Able Normative Supremacy and the Zero Mentality

February 5, 2013
By

zero1

Within our neoliberal cultural imaginary, disabled people are rendered as bodies lacking agency. As a result, the measures of progress used to gauge the inclusion and liberation of disabled people within an able-normative supremacist culture tend to be organized around, what I name, “the zero mentality.” Let me explain.

Globally, disabled people, most of whom are bodies of color, experience structural violence, monstrous neglect and economic disenfranchisement in ways that render such conditions normal. So, because our lives and bodies have been, and continue to be, systematically relegated to the margins of societal consciousness, we as disabled segments of society personify the bottom rung of otherness. Therefore, we are operating at “negative ten” as it were. And because we are operating at “negative ten,” “zero” is celebrated as the benchmark of our well-being, human dignity, and self-determination.

On no account do I (as a “wheelie”) marvel in gratitude when I access a ramp, an elevator, or wheelchair accessible restrooms because on no account do my able bodied counterparts (“non wheelies”) marvel in gratitude when they access a flight of stairs, an escalator, or “regular” restrooms. Eliminating infrastructural barriers that prevent people with visible disabilities from negotiating space within the built environment is not something we should celebrate as a crucial milestone in our effort to deconstruct able normative supremacy (to do so is to invoke the zero mentality) because it is tremendously reductionist and prevents us from having nuanced conversations about disabled embodiment, exploring Crip subjectivities and deconstructing deeply entrenched manifestations of ableism (read: moving from zero to ten).

The zero mentality, as a by-product of able normative supremacy, pervades the lives of disabled people in ways that make ableism harder to identify and deconstruct. As a disabled black (Afrikan) queer femme male undergraduate student, I have access to twenty-four hour personal care through my university’s attendant services program for students with physical disabilities living in residence. Almost all of my attendants are other students who are predominantly white and non-disabled and who work for the program because it is one of the only campus jobs with the most flexible working hours. Employing the zero mentality, many people —non disabled people in particular, even allies, especially allies— regard attendant services for disabled students as “groundbreaking” because the overwhelming majority of universities throughout the world fail to adequately validate the experiences of bodies inscribing Crip subjectivities and disabled embodiments.

My receiving support with getting out of bed, getting dressed, and preparing for school in the morning should neither engender gratitude on my part nor invite reductive interpretations of survival. On countless occasions, I’ve felt compelled to adopt a perennially pleasant disposition in exchange for personal support. This is perhaps one of the most devastatingly subtle ways in which “the zero mentality” intersects with disabled embodiment. I have become well adept at employing “the right tone” when asking for help (I dislike the word “help” because it is a colonial way of narrating empathy. As I see it, help is benevolence with an expiry date. By “help” I actually mean what Mia Mingus refers to as “interdependence”) because I don’t want to ask for more than what our ableist society deems “reasonable” and “adequate” within the constraints of “accommodation” and “disability services” (zero).wheelchair

Non-disabled people receive support all of the time, but because such “help” is built into social institutions and normalized it looks like independence. If the entire world is constructed with your body and bodily experience in mind, allowing you to move, albeit within the constraints of race, gender, and class, then that is support, institutional support. To demand institutional support, as disabled people, is to move beyond “the zero mentality,” bordering on the burdensome. Well, guess what? Because my Crip subjectivity and disabled embodiment reconfigure the spaces through which I move, my body and the complex, painful, magnificent experiences attached to it deserves more than zero. Indeed, it deserves a perfect ten.

 

 

 

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48 Responses to Able Normative Supremacy and the Zero Mentality

  1. Lesley Massiah-Arthur on February 5, 2013 at 10:02 am

    A beautifully written piece that is philosophically adaptable to speaking about other “isms” which can be dis-abling. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Ndopu.

  2. Lesley Massiah-Arthur on February 5, 2013 at 10:02 am

    A beautifully written piece that is philosophically adaptable to speaking about other “isms” which can be dis-abling. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Ndopu.

  3. Lesley Massiah-Arthur on February 5, 2013 at 10:02 am

    A beautifully written piece that is philosophically adaptable to speaking about other “isms” which can be dis-abling. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Ndopu.

  4. Lesley Massiah-Arthur on February 5, 2013 at 10:02 am

    A beautifully written piece that is philosophically adaptable to speaking about other “isms” which can be dis-abling. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Ndopu.

