First, let me make something clear. I don't care how you see me. My self esteem isn't wrapped up in you or your perceptions of me, my sense of worth isn't measured on any scale held in your hands. Before discussing this video, which asks the question, "How do you see me?" I want that understood. I state this because there is a myth, amongst non-disabled people, that we, as disabled people, are desperate for your approval and acceptance and, eeeww, tolerance. I know you love this narrative. I've seen it in movies, I've seen it in advertisements, and I've seen it in those horrible 'let him have the last shot at the big game and fake it going in' videos on YouTube. Your acceptance, presented as a gift, is nothing more than a burden for those of us on the receiving end.
That's out of the way.
I hated this video. From the opening words, spoken by a woman with Down Syndrome reading from a script, "This is how I see myself ..." over the image of a beautiful non-disabled woman. From there it shows this beautiful non-disabled woman doing and being what people do and be. Throughout those images I sat horrified. Literally horrified. The erasure, in the self image of the woman speaking, of her disability, of Down Syndrome, made me feel physically ill. The stench of self hatred filled my senses. I knew this was just a script, just an advertisement, but it was so much more than that. It was propaganda for the erasure of people with disabilities from the world we live in.
It clearly told any viewer, any person who one day may be told that their unborn baby has Down Syndrome that their baby doesn't want the life that they would live. That their child would spend their days wishing to be something they weren't. That if they had their child it would suffer the horrid existence of seeing themselves as something that they weren't and living with the knowledge that they could never be what they desperately wanted to be.
It clearly told any viewer that any person with Down Syndrome they meet needs to be treated as a fragile being with a self image that rises from delusion and self hatred. People with Down Syndrome are presented as living on the other side of town from pride and self acceptance. That people with Down Syndrome live in ghettos of shame and distorted longing.
This is not how I see Down Syndrome.
This is not how I see Disability.
Yet when the camera turns, finally, to the beautiful, absolutely beautiful, woman with Down Syndrome, she, as an actress delivers her line very well, "How do you see me?" there is a pleading in her voice that broke my heart.
I wanted to tell her, tell the world, that I saw her. Really saw her. And what I saw was a woman with Down Syndrome who was beautiful and talented. I did not see, in any way shape or form, her as anything but who she was.
Oh, God, read the comments all over the web on this.
"I see you as a person just like me," gushes one comment from, predictably, a non disabled person. That statement galls me. It's supposed to be this wonderful gift ... and maybe it is, but only to the speaker. The speaker is affirming that they are a wondrous kind of person who has a unique and rare ability to see humanity in another person. Like being able to see that a person is a person makes someone exceptional! Like being able to see that a human being is a human being isn't to be expected in a civil society, instead it's a cherished rarity. It isn't exceptional to recognize that my neighbour is my neighbour, is it? Apparently when my neighbour has a difference or a disability it makes me, with the assumption of my own superiority, able to grant neighbour status. Forgive me, but, fuck that.
I hate this video.
I took several days to write this because I had to calm down.
I think this video hurts us.
It hurts disabled people.
It hurts people with Down Syndrome.
It hurts those who, already secure in superiority, needed challenging.
I am putting this up on the day before World Down Syndrome Day because I think it would be an offense to show it on that day. A day set aside to celebrate the contributions of people with Down Syndrome and the struggles that people with Down Syndrome have against prejudice and bigotry.
This video has no place there.