obama, my girl in western mass and liminality

November 19, 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot about liminality. It makes me so happy when there’s one word to describe something so nuanced and complex. And in thinking about what it means to be liminal, I realized it’s a great term to understand this past historic election. For the last couple weeks I’ve been¬† trying to figure out how a black man got himself elected president of the US. Given what race means here in Amercia, it is an amazing feat. And it came to me yesterday that Obama ran his presidential bid “occupying a space” of permanent liminality. But instead of creating dissonance like it so often does, it created relief. Relief for a lot of folks who didn’t want to resolve the issue of his race, as in yes this is a black man, or at least didn’t want to get resolution around understanding that his race has meaning, as in yes this is still a pretty racist society. Think of the footage from election night, the close-up of Jessie Jackson crying, the kids dancing at Spellman, the street party in Harlem, and try and reconcile that with comments to call-in radio shows and letters to editors from people saying this election wasn’t about race. Of course this election was about race (to some degree); it’s just that Obama didn’t run a race on race. Smart, smart move on his part. And being a black man not running on race but winning the race — that’s a liminal act of epic proportions. Seriously.

If only other folks were so lucky. Like my girl in western Mass, who I’ve come to think of as being permanently liminal. She’s wicked smart and wiley, but she’s never gonna escape the dissonance the world dishes back up at her as she tries to negotiate her way through it.¬† Why? Because she’s sick. And when I say sick, I mean disabled sick. Illness, injury, disease, disability – this stuff begs out for resolve. And the collective urge to mend and fix and cure has certainly changed our human condition, as in increased the lifespan, decreased suffering and generally enhanced our quality of life. But not everything gets cured and why that is, well that’s a different blog.

But leaving aside how and why we choose to commit resources to curing some diseases and not others, we can at least agree that not everything can get cured. And when we don’t have a way to manage what’s wrong, when we can’t treat the condition so that the sick can live among us on our able bodied terms, well, if that’s your lot, you’re kinda screwed. As a society we see sickness and disablity and we want resolve, man. Normalize yourselves, you sickos: get better, or transcend what ails you like the super crip marathoner with prosthetics, or hide away and or die. Yes, I do mean to sound this harsh.

When what’s considered “normal” got constructed, my girl got left out. But the ideas about normalcy were built from a house of cards called assumptions. So there she is, liminal to the bone, like it or not. And the means for resolve are either out reach or out of the question. Yes, she could get some better and I hope she does, because things have been extraordinarily hard these last several years, but she will still have disabilities. Meaning she gets to beat her head against a world that at best might collectively in its actions and on a very good day, say something like “we love you in spite of how we have to accomodate your disability.”

And fuck that. If I can use the metaphor of access ramps, I say fuck this idea of a ramp to get in the building. Build the building so it doesn’t need a ramp in the first place. Build it so everyone get’s in. There is no reason that the act of entering a building should be the litmus test for ability, for what’s considered normal, for who gets included.