However, antisubordination activists have engaged in a form of strategic essentialism as a means of resistance (Spivak, 1989). Mimicking conventional strategies of nonsubordinated power holders, strategic essentialism is a move by members of a subordinated category to simplify group identity and counter normative expectations.
Strategic Essentialism “…refers to a political tactic in which minority groups, nationalities, or ethnic groups mobilize on the basis of shared gendered, cultural, or political identity to represent themselves. While strong differences may exist between members of these groups, and amongst themselves they engage in continuous debates, it is sometimes advantageous for them to temporarily “essentialize” themselves and to bring forward their group identity in a simplified way to achieve certain goals…”
Strategic essentialism is new vocabulary for me. I picked it up recently in my disability studies reading and am still learning how to apply it. I’m particularly interested in how it applies to running an Employee Resource Group.
This first thing that came to mind as I read the paragraph above from DisCrit is John Elder Robison’s piece that talks about using “neurodivergent” instead of diagnostic labels to build coalition.
When schools and workplaces move from autism programs to neurodiversity programs, they include every person with a cognitive difference, not just autistic people. The tent gets bigger, and it has room for all.
Whether your goal is competitive advantage or human service, you should be able to meet your goals better under a Neurodiversity at Work banner, as opposed to an Autism at Work one. In both cases the supports needed are similar, but the neurodivergent population is substantially larger than the “only autistic” population so your chances of success are magnified.
While labels like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or PDD-NOS may be useful for therapists and childhood educators, the community-sourced alternative “neurodivergent” is probably better suited for colleges and workplaces. In those spaces, medical labels carry stigma that leads to conscious and unconscious marginalization. Expectations are always lower for people with disability diagnoses.
Neurodiversity is a new concept but the underlying reality has been part of human society forever. In the modern era work and school programs designed for the average person have excluded those whose cognitive styles fall outside that narrow midrange. Despite that, workplaces – including colleges – already contain plenty of neurodiversity so a primary program goal should be the better support of those people. Neurodiversity at School and at Work is not just about bringing new people into the fold.
The newest Neurodiversity initiatives recognize this fact.
By embracing the neurodiversity model instead of autism, employers can move toward a more inclusive welcoming environment.
…creating coalitions can subvert dominant hierarchies and transform the status quo.
Individuals, however, do not experience identity as a fractured reality. If we start instead with this understanding of intersectionality informed by DisCrit, the multivariant nature of experience may be a place for coalition.
I’m very glad to see the neurodiversity and queer ERGs at my workplace addressing gatekeeping, being broadly inclusive, and working together. This seems like healthy essentialism on which coalition and community can grow.
Community is magic.
Community is power.
Community is resistance.
As my neurodivergent and disabled family navigates healthcare, school, and life, I wish over and over that the professionals we interact with knew something about neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy. We spend so much time educating folks in hopes they’ll gain the framing needed to see our family.
These are essential frameworks that every professional should be conversant in. In my experience, corporate harassment and discrimination training doesn’t really go into any of these. Wishing it did. Let’s bake them into our annual training and our company cultures. Let’s bake them into the curriculum for everyone. Those wanting to do ethical, inclusive, and informed work need to do the work of obtaining these tools.
Here’s my attempt at an introductory primer that got some good feedback on Twitter this week:
Further, we need MESH in our schools, our companies, and our professional development:
We all need these lenses and tools. Start baking them in so that the most marginalized and vulnerable people don’t have to provide free emotional labor and education over and over and over. It’s exhausting.
For “All means all” to actually apply to neurodivergent and disabled and marginalized kids, public educators need these tools.
To avoid building behaviorism and bias into our systems, tech workers need these tools.
Everyone working with other people need these tools.