Sunday, November 06, 2016

That Explains Everything

So, I was listening to someone as they told a story. I was part of the group and, like everyone else, was enjoying the ease with which the story was being told. The punch line of the story ended up being that the main person in the story ended up having an intellectual disability and "that explained everything."

In the story the person was a little off, a little different, not quite comfortable in the social situation that he had found himself in. He bumbled a bit. He stumbled a bit. At one point he kind of startled the story teller - the kind of startle that ended up in the encounter becoming an anecdote to be told in spaces like this to people like this. The story teller obviously knows me and knows that I have a disability but felt that, as my disability was different than the guy in the story, I'd enjoy the humour. But instead I didn't. I found it disphobic and ableist at the same time. My face showed offence.

Yes, we've talked about this, but that's not what I want to write about and some encounters need to remain private.

I want to take issue with disability "explaining everything."

Everyone else laughed at the punchline and understood inherently that somehow disability, in particular intellectual disability, is an explanation for some things. His behaviour is off because he's off. His actions were different because he's different. He bumbled and stumbled because that's what 'those people' do.

I don't accept this.

People with intellectual disabilities are not a homogeneous group, one just like the other. Intellectual disability itself takes may forms and affects everyone differently. Everyone with Down Syndrome isn't happy. All people with cerebral palsy aren't wheelchair users. Right? Right.

When anyone thinks that a group descriptor, race, sexuality, gender, religion, 'explains everything.' They are wrong, it explains only one thing - that bigotry and bias are behind the assumption.

One of the political leaders in the election to the south of where I write this loves to talk about 'The Blacks' or 'The Gays' as if there is such a thing. Oh yes people exist in those categories but I am a very different 'gay' than many of 'the gays' that I know. I'm different in the same way they are different from mainstream but our sharing difference doesn't create sameness. Well, except I do really like Judy Garland.

"That explains everything."

Um.

No it doesn't.

Shut up.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

Being female, I have a sense of what you mean...the idea that because I am of a certain body type then I must be like all others of my body type is how i was raised. It's lazy thinking at best, and malicious refusal to see people as fully human at the worst....we all do it once in a while and some people do it all of the time......

hence the great anxiety today, a few days before the election....
Clairesmum

lillytigre said...

Everything about this is bad. And just recently someone said to me but that ridiculous fool makes fun of everyone. I very calmly said "yes he does... that however does not excuse it. Somehow the fact that he does that to every minority group.... Makes it OK? And his people have taken control of all his social media Reportedly because they don't trust him to control his mouth in the last day or so. As an American I don't understand how we got here and it's not really him that scares me but the people who do horrible things to others in the name of supporting him. That's way more frighting to me then he is.
Laura

Frank_V said...

Imagine how angry able-bodied people would be if we said: "Oh, you wouldn't understand, because you are able-bodied."

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Lillytigre,
I think when people say, "But he makes fun of everyone!" what they *mean* to say is something among the lines of, "But he's an equal opportunity jerk!" usually in an attempt to say that he's still just as much of a jerk to white people as he is to people of color, to non-disabled people as he is to disabled people, to men as he is to women, and so on.

However, people trying to use this excuse fail to grasp that there is a big difference in impact between when you try to "punch up" (ie, be a jerk to people who have power) versus when you try to "punch down" (ie, be a jerk to people who have less power). When you mock people who have power, you are mocking people who can find many many "mirrors" of themselves in the media--if they ignore you mocking them, they can then find many many other images in the media who may be a more positive representation of people like them, or at least who reflect a much wider diversity of all the different ways that people like them might behave in real life. But if you mock someone from a marginalized population, then there won't be as many positive images or as diverse a range of images for how people like them appear in the media. You're taking people who are already mostly invisibilized in society and heavily stereotyped in the little representation of them that exists, and just reinforcing the same stereotypes that they already have to deal with in most of the rest of society.

Rachel Buttigieg said...

It's interesting how we subconsciously categorize others, we should use a little more compassion and try to understand them.