Confronting Ableism (The Anne Frank Center Edition)

The following is an email I sent to Anne Frank Center leadership today.

The Email

To whom it may concern:

Yesterday, August 16, at 10:32 a.m., someone tweeted from the @AnneFrankCenter Twitter account an ableist message.

This tweet includes the text “Make America Healthy Again #MAHA” and an image macro. The image says, “The President’s hate toward oppressed peoples has made the nation sick.” It includes an American flag and a stethoscope. It includes the Anne Frank Center’s branding.

I hope there is no need to educate the Anne Frank Center on ways medical language and hatred of ill and Disabled people were used to further Nazi goals during the time they were in power in Germany. Hitler framed the Nazi bigotry-fueled murder campaigns as about health and hygiene, as you must be aware.

These campaigns included an extended period of forcibly sterilizing Disabled people before going on to murder, through Aktion T4, an official count of just over 70k Disabled people (although many believe the ACTUAL number is at least twice that), starting with infants and children. When T4 was officially discontinued, many of the staff, equipment, and techniques were transferred to extermination camps.

Disabled people are understandably wary of language that equates societal problems, such as structural oppression, with illness. Such language is fairly common and contributes to ableist oppression. It also implies that people who participate in structural oppression are in some way aberrant rather than the logical product of those systems, which impedes effectively addressing the root causes of structural oppression.

When the person who runs the AFC’s Twitter account was confronted about their language, they replied:

This is incorrect. Hate is NOT an illness, and equating it with one is also ableist. I would venture to suggest that the AFC hates Nazism and white nationalism. Is that illness? No. Privileged people hating marginalized people is about a desire to retain privilege and power, not illness.

That said, if we assume the person who wrote the post means “sick” literally rather than metaphorically (this is unclear), then yes, systemic oppression is causing and always has caused illness in oppressed people. We know this. In this context, suggesting that removing Mr. Trump from the presidency would “make America healthy again” is ridiculous. Systemic oppression existed before Mr. Trump and will exist after him. The United States is founded on systemic oppression, including the ongoing genocide of indigenous people who are and have been undergoing multiple health crises for generations.

If the person who wrote the post meant “sick” metaphorically (to refer to injustice or the increased visibility of violent bigotry), then this is again a ridiculous claim and a dangerous one, especially to Disabled people who must already deal with abled people assigning moral (or immoral) value to our illnesses. Mr. Trump is not the main cause of the current political climate; he is an effect. As an effect, he amplifies other effects and emboldens violent bigots, but, again, they existed before him and will exist after him.

After that statement from the @AnneFrankCenter Twitter account, 30+ more people, mostly Disabled (including me), commented to try and educate the person running the account and convince them to retract the statement and apologize and commit to do better. We have been ignored for over 24 hours.

Today, August 17, at 6:25 a.m., the AFC account once again used medical/Disability-related language to describe bigotry.

The Anne Frank Center has become a respected voice in the resistance. When AFC social media accounts share ableist language and concepts, not only does that undermine your own stated goal of “no prejudice,” but it actively harms Disabled people, an oppressed group with at least a hundred thousand members murdered by the same people who murdered Anne Frank herself.

As a Disabled Filipino-USian person, I am requesting that the AFC social media accounts not only retract these messages and apologize, but also issue a statement committing to avoiding ableist language and ideas and actively learning to do better.

Eb

Contact Information

If you would like to contact the AFC about this, these are the people to whom I sent this email:

  • Steven Goldstein (Executive Director): sgoldstein@annefrank.com
  • David Smith (Deputy Executive Director): dsmith@annefrank.com
  • Sara Cross (Associate Director for Policy and Programs): scross@annefrank.com

About Eb

I am an Autistic Disabled Filipino-American person. I use ID-first language. My pronouns are she/her/hers or they/their/theirs.

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