The reaction to yesterdays post took me a little by surprise. While some 'got' exactly what I meant, others danced around my contention that the old woman had done an act of social violence. The idea that she was 'nice' and I was being a 'jerk' was prominant (particularly in the emails to my home address - I do wish people would leave comments in the comment section) in a few. The idea that she was elderly and 'meant well' were in another substantial bunch. In all, I think that I was being asked to kind of 'get over it'. Or at least I was being asked to 'put it in context'.
So, I was troubled.
When the answer isn't within, go to someone you trust from without. I called my friend Ian. I haven't spoken to him for a very long while so it was nice to chat. Our friendship is used to long pauses and then intense moments of discussion and closeness. It works for us. Let me tell you how I know Ian. He used to work a bar that I used to drink at. He is a big man, a black man, a smart man. Once we got past the bar chat stuff we got to speaking about real stuff. We talked about racism, about homophobia, about the deepness of cultural prejudice.
One day I got an idea, I asked Ian if I could talk to him about the prevailing philosophies of service to people with disabilities. He asked if there was a way he could 'read up' on it first so that he'd have some idea what I was talking about. I gave him the book 'Normalization' and set a date for a real talk about it all. When we got back together he threw the book on the table and said, "Now there's a book that only a white man could have written." What we talked about then would take far too much time to write here ... but one of the bits of advice he gave me was to 'switch minorities' .... if I wanted to understand if something was inherently disphobic I had to just switch minorities. Put someone of a different minority into place of the person with the disability and see if you would do the same thing or think the same way.
This has been helpful advice. And it's advice he gave to me again yesterday. He got me to imagine the scene differently. It helped me, so let me do it for you (Thanks Again Ian).
Let's look at the post yesterday. If it had been written by a black man about an incident at the grocery store. He had been standing waiting for his wife to pick him up. An elderly woman approaches him and in a little kiddy tone of voice said "Have you been left here all alone?" and tries to pat him on the arm. He reacts negatively to her tone of voice and her assumption that he isn't an adult but a mere boy that needs someone to care for him.
Would people tell him that it may have been racism, but it was kindly racism? Would people suggest that he, as a black man, needs to get over it a bit? Would people suggest that her age allows her to be a bit racist because that's what the world was like? Would people even think that 'a little bit racist' was possible?
Maybe they would, you tell me, but I don't think so.
Part of the trouble is, in trying to express things from the point of view of disability is that negative attitudes towards disability are often shrouded in 'kindness' and 'pity' and 'compassion' and there is still an attitude that disabled people should be grateful for the crumbs which fall from the table.
For me, it's taken two years of being victim of 'the voice' to really start to have it bother me. I can't imagine what it's like to be a victim of racism for an entire life. Because two years of this is wearning on the soul.
So why is prejudice against disability expected to be borne, with a cheery countenance by the disabled while prejudice against others - sexism, racism and homophobia - are met with social disapproval?
Maybe because we ... us ... disabled people ... our opinions are yet to matter. Other people, who know better, think they can define our experiences for us. Tell us that we got it wrong that ...
SHE WAS JUST BEING NICE