  5. James on February 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Eddie. Seriously. This is terribly written. How is my 13 year old “wheelie” suppose to understand your story? Try regulating your use of big words. Find a balance. Your story sounds so pompous it’s an unpleasant read. Choice of language lends credibility. There is a message here. Will try to explain it to him.

    • d'artagnan on February 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      And thank god we’re not all forced to the standards of a 13 year old. Crack open a dictionary.

  6. James on February 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Eddie. Seriously. This is terribly written. How is my 13 year old “wheelie” suppose to understand your story? Try regulating your use of big words. Find a balance. Your story sounds so pompous it’s an unpleasant read. Choice of language lends credibility. There is a message here. Will try to explain it to him.

    • d'artagnan on February 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      And thank god we’re not all forced to the standards of a 13 year old. Crack open a dictionary.

  7. James on February 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Eddie. Seriously. This is terribly written. How is my 13 year old “wheelie” suppose to understand your story? Try regulating your use of big words. Find a balance. Your story sounds so pompous it’s an unpleasant read. Choice of language lends credibility. There is a message here. Will try to explain it to him.

    • d'artagnan on February 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      And thank god we’re not all forced to the standards of a 13 year old. Crack open a dictionary.

  8. James on February 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Eddie. Seriously. This is terribly written. How is my 13 year old “wheelie” suppose to understand your story? Try regulating your use of big words. Find a balance. Your story sounds so pompous it’s an unpleasant read. Choice of language lends credibility. There is a message here. Will try to explain it to him.

    • d'artagnan on February 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      And thank god we’re not all forced to the standards of a 13 year old. Crack open a dictionary.

  9. charles on February 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    You do realize there is no requirement on the part of the able-bodied person to assist you. I would assume they are doing it because they care and want to help but if your attitude is that this is something you expect and your friendliness is an act, that might be why you feel the help is temporary. Nobody wants to help someone who is just faking appreciation. And interdependence can come with an expiry date too if you treat people who are trying to help you with so much contempt. Interdependence is only sustainable when both sides find value.

    • Zach on February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Charles, you appear to have missed Eddie’s entire point! Attendant services are the BASE LINE of what kind of help disabled people deserve. Society is already built to be accessible to its “able-bodied” population. To act like people should be grateful just for being helped out of bed devalues the life of the disabled person. Our access must be without condition, or else you are just telling us to live in an inferior disability ghetto! FUCK THAT

      • Todd on February 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

        I feel as if the author shoots himself in the proverbial foot and blow credibility about halfway through… It would seem as if the point is that the baseline needs to be changed away from this “special / look at me / help me” culture but the author goes out of his way to mention not only his creed but sexual orientation. I’m not sure where that fit in with anything but it certainly appeared to be a “look at me” statement.

        Furthermore, access being without condition depends on needing others to help, it would seem. Should these peoples time and efforts not be appreciated?

  10. charles on February 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    You do realize there is no requirement on the part of the able-bodied person to assist you. I would assume they are doing it because they care and want to help but if your attitude is that this is something you expect and your friendliness is an act, that might be why you feel the help is temporary. Nobody wants to help someone who is just faking appreciation. And interdependence can come with an expiry date too if you treat people who are trying to help you with so much contempt. Interdependence is only sustainable when both sides find value.

    • Zach on February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Charles, you appear to have missed Eddie’s entire point! Attendant services are the BASE LINE of what kind of help disabled people deserve. Society is already built to be accessible to its “able-bodied” population. To act like people should be grateful just for being helped out of bed devalues the life of the disabled person. Our access must be without condition, or else you are just telling us to live in an inferior disability ghetto! FUCK THAT

      • Todd on February 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

        I feel as if the author shoots himself in the proverbial foot and blow credibility about halfway through… It would seem as if the point is that the baseline needs to be changed away from this “special / look at me / help me” culture but the author goes out of his way to mention not only his creed but sexual orientation. I’m not sure where that fit in with anything but it certainly appeared to be a “look at me” statement.

        Furthermore, access being without condition depends on needing others to help, it would seem. Should these peoples time and efforts not be appreciated?

  11. charles on February 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    You do realize there is no requirement on the part of the able-bodied person to assist you. I would assume they are doing it because they care and want to help but if your attitude is that this is something you expect and your friendliness is an act, that might be why you feel the help is temporary. Nobody wants to help someone who is just faking appreciation. And interdependence can come with an expiry date too if you treat people who are trying to help you with so much contempt. Interdependence is only sustainable when both sides find value.

