Friday, February 27, 2009

Words from the Wild

Today I attend the funeral of my friend Susan.


For my blog today I'm posting an email I recieved from a Chewing the Fat reader, Jenn McWhorter (who gave me permission to use her name) about an incident that she witnessed and the action she took:

Hi Dave, I wanted to share with you something that happened tonight. It left me pretty disturbed all around. If you want to repost it, you are welcome to do so. My husband Sam and I went to Walmart tonight. While we were in the checkout line, I realized I needed to go to the rest room, so I rolled off to do so.

Sitting on a bench close to the bathrooms was a young man who was (quite clearly) pretty profoundly developmentally disabled. He was sitting there with this huge smile on his face, and one finger up his nose. Walking just in front of me were three very pretty college aged girls. This young man waved to them and said something that was probably a greeting, but his speech was very hard to comprehend. He continued smiling and picking his nose as he waved and spoke.

These girls busted up laughing, and started chanting at the young man: "EAT IT! EAT IT! WHY DONCHA EAT IT?" Then they walked on. The young man's face went from a smile to tears. Lovely girls on the outside. Ugly as sin on the inside. I didn't know what to do. But I kept following them, as the bathroom was still coming up.

Just before I went in, one of the girls mimed sticking her finger up her nose and spoke in gibberish, and they all started giggling again. At this point, I was done. I spoke up. "You know, that guy can't help that he's mentally challenged. But you can help that you're cruel, unkind people. I'm sure your mothers are proud of you."

With that, I rolled into the bathroom as the girls turned and gaped at me. I'm sure they had plenty of giggles over the fat cripple who dared to call them on their behavior, but I don't care. I'm a big girl and can defend myself. But why pick on some poor guy who CAN'T defend himself?

Sometimes I hate people. And I should have tried to comfort that young man, and to my shame, I didn't.



The Wild Wheelchair Woman

I'd like to add a public note to Jenn ...

Dear Jenn,

Thankyou for your voice, for your courage in speaking up, for not letting bigotry, cruelty and meanness slide. I have come to believe that the prejudice against those with intellectual disabilities runs so deep and is so pervasive that those girls probably expected social APPROVAL for their actions, that others would find them funny and clever. It is wildly important that people like you and I speak up in these situations. Not to speak for someone, but to stand with someone. To let people know that they are seen, that their cruelty has been noted, that their shame has been revealed.

There are many of us. We are far from the majority but we are also far from powerless. We have the power of our presence and we have the power to bear witness to the events which happen around us.

The world needs more Wild Wheelchair Women in it ...



Jenn McWhorter said...

Thanks Dave. Like I said in my other email to you, I doubt that I would have found the courage to speak up if I hadn't discovered your blog.

Your guts and your chutzpah are inspiring to me. Never stop writing this blog. People ARE listening!



Anonymous said...

Dave, I'm sorry for your loss -- I hope you are able to find some comfort among your fellow mourners.

Jenn: I'm glad someone like you was there to speak up.

Sometimes teenagers are so anxious for acceptance and approval from their peers that they get carried away without really stopping to think about the consequences their behaviors have for other people. Sometimes it takes someone like you speaking up to get them to see what their behavior can look like to others and get them to realize that they're seeking out approval in the wrong way. I hope it plants a seed for them.

Anonymous said...

Well done Jenn.

I wholeheartedly approve of your actions and hope that I would have done something similar.

With any luck those teenagers will think of you if they are tempted to be so cruel again.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I just feel such rage toward people like these young girls. It makes me wonder how they have been raised,to behave in such a deeply hateful manner, in such an appallingly nonchalant way.

And yet, it still surprises me, when I find myself at a loss for words on occasion, when I encounter similar situations. But I am now armed with Dave's Words Hit Like a Fist cards, which helps. A lot.

Tamara said...

Jenn -

As a mom of a child with Down syndrome, thank you for your response to those girls. It was perfect.

Anonymous said...

Dave: I'm a new reader to your blog. Nevertheless, you have my heartfelt condolences on the loss of your friend.

My uncle has Downs Syndrome, and my grandparents made the completely radical decision (in the late 40's) to not put him into an institution, nor to hide him away in the house. My grandmother did some groundbreaking work in IL to secure eductation for her son (although you'll never read about her in any book, she was just doing what she felt she needed to do). Besides being raised with this uncle (my grandparents raised me for a portion of my life), I also worked as a caretaker for people with developmental disabilities (back in the 90's).

Thank you very much for standing up for that young man, and for telling the teenagers that it's not okay to ridicule people just because they are different.

You showed a lot of courage in doing that.