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The American Way of Exclusion

July 19, 2017

“Nothing about us, without us!”

By Janelle Lyons

Woman smiles at camera

Janelle Lyons

Everyone, at one time or another, has experienced the dreaded feeling of exclusion. When considering what it means to be excluded, many think of social exclusion. Social exclusion occurs when individuals or groups are denied access from certain activities or experiences that are available to other members of society. Social exclusion often starts from the childhood playground and can last until the retirement home, and for those confused, being excluded in adulthood can be just as painful, especially for those who have repeatedly been ostracized throughout their life. Therefore, social exclusion is a timeless classic that can take many forms: never being picked for the little league team, a “lost” invitation to the community BBQ, or even being denied admission to a NYC nightclub. Honestly speaking, it is amazing how often and how creatively people exclude others. The reality of exclusive behavior is that after a while this lack of inclusion and integration can chip away at a person’s psyche, making it no longer something one can just “get over.”

While exclusion is a universal issue felt around the world, it is important to understand that the U.S. was founded on the idea of “us” vs. “them” and the use of exclusivity to ensure dominance. Exclusion in the U.S. dates back to its inception, but some of the most noteworthy examples can be found in the following discriminatory U.S. policies: the Jim Crow Laws of the 1890s, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986/ War on Drugs,* and our newest addition, the immigration ban of 2017. For a country that was founded by people who were seeking escape from religious persecution/prejudice, any form of discrimination and exclusion seems rightly absurd.

Exclusion and its devices are destructive to say the least; however, for marginalized communities, social exclusion is just the tip of the iceberg. It is one thing to not get invited to a popular, social event, but it is another to be structurally excluded from governmental policies that directly affect you and your community. Given the U.S.’ diverse population, democratic values of equality, and vast infrastructure, policy inclusion should already be an established norm. But inclusion is a far found notation, especially under this current administration. For example, how can a small group of wealthy, white men sit in a room and decide the healthcare and reproductive standards of a nation? Are there no longer Women of Color Senators like Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, and Catherine Cortez Masto? Or at the very least, are organizations like Planned Parenthood and Medicare Rights Center no longer in operation?

Therefore, the titled quote, “nothing about us, without us,” means just that. I actually decided to add this as my title not only because it is one of the first things I see on my way into the USICD office every morning, but because it is a reminder that my work this summer with Women Enabled International and the importance of advocating for the inclusion of women with disabilities in United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 National Actions Plans. The UNSCR resolution 1325 calls upon actors to increase the participation of women in all UN peace and security efforts. After spending hours sifting through countless pages of dense government documentation, it is this quote that keeps my mind focused and allow me to gain perspective on the goal at hand. It is impossible and counterproductive to create U.S. legislation without including the affected parties, whether that be persons with disabilities, minorities, LGBT+ persons, the elderly, youth, etc. If you exclude members of these groups from participating in the creation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of these policies, you will inevitably miss the mark. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

However, there are numerous U.S. based organizations and advocacy groups, like the National Diversity Council, the National Inclusion Project, and the Disability Visibility Project, that work tirelessly everyday on inclusion. They seek to not only expose incidents of injustice and exclusion, but also add proactive recommendations that help remedy the issue of widespread exclusion in U.S. policy. Although each of these groups has their own agenda, they each seek to do their part in helping to create a more inclusive world for all.

*Used as an example of exclusion due to the fact that these policies disproportionally target and affect African-Americans. For example, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, drug offenses involving crack cocaine, which was predominately used by African-Americans, were given extremely severe punishments when compared to those involving cocaine in its powdered form, which was primarily used by white people.

Janelle Lyons is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Janelle Lyons is completing her internship at Women Enabled International.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or Women Enabled International.

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