    • Zach on February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Charles, you appear to have missed Eddie’s entire point! Attendant services are the BASE LINE of what kind of help disabled people deserve. Society is already built to be accessible to its “able-bodied” population. To act like people should be grateful just for being helped out of bed devalues the life of the disabled person. Our access must be without condition, or else you are just telling us to live in an inferior disability ghetto! FUCK THAT

      • Todd on February 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

        I feel as if the author shoots himself in the proverbial foot and blow credibility about halfway through… It would seem as if the point is that the baseline needs to be changed away from this “special / look at me / help me” culture but the author goes out of his way to mention not only his creed but sexual orientation. I’m not sure where that fit in with anything but it certainly appeared to be a “look at me” statement.

        Furthermore, access being without condition depends on needing others to help, it would seem. Should these peoples time and efforts not be appreciated?

  12. charles on February 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    You do realize there is no requirement on the part of the able-bodied person to assist you. I would assume they are doing it because they care and want to help but if your attitude is that this is something you expect and your friendliness is an act, that might be why you feel the help is temporary. Nobody wants to help someone who is just faking appreciation. And interdependence can come with an expiry date too if you treat people who are trying to help you with so much contempt. Interdependence is only sustainable when both sides find value.

    • Zach on February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Charles, you appear to have missed Eddie’s entire point! Attendant services are the BASE LINE of what kind of help disabled people deserve. Society is already built to be accessible to its “able-bodied” population. To act like people should be grateful just for being helped out of bed devalues the life of the disabled person. Our access must be without condition, or else you are just telling us to live in an inferior disability ghetto! FUCK THAT

      • Todd on February 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

        I feel as if the author shoots himself in the proverbial foot and blow credibility about halfway through… It would seem as if the point is that the baseline needs to be changed away from this “special / look at me / help me” culture but the author goes out of his way to mention not only his creed but sexual orientation. I’m not sure where that fit in with anything but it certainly appeared to be a “look at me” statement.

        Furthermore, access being without condition depends on needing others to help, it would seem. Should these peoples time and efforts not be appreciated?

  13. laura on February 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    i think the previous comments speak to the gulf that often exists between able bodied persons and experiences of disability and/or disability critiques. there is a LOT to unpack here. and yes, this piece is full of big words and really dense ideas — it’s a privilege for any of us to engage with them and we we should try to work through them. above all else, further conversation is needed! but to the previous poster’s point, there is something much more nuanced than ‘fake appreciation’ happening. what i think eddie is talking about is the feeling that as a disabled person, the battle isn’t won just because one gets supports. there are also certain communicative strategies one is obligated to employ in a neoliberal, ableist environment — these supports may feel conditional, under threat — and to sustain them one may feel they have to play the role of the ‘good and grateful for help’ disabled person. this isn’t about not valuing the acts of interdependence, but commenting on only what people who experience disability can tell us. what a rich moment to try and understand.

  14. laura on February 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    i think the previous comments speak to the gulf that often exists between able bodied persons and experiences of disability and/or disability critiques. there is a LOT to unpack here. and yes, this piece is full of big words and really dense ideas — it’s a privilege for any of us to engage with them and we we should try to work through them. above all else, further conversation is needed! but to the previous poster’s point, there is something much more nuanced than ‘fake appreciation’ happening. what i think eddie is talking about is the feeling that as a disabled person, the battle isn’t won just because one gets supports. there are also certain communicative strategies one is obligated to employ in a neoliberal, ableist environment — these supports may feel conditional, under threat — and to sustain them one may feel they have to play the role of the ‘good and grateful for help’ disabled person. this isn’t about not valuing the acts of interdependence, but commenting on only what people who experience disability can tell us. what a rich moment to try and understand.

  15. laura on February 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    i think the previous comments speak to the gulf that often exists between able bodied persons and experiences of disability and/or disability critiques. there is a LOT to unpack here. and yes, this piece is full of big words and really dense ideas — it’s a privilege for any of us to engage with them and we we should try to work through them. above all else, further conversation is needed! but to the previous poster’s point, there is something much more nuanced than ‘fake appreciation’ happening. what i think eddie is talking about is the feeling that as a disabled person, the battle isn’t won just because one gets supports. there are also certain communicative strategies one is obligated to employ in a neoliberal, ableist environment — these supports may feel conditional, under threat — and to sustain them one may feel they have to play the role of the ‘good and grateful for help’ disabled person. this isn’t about not valuing the acts of interdependence, but commenting on only what people who experience disability can tell us. what a rich moment to try and understand.

