I gave into societal pressure and joined the TikTok community. When it comes to the breadth of content you can scroll through, Alice and the White Rabbit have nothing on this rabbit hole.
In my rabbit-hole scrolling, I recently stumbled across some creators teaching hearing folks how to sign phrases in American sign language. Without fail, each video had tens of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. They obviously found their niche and are able to make a living by making these videos.
But there was something more nefarious at play that I wasn’t aware of until recently. Other content creators revealed to me that people outside of the deaf community were profiting off creating deaf content.
While this may not seem like a big deal, it means that deaf content creators doing the exact same thing (like teaching sign language) get less traffic to their accounts, limiting their ability to make a living off their content.
You may be thinking to yourself, “But Kali, if these hearing folks are using their platform to educate others, aren’t they acting as good allies?”
Let me say it plainly: hearing folks are profiting off teaching other hearing folks about a disability they don’t have. Meanwhile, deaf content creators are unable to make a profit off teaching folks that same content from a place of first-hand, real-life experience with deafness.
When your allyship keeps the very folks you claim to be allies from making a living, you are no longer an ally. You are an agent of the very system that exploits them daily.
This problem is one not limited to the deaf community. Other disabled content creators face the same challenges. Black people and other people of color face these challenges as well.
You probably see these challenges in your churches. How many race-based social justice conversations has your church had without consulting the antiracist work of people of color?
This is a rare moment in my life when a teaching from my evangelical upbringing may actually provide some guidance.
In my youth group, my youth pastor and other youth leaders continually preached the importance of each of us having our own, personal encounter with Jesus. They said more times than I can count that we can’t rely on other folks to tell us who Jesus is; we have to experience him for ourselves.
What if we treated learning about folks oppressed by various toxic systems in the same way? What if we truly believed that it was not enough for us to learn about them through second-hand experience? What if, in order to truly learn about how life is for folks different from ourselves, we had to talk with them directly?
I imagine we’d hold “news” organizations that vilify “the other” in significantly lower regard.
I also imagine that we’d reach a much deeper capacity for compassion and empathy. It’s hard to vilify or patronize someone with whom you’ve intentionally worked to see their humanity.
Particularly as it relates to physical disabilities, we’d learn more about the real, daily challenges disabled folks face doing things able-bodied folks take for granted: getting dressed, going out for lunch, attending church. We’d be able to see how inaccessible most of our society is for so many of our neighbors.
We’d also learn more about how our tendency to objectify folks as inspirations for navigating this inaccessible world doesn’t do a single thing to make society more accessible to them.
As Stella Young said in her viral TED Talk, “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much”: “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never.”
This is Disability Pride Month, and I want to encourage you to consume content from actual disabled folks. Buy from their Etsy shops. Read their books. Like their posts on social media.
And this goes without saying, stop following non-disabled folks who are profiting off making the same content that disabled folks are making.
All of these things will not only educate you, but they will do so in a way that actively supports disabled folks’ ability to make a living.
If you are one of the folks currently profiting from teaching things outside of your lived experience, I want to challenge you to stop.
Use your platform to elevate the stories of others. Encourage your followers to follow content creators who actually live with these challenges day-to-day: tag them, link their accounts or stitch their content to make it that much easier for your followers.
You can turn your privilege into a tool for allyship, but only if you’re willing to lay down some of your profitability to do so.
As Jesus once so wisely taught, it’s much easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the “kin-dom” of heaven.
Editor’s note: This article is the second article of a two-part series this week for Disability Pride Month (July), the month in which the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 went into effect. The previous article in this series is:
Why It’s Difficult to Be Disabled and Christian in America | Libby Carroll
A bivocational pastor, writer and spiritual director based in Atlanta, Georgia, she currently works as a Spiritual Director at Reclamation Theology. Cawthon-Freels is the author of Reclamation: A Queer Pastor’s Guide to Finding Spiritual Growth in the Passages Used to Harm Us (Nurturing Faith Books), and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.