is aware. I have had the experience of hanging out with people here, for instance in Puerto Rico, that… I mean I have experienced being in a wheelchair. I know the person is nervous about hanging out with me, knowing how to cross the street with me and not leaving me behind or the does she need help crossing? Does she want me to stop the traffic? I mean, in taking over that much and you’re aware of how you react to it and you’re aware that you’re learning and you don’t punish yourself for not knowing. You’re just becoming aware. You’re creating that consciousness that we are talking about.

But there’s a lot of people that have a really hard time I think, I think, honestly it’s my opinion, that have a really hard time syncing with me that they don’t know how to handle those unknown things, you know? So I feel they have to get to know me to get over the wheelchair issue and then to know the human being, to get over the issue, and then to get to the genuine relationship. That’s you know.. It takes a person who is wanting to know, wanting to be aware of those things. Not everybody’ s like that and that I have to be aware of too so I don’t collapse. Because if I was going to the street and get annoyed all the time, angry all the time, it’s bad for my health. It’s good to have something to say sometimes, because at least then I got it out, but I’m not going around teaching people how to treat me. They learn either way. Even the strangers, they learn on their way.

Valerie: Well that’s why this interview is so valuable, because this is a really unique opportunity for anyone that’s able bodied that doesn’t have, that isn’t already friends with somebody in a wheelchair.

Cristina: To give you an instance the door here in my building is really heavy. I learn how to open it, because I’m a superwoman. It’s mega heavy. It’s super heavy.

Valerie: How are you opening it?

Cristina: Well, I managed, I learned, that’s the thing about adaptation. You learn how to do it. The thing is I already have it under control and when there’s a person that’s able bodied trying to help me, I feel that person instead of jumping to help me and get in the way, which could hurt me because my thumb is there holding the key and pulling the door and the wheelchair is holding the door and I have a whole method in place and you come and grab the door and try to open it and you break my thumb. So watch, watch and see if that person needs help. I mean, offer it when you see that person struggling a lot. That’s just consciousness, being conscious of what you’re saying and what you’re going to do.

And I’m used to doing everything Valerie, I’m used to grabbing the fork, I’m used to.. It looks like I’m struggling but I’m not. In my head I’m not, in my psyche, I’m not. Because that’s what I do all day when I’m alone in the apartment or I’m at work. I’m just doing it different from you. I write differently than you. It takes me longer to put the pen in my hand. But you guys saw me doing it and I felt like it was great that you guys didn’t interfere too much unless I asked and that came natural. I really think it came natural. And I feel you guys as my friends, you guys know exactly, you guys sync with me and it took time, but it was worth the effort.

Valerie: It’s funny because I think you described me well in that I should have asked more often about how I could help you instead of just being like oh she’s fine! Like, I think it was kind of…

Cristina: I kind of like it because then I feel safe to ask you for help.

Valerie: Back in New York City we talked more about using our able bodied privilege as a means for change.

You also ran a fundraiser for mental health, right? Through one of your races.

Jamie: Yeah, it was just a ride, but a client of my father’s, his son committed suicide a few years ago and he decided to basically create this fundraising opportunity. It’s a bike ride. I think you can do anything from 15 to 200 miles over the course of the weekend to raise money for this cause. But yea, a few years ago I ran a marathon in London for an organization called Leonard Cheshire Disability, which is again an organization that is working to create safe places for people who have different abilities.

Valerie: So you’re directly using your able bodied privilege to affect change in a positive way for other people.

Jamie: That is a very nice way to put it, thank you, yes.

Valerie: I feel like that’s really obvious.

Jamie: Yeah, no no. I never thought about it like that I guess, but that’s a really succinct and accurate way to put it. I’m taking whatever I can give in and using it to create change.

Valerie: Thanks for listening to the League of Badass Women Podcast. Produced by and music by Valerie Orth. Mix and mastered by Dizmix. For more info visit us at leagueofbadasswomen.org. E-mail your questions and comments to podcast@leagueofbadasswomen.org. Thanks again to our featured badasses of today’s episode and thank you for being a badass.

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