Image Description: A comic by BJenny Montero. There is a turquoise background, and in the middle of the image, there are two concentric circles. The outer circle is a white band. The inner circle includes a number of animal characters — two birds, two alligators, a dog, and a worm using a wheelchair with a red and white checkered blanket over the worm’s lap. All the characters are smiling and looking in sightly different directions. In the middle of the inner circle, some text reads, “Sometimes I can’t make it on my own.” Then in the bottom right corner of the image, the text reads, “That’s OK!”
Independence is a value in Western cultures, but… independence is also a myth.
I’ve just finished reading the transcript of a powerful address by Mia Mingus, a disability justice activist whose work I greatly admire. Her remarks are entitled, “Access Intimacy, Interdependence and Disability Justice” and were given as the 2017 Paul K. Longmore Lecture on Disability Studies at San Francisco State University.
Within those remarks, she says this:
“Access should be happening in service of our larger goals of building interdependence and embracing need, because this is such a deep part of challenging ableism and the myth of independence. The myth of independence is the idea that we can and should be able to do everything on our own and, of course, we know that that’s not true. Someone made the clothes you’re wearing now, your shoes, your car or the mass transit system you use; we don’t grow all our own food and spices. We can’t pretend that what happens in this country doesn’t affect others, or that things like clean air and water don’t bound us all together. We are dependent on each other, period. The myth of independence reflects such a deep level of privilege, especially in this rugged individualistic capitalist society and produced the very idea that we could even mildly conceive of our lives or our accomplishments as solely our own. And of course, the other side of this is not just that it’s not true—not just that the emperor has no clothes, but that everyone else should pretend he’s fully clothed too. So, the Myth of Independence is not just about the truth of being connected and interdependent on one another; it is also about the high value that gets placed on buying into the myth and believing that you are independent; and the high value placed on striving to be independent, another corner stone of the ableist culture we live in.
“Interdependence moves us away from the myth of independence, and towards relationships where we are all valued and have things to offer. It moves us away from knowing disability only through ‘dependence,’ which paints disabled bodies as being a burden to others, at the mercy of able-bodied people’s benevolence. We become charity cases, a way for able bodied people to feel better about themselves and we in turn, internalize our sense of being a burden, sad, and tragic. All of this sets up a dynamic where disabled people feel like we have to be ‘liked’ in order to receive basic daily access to live and where able bodied people feel entitled to receive praise and recognition for providing access. This is not access intimacy and this dynamic of disabled people being ‘dependent’ on able bodied people shapes so many disabled people’s lives and is the foundation upon which so much domination, control, violence and abuse happens.”
We are dependent upon one another.
We all need care from others.
We all have care to offer to others.
We all have need.
What if we embraced this? What if we created relational intimacy around this? What if we received more freely and fully from others? What if we gave more freely and fully among others who are also giving and receiving more freely and fully?