“Ism” is Code for Supremacy

Ableism and racism stem from the same root

Eunice Brownlee


green grass holding a bright pink sign with wheelchair icon and an arrow pointing to the right, indicating a step free path
Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash

While White America was reckoning with the realization that the Matrix does not exist and that our entire infrastructure is built from the bones of slavery (figuratively and literally), I have spent the past few months following influencers in the disability community and having an epiphany of my own.

Although I’ve been mindful of disability and accessibility my entire life, my latest realization started back in July as the American Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 30. At first, I was taken aback because I thought surely the ADA was older than I am. One of my best friends from high school has cerebral palsy and is legally blind. I remember all of the accommodations that she had—tutors, lessons on tape, extra time on tests—and I thought it was amazing that our school made these things available to her. I did not know then that the ADA was merely a toddler and that our school’s thorough compliance was an outlier for the experience I have heard from other disabled friends our age.

When model Tatiana Lee posted her features in Forbes and Apple to celebrate the ADA anniversary, I realized that I was reading these stories with a different lens than I ever had before. What it was, I couldn’t place my finger on it until she posted an Instagram story on internalized ableism, which are the disparaging things disabled people say to themselves.

“A lot of this sounds similar to the things victims of abuse and gaslighting say. I suppose they are rooted from the same tree, so I guess ableism is a form of abuse,” I said to her. She quickly responded.

“Any form of discrimination is abuse, ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities and internalized ableism is when you inflict that discrimination on to yourself because it’s what society has told you is true. Which yes, is all rooted in White supremacy. Ableism, sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia is all the same, just in different forms.”

My mind broke open in the most beautiful ways after reading that. As a mixed race woman, I have certainly faced discrimination in my life. But my ableist mindset kept me from seeing that I certainly have also discriminated against others. In spite of the fact that I have friends with varying…