Sunday, November 19, 2006

Shut Up and Smile

Sometimes I'm a hypocrite. I was appauled by the fact that American's seemed to give up the freedom of speech and freedom of thought the moment war was declared. As a Canadian one of the many things I like about American culture is their whole hearted dissent. Pray God, give me some anger in the disability movement in Canada like they have in the States! ADAPT just seems to be a cool organization. Not Dead Yet ... awesome. But after 9/11 there seemed to be uproar for the tiniest bit of criticism of the American Way. My God, they were upset at the Dixie Chicks!

So, I went to see Shut Up and Sing partly because I really enjoy the debate over free speech. Partly because I knew that the movie would be preaching to my prejudices and who doesn't like that? But as I began to think more deeply about it all, I realized that I work in a system that really doesn't encourage people to speak freely and openly dissent.

Good heaven's today at work something weird happened. I went into the kitchen with my frozen lunch and pulled several frozen bean burrittos out and put them on a plate. All the while I was talking with a woman with a disability who was sitting having her lunch. I then turned to see that the microwave was gone. Yep, gone. I looked at her and she said, "It's broken and is being repaired." I was annoyed, "Why didn't you tell me when you saw me opening these," I said pointing to the burrittos. She was flustered and started stammering. She was AFRAID!!!!! Afraid of speaking up and telling me that I was off track. She'd learned her place and was shocked that I had expected her to address me as an equal. That ~I expected her to tell me that I was making a mistake.

Ask almost any direct care staff about working with people with intellectual disabilities and what you'll hear is, "It so hard to get a straight answer out of Jason because he just looks at you and tries to figure out what you want to hear." People with disabilities have been conditioned through a lifetime of being 'wrong' that there is always a 'right' answer to every question and that staff, or parent, or teacher know what that answer is.

I remember asking a guy named Wayne what he really wanted. I was frustrated and I know that was in my tone. Well, Wayne had had enough. He turned to me and said, "You want to know what I want ...." and then he told me. He told me about his life in the institution, he told me about his life in the community, he talked about a lifetime of being disrespected. He was angry and the words poured out of him.

This wasn't Wayne. Wayne smiled all the time. That's all the time. He looked like a skinny, white, smiling Buddah. He nodded when you spoke to him. He agreed with everything. He was happy. All the time happy.

And by all that is holy, I bought it. I enjoyed being with Wayne and knew, proof positive, that he enjoyed being with me. But Wayne had learned to Shut Up and Smile. He engaged in "Yes, Master" behaviour. He knew who had power and he knew how to bend to the will of the other.

This is what we've done. What we've created. It's time for some freedom of speech, some freedom of thought and time for wholesale dissent. I don't want to work for people who are the pale imitation of what they think I want. I want people in vibrant colours and bold stripes.

I had known Wayne as an outline. That day I knew him differently. That day I met him. That day he became a self advocate.


Belinda said...

I know the experience of meeting the outward persona, the "display shelf self." I saw it last week in the face of someone who grimaced in a stereotypical way and laughed. I knew it wasn't "them" and held their gaze until their eyes looked back and we connected, person to person without a word. I guess "the eyes" have it! :)

Unknown said...

Unfortunatley I have nothing to comment about, I just wanted to say that I love readying your posts, your blog is a must for me to visit everyday, somehow I feel comfortable reading what you write. Thanks for that. :)