  16. laura on February 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    i think the previous comments speak to the gulf that often exists between able bodied persons and experiences of disability and/or disability critiques. there is a LOT to unpack here. and yes, this piece is full of big words and really dense ideas — it’s a privilege for any of us to engage with them and we we should try to work through them. above all else, further conversation is needed! but to the previous poster’s point, there is something much more nuanced than ‘fake appreciation’ happening. what i think eddie is talking about is the feeling that as a disabled person, the battle isn’t won just because one gets supports. there are also certain communicative strategies one is obligated to employ in a neoliberal, ableist environment — these supports may feel conditional, under threat — and to sustain them one may feel they have to play the role of the ‘good and grateful for help’ disabled person. this isn’t about not valuing the acts of interdependence, but commenting on only what people who experience disability can tell us. what a rich moment to try and understand.

  17. Heather Laine Talley on February 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    This piece so beautifully notes that a range of bodily experiences have intrinsic value. Likewise, I appreciate that a range of voices are needed in the larger struggle for justice and well being. Every sentence counts, so thank you for a piece so rich with ideas. I am left thinking about how expecting or demanding gratitude has been a tool of dehumanization. Whether its slave owners who expected gratitude from slaves for basic resources or business owners who expect gratitude from workers for basic safety measures, this expectation is a subtle and insidious way to affirm an unequal system. You call gratitude out for how it operates and in doing so you disrupt the status quo which accepts lives lived at, as you say, zero. Thank you!

  18. Heather Laine Talley on February 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    This piece so beautifully notes that a range of bodily experiences have intrinsic value. Likewise, I appreciate that a range of voices are needed in the larger struggle for justice and well being. Every sentence counts, so thank you for a piece so rich with ideas. I am left thinking about how expecting or demanding gratitude has been a tool of dehumanization. Whether its slave owners who expected gratitude from slaves for basic resources or business owners who expect gratitude from workers for basic safety measures, this expectation is a subtle and insidious way to affirm an unequal system. You call gratitude out for how it operates and in doing so you disrupt the status quo which accepts lives lived at, as you say, zero. Thank you!

  19. Heather Laine Talley on February 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    This piece so beautifully notes that a range of bodily experiences have intrinsic value. Likewise, I appreciate that a range of voices are needed in the larger struggle for justice and well being. Every sentence counts, so thank you for a piece so rich with ideas. I am left thinking about how expecting or demanding gratitude has been a tool of dehumanization. Whether its slave owners who expected gratitude from slaves for basic resources or business owners who expect gratitude from workers for basic safety measures, this expectation is a subtle and insidious way to affirm an unequal system. You call gratitude out for how it operates and in doing so you disrupt the status quo which accepts lives lived at, as you say, zero. Thank you!

  20. Heather Laine Talley on February 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    This piece so beautifully notes that a range of bodily experiences have intrinsic value. Likewise, I appreciate that a range of voices are needed in the larger struggle for justice and well being. Every sentence counts, so thank you for a piece so rich with ideas. I am left thinking about how expecting or demanding gratitude has been a tool of dehumanization. Whether its slave owners who expected gratitude from slaves for basic resources or business owners who expect gratitude from workers for basic safety measures, this expectation is a subtle and insidious way to affirm an unequal system. You call gratitude out for how it operates and in doing so you disrupt the status quo which accepts lives lived at, as you say, zero. Thank you!

  21. Tamura A. Lomax on February 5, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Eddie, thank you for writing. Thank you for naming this. Your words are opaque, brilliant, life giving and on point.

    “The zero mentality, as a by-product of able normative supremacy, pervades the lives of disabled people in ways that make ableism harder to identify and deconstruct.”~EN

    YES.

  22. Tamura A. Lomax on February 5, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Eddie, thank you for writing. Thank you for naming this. Your words are opaque, brilliant, life giving and on point.

    “The zero mentality, as a by-product of able normative supremacy, pervades the lives of disabled people in ways that make ableism harder to identify and deconstruct.”~EN

    YES.

  23. Tamura A. Lomax on February 5, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Eddie, thank you for writing. Thank you for naming this. Your words are opaque, brilliant, life giving and on point.

    “The zero mentality, as a by-product of able normative supremacy, pervades the lives of disabled people in ways that make ableism harder to identify and deconstruct.”~EN

    YES.

  24. Tamura A. Lomax on February 5, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Eddie, thank you for writing. Thank you for naming this. Your words are opaque, brilliant, life giving and on point.

