Sagamihara

 Illustration of Japanese flag with white wheelchair symbol in the middle of the red dot, red drop of blood below it, and caption reading: Mourning those killed at Tsukui Yamayuri En. End hate against disabled people"

I want to write about the intentional murder, by planned, methodical stabbing, of 19 disabled people, in a “facility” in Sagamihara, Japan, by a former worker at that facility. I want to write about it, but I don’t want to just repeat everything so many others in the disability community have already said. So, here is a list of links to the articles, essays, and blog posts I have read so far:

#CripTheVote: Violence & Disability
Alice Wong, Storify - July 25, 2016

Note: This Twitter chat happened before the incident in Japan, but it couldn’t be more relevant to it.

Ableism is not “bad words.” It’s violence
Lydia Brown, Autistic Hoya - July 25, 2016

Ableism is Deadly: Mass Murder in Japan
William Peace, Bad Cripple - July 26, 2016

Violence, Disability, and the Lessons of Sagamihara
David Perry, Pacific Standard - July 26, 2016

Japan, Hate and 12 days
Dave Hingsburger, Of Battered Aspect - July 26, 2016

This Is What Disability Erasure Looks Like
Emily Willingham, Forbes - July 27, 2016

Ableism, Violence, and Sagamihara
Alice Wong, Disability Visibility Project - July 27, 2016

I will add this …

I think one reason why neither news media nor social media really seemed to know what to do with this massacre is that there's a certain idea people have about ableism, or disability-based prejudice.

It’s the idea that ableism is somehow a less severe form of prejudice that comes more from ignorance, unfamiliarity, and bad social habits than from real fear, superiority, or hate. It's a comforting idea, because it suggests that there is a simple solution to ableism … not easy to accomplish maybe, but easy to imagine. It’s the idea that ableism can be fixed by better, more refined etiquette.

Certainly, education and awareness can help with the most common and merely annoying aspects of ableism. You might be able to get some people to stop saying unintentionally upsetting things about disabled people. Most people disapprove of being mean to disabled people. That’s why Donald Trump’s juvenile mockery of a disabled reporter’s unusual voice, appearance, and movements is such a political winner for Democrats. However, the roots of ableism are much deeper and insidious than personal insensitivity, and more harmful by far than hurting disabled peoples’ feelings. Ableism is based, in part, on a belief that disabled people don’t belong. We are defective. We are untidy. We get in the way. We demand more than our share. We make people sad.

Even when we are praised, it’s usually because we have managed to overcome these supposedly inherent flaws to become less disabled, less what we are, and more what people are supposed to be like. That leaves the underlying premise unquestioned.

As several of the writers linked above note, terrible acts like what happened in Japan this week can’t be dealt with straightforwardly because most people hold some of the very same beliefs that motivated this man, even if they don’t act on them as he did. The man was apparently regarded as “insane” and briefly hospitalized, not because he believed as he did, but because the social norms that usually keep these views in check were not working with him. He is now easily dismissed as an anomaly ... horrifying, but unique. This allows his fundamental view of disability to go mostly unexamined, and allows everyone else to view his actions as having no broader meaning, no message other than “Dear gracious me!”

His actions do have broader meaning. His beliefs are quite common, even though for most people they are diluted and fleeting. I am not worried that attacks like this will start happening all over the world now … though that is a possibility. I am more worried that the beliefs about disability that motivated them will continue to generate less spectacular acts that are, in aggregate, even more harmful and far more commonplace.

We all need to realize that ableism is just as bad as every other ‘-ism’. Ableism isn’t different, or special, or only about lack of courtesy. As William Peace says in his blog post linked above says, "Ableism is deadly." It is deadly even when it doesn’t actually kill.

*Note: I got the illustration above from the Twitter account of Carly Findlay @carlyfindlay. I don't know where she got it, but it seemed massively appropriate.