Recently I experienced disphobic hate that was specific, targeted and purposeful. I was so stunned and hurt by the encounter that it took several days for me to process and a couple of weeks to attach words to the experience. Joe, too, was stung by the force of the blast. Without question we were victims of a disability hate attack. No, I haven't written about this. No, I'm not going to now. As it happened in a public building, done by a public employee, I'm dealing with this through very, VERY, formal means.
I was talking to someone I know and trust, I must describe them here for the purposes of this post as 'non-disabled'. I was asked if something was upsetting me. And there was something. After finally dealing with the trauma that arises from blatant bigotry well enough to do something about it, I had sat down at the computer. First I composed myself, then I composed a letter. Just putting the experience forefront in my mind to describe it was painful. But I felt that I needed to do it. A few hours later I was asked about my mood. For the first time, out loud, I described what happened. The listener was suitably horrified.
But then they did something quite shocking.
They said, 'Well, let me tell you, that kind of thing doesn't happen just to disabled people ...' Then I was told a story about a rude clerk and a dismissive interaction. I listened and said all the right things. But inside I was seething with upset and maybe even anger. I felt entirely dismissed. Yes, the story that was told me was about a nasty person and a nasty interchange. That wasn't the problem. The problem was using a story of general nastiness based on mood and circumstance to disprove the larger point that bigotry against people with disabilities exists at all.
I wished I hadn't told my story.
Later, with someone else, I decided to try again. And the same thing happened. My story, of being victim of a specific, targeted and purposeful attack against me as a person with a disability was dismissed and my fellow conversationalist followed up with a bad customer service story. And again I felt as if I was being subtly told that prejudice against people doesn't exist ... 'Don't think that happens only to disabled people ...'
Now I'm fearful of telling the story at all.
It's true that we live in a world where common courtesy isn't so common and common decency is entirely uncommon. I know that. I think I can tell the difference between a chance encounter of nastiness that has nothing to do with anything other than I am at the receiving end of someone's bad mood or horrid temper, and when someone specifically targets 'me' and my 'disability' for harsh treatment BECAUSE AND ONLY BECAUSE I am a disabled person. And there is a difference in emotional reaction to a bad temper and a hate crime. Seriously.
Part of me wonders why people who I know are generally quite sensitive to disability issues would be so dismissive of my experience. I don't think these are bad people at all. I think that somehow they think that helping me to minimize my experience by explaining it away as a momentary lapse of unkindness will be helpful for me. And I think, in reality, that it is helpful - but to them, not to me. Having to acknowledge the existence of prejudice towards people with disabilities means having to be more careful in scrutinizing one's own behaviour. Those who believe that reports of 'racism' are exaggerated claims by oversensitive people looking for offense never, ever, ever, have to examine their heart for racist thinking. It works. It's comforting.
Again, I don't want to imply that those I spoke to about this were purposefully dismissive - they just were. I wanted them to acknowledge that what happened was deeply wrong and part of a culture of devaluing people with disabilities. I wanted them to be horrified at the existence of such prejudice in others. I wanted them to understand the source of my upset and even, maybe, acknowledge the trauma that resulted. I wanted their words to hug me and reassure me. Instead I felt brushed away like a child told simply to ignore bullying.
Let me tell you here and now, from my experience, prejudice exists towards people with disabilities. More than that, the experience of prejudice is always hurtful - to the core hurtful. It needs to be acknowledged in order to be challenged. It needs to be challenged in order for change to happen.
And I guess I'm figuring change is a long way off.