    “The zero mentality, as a by-product of able normative supremacy, pervades the lives of disabled people in ways that make ableism harder to identify and deconstruct.”~EN

    YES.

  25. Monica J. Casper on February 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Eddie, this is such a powerful piece. I’ve already shared it with my disability studies colleagues at UA and I’ll be citing it in my writing on disability. The “zero mentality” is a brilliant way to frame the bigger picture: of settling for less than you deserve because you start behind the eight ball. I particularly like how you call out the sense of gratitude that disability is meant to provoke, while ability is off the hook. A superb and much-needed analysis.

  26. Monica J. Casper on February 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Eddie, this is such a powerful piece. I’ve already shared it with my disability studies colleagues at UA and I’ll be citing it in my writing on disability. The “zero mentality” is a brilliant way to frame the bigger picture: of settling for less than you deserve because you start behind the eight ball. I particularly like how you call out the sense of gratitude that disability is meant to provoke, while ability is off the hook. A superb and much-needed analysis.

  27. Monica J. Casper on February 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Eddie, this is such a powerful piece. I’ve already shared it with my disability studies colleagues at UA and I’ll be citing it in my writing on disability. The “zero mentality” is a brilliant way to frame the bigger picture: of settling for less than you deserve because you start behind the eight ball. I particularly like how you call out the sense of gratitude that disability is meant to provoke, while ability is off the hook. A superb and much-needed analysis.

  28. Monica J. Casper on February 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Eddie, this is such a powerful piece. I’ve already shared it with my disability studies colleagues at UA and I’ll be citing it in my writing on disability. The “zero mentality” is a brilliant way to frame the bigger picture: of settling for less than you deserve because you start behind the eight ball. I particularly like how you call out the sense of gratitude that disability is meant to provoke, while ability is off the hook. A superb and much-needed analysis.

  29. Dan Morrison on February 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Insightful and compelling, this piece demonstrates once again how certain types of support can be costly to those who receive it. At the same time, the author illustrates how dependent so-called normals are on structures and infrastructures that themselves normalize, shape, and constrain behavior. What’s more, you raise the very important concept of interdependence, which is a key idea for me in my teaching and research.

    I also note how Ndopu uses the language of American disability law on accommodations to make a smart point. I’m thinking now of how those of us with privilege can remove our blindness to these advantages and partner to dismantle inequality.

  30. Dan Morrison on February 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Insightful and compelling, this piece demonstrates once again how certain types of support can be costly to those who receive it. At the same time, the author illustrates how dependent so-called normals are on structures and infrastructures that themselves normalize, shape, and constrain behavior. What’s more, you raise the very important concept of interdependence, which is a key idea for me in my teaching and research.

    I also note how Ndopu uses the language of American disability law on accommodations to make a smart point. I’m thinking now of how those of us with privilege can remove our blindness to these advantages and partner to dismantle inequality.

  31. Dan Morrison on February 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Insightful and compelling, this piece demonstrates once again how certain types of support can be costly to those who receive it. At the same time, the author illustrates how dependent so-called normals are on structures and infrastructures that themselves normalize, shape, and constrain behavior. What’s more, you raise the very important concept of interdependence, which is a key idea for me in my teaching and research.

    I also note how Ndopu uses the language of American disability law on accommodations to make a smart point. I’m thinking now of how those of us with privilege can remove our blindness to these advantages and partner to dismantle inequality.

  32. Dan Morrison on February 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Insightful and compelling, this piece demonstrates once again how certain types of support can be costly to those who receive it. At the same time, the author illustrates how dependent so-called normals are on structures and infrastructures that themselves normalize, shape, and constrain behavior. What’s more, you raise the very important concept of interdependence, which is a key idea for me in my teaching and research.

    I also note how Ndopu uses the language of American disability law on accommodations to make a smart point. I’m thinking now of how those of us with privilege can remove our blindness to these advantages and partner to dismantle inequality.

  33. Darnell on February 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Eddie, this essay is so important and beautifully written. Your voice is so necessary and many will be transformed…keep on little brother. Hugs, D.

  34. Darnell on February 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Eddie, this essay is so important and beautifully written. Your voice is so necessary and many will be transformed…keep on little brother. Hugs, D.

  35. Darnell on February 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Eddie, this essay is so important and beautifully written. Your voice is so necessary and many will be transformed…keep on little brother. Hugs, D.

  36. Darnell on February 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Eddie, this essay is so important and beautifully written. Your voice is so necessary and many will be transformed…keep on little brother. Hugs, D.

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