The helper can be ableist – how to offer antiableist support

No matter if online or offline, if in private relationships or groups which dedicated themselves to solidarity, help and support and how these are given will be a crucial matter. To help someone seems to be a “good” thing, but it also can be performed with a parternalistic/ableist attitude.                                                                                      This risk exists when the ppl who support are thinking they know better what is helpful for the person in need than the person who is in the actual situation needing help. While the intention to help might be good, this happens nevertheless, bc some ppl don’t wanna bear the vague situation, their own clueless- and helplessness or the complexity of the problems of another person. They often offer a one-size-fits-all solution or tell the person to do it “like I once did” when they were in a similar situation or at least think they were. That is mostly not a compatible advice, bc there are no two genuinely identic human beings and same situations at all.                                                                                                                            Questions like “Why don’t you just…?” are suggesting in an ableist way that the person in need only has to try hard enough or has not done enough thinking. Sorry, but if it would be that easy (for an individual), it wasn’t a problem in first place. I prefer to ask ppl if they know something that could be helpful, make a difference. There will not always be an answer to it, but I think this should be the first question in order to help someone a wanted way. Unsolicited or uninformed advice will only steal energy from the person, that needs to put this energy into problem solving.

Unsolicited/uninformed advice is a very common ableist behaviour, especially towards disabled ppl. Paternalism instead of individual support is a real shitty experience.     First: Ask the person which help/support they want.                                              Second: Think through if you can help/support the way the person wishes for. If you don’t have the resources, if the uttered wish makes you meet your ethical or other borders, you’ll have to say an honest no.                                                                   Some ppl act defensive when they feel helpless and find it hard to say no and they get angry at the person who “makes” them feel this way, they blame all the uncomfyness and stress on the person in need, who actually has the problem but is not the problem. Therefore the problem itself gets downplayed/trivialized and the endeavour aims at a quick and simple solution. Or the wish of the person who needs support will be declared as “unrealistic/big expectation”, as an impossible wish in general. Learning to bear one’s own helplessness and developing an understanding that ppl want to be taken seriously in first place, to be listened to, bc there will not always be a solution at hand anyway, might help to reduce the pressure on all concerned. It is an ableist value to expect that there always has to be a quick solution for everything. With no time for development. That ppl are not always able to help the wanted way and are honest about it is okay, not having the spoons or the knowledge is okay, it is okay to be honest.

What if the person in need does not have any idea what might help? You can offer to look for helpful information, you can delegate the task to other ppl, who are competent if the person agrees.

How to offer solidary support as a group? First find out what kind of support is wanted, do not just look for reasons to get your already existing political agenda confirmed. You will not always get confirmed, you will not always understand at once what it is about, why something else is more important for the ppl who need support than for the supporters. Just having good intentions is not enough and often leads to paternalism. Not only ableism can be an obstacle on the road to compatible/appropriate help. Not addressing racism, not trying to dismantle the power structure and change it, keeps from being a good supporter. And this does cause an immense harm instead of being helpful. A woman who supported refugees did call them “the african boys of Miss soandso…” and I cringed, bc she did not only center the helper, Miss soandso, but she used this paternalizing possessive pronoun and Afrika was a country again. And Infantilization.

When I started to support a Kurdish woman I was a little bit anxious to meet her husband for the first time. What if he opposes her wishes, what if he doesn’t want her to be emancipated? Why did I think that although I never met him until that very day? I realized that is racist, too. I was ashamed, but it also taught me, I have to pay attention, notice these prejudices and correct myself, no white person is never racist. Ppl who think they can’t be ableist/racist etc can’t change.

Since my childhood I hear ppl say: ”Everything is give and take:” It began to sound like book-keeping to me, like an accountant and this is simply unrealistic, that there always will be a balance otherwise the ppl don’t deserve what you have to give. This dismisses the reality of very different amount of resources and privileges and forms of oppression. If person B gets something from person A, person B might not ever be able to give something what Person A needs, but can help person C one day with something. So there might be not a balance in an economically sense, but in a big solidary community, where need is not just met with advice “to take a time out, practice selfcare, bootstraps blabla” this could work: What goes around, comes around.

But maybe this balance can’t exist before we approach equality, before we not have left behind this time where “needing more” bc one experiences disadvantages, barriers and many sorts of lack due to oppression, is perceived as “taking more”.