“Crazy” has become a part of common parlance. Many invoke the term to indicate that something lacks an apparent explanation. This understanding is rooted in ableist discourse. Distinguishing disability and impairment can help clarify why this is the case. Impairment refers to a material trait or characteristic. Disability describes the socially constructed expectations of value sets and spaces that confer privileges onto able-bodied people. Ableism confers privileges based upon a set of assumed expectations about embodied habitation of the world. Able-bodied privilege, like white privilege, relies on the repeated recreation of characteristics made both invisible and naturalized.
“Crazy” finds deep roots in discourses of ableism that stretch far into the past. These discourses have created an ever-shifting notion of what constitutes a normative, and thus privileged, mindset. Within the United States, one does not have to investigate far to find institutionalized marginalization of people pathologized as “crazy” or “insane” through imprisonment, so-called shock therapy, and other forms of abuse. “Craziness” and “insanity” intersect sexist, homophobic, and racist ideas, albeit are not limited to them.
Unfortunately, various activists invoke “crazy” and other synonymous ableist slurs within their causes. In the context of gun death, violence, and accidents, many anti-gun control and other conservative voices invoke an abstract mental health of those who commit mass gun death, especially when they are white. Many think pieces, such as “Stop Blaming Mental Illness for Mass Shootings” on Vox, explain and source why people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Similarly, it is fairly easy to observe that vocal pundits scapegoat American society’s poor handling of mental health as a justification for why gun control should not be enacted; a narrative never invoked when discussing extrajudicial violence aimed at black men. While many activists note this failure of institutional discourse, fewer contend with how many advocates describe the static rate of gun death and mass shootings as “insane” or “crazy.” When people use these words, they attempt to describe moments of violence they find incomprehensible. This choice of words locates people with mental illness as essentially not understandable or uncontrollable, through the ways that metaphor creates a bidirectional relationship of pseudo-equivalency. Using these words entrenches people with mental health illnesses as the Other. Doing so also obfuscates actually critiquing the forces that lead to the seeming perpetuality of mass shootings and gun death.
Even though I describe ableism in particular relationship to mental health, it oppresses a much broader set of disabled identities. Saying someone “has been blinded by their privilege” is a trope that had been foisted upon me as defining of the campus left discourse at small liberal arts colleges. Though I do not remember ever hearing this phrase specifically, I hear “blind” being used as a synonym for unawareness. There are many ways to gain knowledge about the world, and blind is not synonymous with unawareness. This phrase is not random either. The preference of visual senses over all others is known as ocular-centricity. Not all cultures and people have this inclination.
Suffice it to say, unlearning ableist discourse is thoroughly integral to any type of advocacy for an equitable future.