Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crip-Spiration, Crip Runs and Description: Pistorius and the Limits of the Overcoming Narrative

By Therí A. Pickens

Oscar Pistorius source

This Olympics, people were abuzz with excitement about Pistorius, the double amputee runner. While folk were up in arms (or legs) about his skills and his narrative, I found myself getting more and more pissed off. The narrative available (the only one it seems) was that he had “overcome” his disability. One news outlet even went so far as to show Pistorius next to a little blonde girl who also uses the same prosthetic legs. The caption read, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

As I vomited in my soul, I was cheered to see Philippa Willitts's article that explained this “crip-spiration” for what it was: a violation of the humanity of disabled people. It ignores the real institutional factors (ie Olympics committees, medical industrial complex) that attempt to and often succeed in preventing people from accomplishing their goals once they acquire or disclose their disabled status. This narrative severely limits the conversation we can have about these institutions because it makes the person a case of individual success, absolving everyone (including the non-disabled voyeuristic viewer) of responsibility. It ignores the
political reality of disability. It hides the truth.

Surprisingly, I could only recall Katt Williams’s stellar jocularity in his bit about Pistorius whom he dubs “poor little tink tink.” Rather than focus on Pistorius’ will, he brings up the haters – a cast of characters as diverse as other track stars and Olympic officials. He clearly makes the case that the issue for Pistorius is not Pistorius’s body, but everyone else’s view of it. It resonated even now, even though Williams’s American Hustle is five years old.

Williams’s distinctly black (ie delivery, content) humor indexes disability to talk about struggle writ large. He levels his critique not just at institutions, but also at audiences, asking them to reconsider how they judge, make fun of, and (yes) even draw inspiration from others. Pistorius was “in tune with his star player” and others, who were not in tune with theirs couldn’t fathom his success. Williams’s critique reverses the abject stare placed on disabled people, telling the rest of the world what many of us under that gaze know so deeply, “You don’t know nothing bout this life.”

Williams’s insight speaks directly to the issue of Pistorius’s narrative. The “overcoming” is abjection under the guise of individual triumph and cloaks the issues truly at stake. We have to examine the logics of how we discuss disability. In the case of crip-spiration, we delimit the opportunity to tell better stories. Nothing is ever as simplistic as overcoming or bad attitudes. Just as one-dimensionality is an impossibility in mathematics, it should a narratological impossibility as well.

Therí A. Pickens is an assistant professor of English at Bates College and a contributing writer for Black Studies @ SIUE.   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent observations. I saw Williams' performance on Youtube.