Staring at the wands didn't help. I was being given instructions for how to operate the machinery that would allow me to broadcast a lecture to 54 sites across the province of Ontario. I imagined all these rooms slowly filling with people, shuffling papers, getting comfortable, while I was desperately trying to figure out why I had agreed to do this in the first place. The lecture 'Pride and Prejudice' is one that I'd only given maybe three times before. It is a tough one, not full of humour, one that doesn't shy away from controversy, one that attacks some philosophical points of view in service delivery that are held very dear by a lot of very powerful people. You see I believe that much of our ideas in service provision are shame based - in this lecture, I say that. Loudly. The passion and the fear, combined, exhaust me. I decided before hand that I'd do the talk one last time. I'd do it big. So, there I was in the room looking at a television screen in front of me and the four or five people who had come to hear it live in the room with me.
It begins. I decide to take breaks along the way to let questions be asked. I think it's clear to everyone by first break that I think of disability as simply 'another way to be' not a 'lesser way to be'. I think by then it's clear that I want to challenge any approach to service provision that inculcates shame rather than fosters pride. During one of the question periods, my screen fills with another room full of people looking at a screen. That room has several people with disabilities in it, watching and ready to ask a question. One fellow, an adult man, clearly upset, asks 'What do I do when people call me Retard or Faggot all the time.' Later on its indicated that this name calling is a daily experience. I stumble through a response. I have a lecture on Bullying and Teasing but this isn't it, the answer would take so long and take me right off track for what I've left to do. This is something that lecturers face all the time and usually its fairly easy to simply restate the topic and move along. But here the pain was raw, here I was in another room, powerless to take on the answer. Maybe others more nimble would have been able to handle the question better than I did. I simply told him that it shouldn't happen to him, that it was wrong and then apologized to him that he had never been taught about bullying and teasing and how to deal with the slings and arrows of being different in a society that worships sameness.
That interchange, of all that happened in the lecture on Friday, stayed with me. I can picture him still. Standing there, pain pouring out of him, desperately seeking solutions to the day to day experience of social violence. Ideas fly around my head, in the calm that followed, about what I could have said differently. What I can still do if I tried. I asked him to email me and told him that I'd send him some information that might help him. Other ideas are formulating and I'd have to talk to several people about them to make them happen, most are probably not possible. But through all these 'what could I have dones' comes the 'I shouldn't have to do anything ... he shouldn't have to live in a world where he has the daily experience of torment ... there should be other serious consequences to verbal assault of one group by another ... why don't people take this kind of crime seriously ...why is the experience of having a disability like having a bullseye birthmark on the forehead ... why do bullies feel so confident that there will be no social consequence to hurting those with disabilities, those with differences?' I was growing angry.
Then, ever notice that when you are on the edge there is always a 'then', I was watching the news and they were interviewing a transexual woman about the experiences in the gay community recently of LGBT people having ice cold Slushies tossed in their faces. This phenomenon, started by the popular television programme Glee, is happening right in the center of the gay village in Toronto. We'd first heard of it a few weeks ago on local television and there were the typical handwringers who moaned on and on about how the bullies don't understand their actions, that the bullies had been bullied themselves, the usual excuses that people make for bullies. Bullies, you know, mean people who are fully aware that their actions are hurtful. Then the woman being interviewed said that the solution was education.
I get so sick of the idea of EDUCATION being the solution to criminal, hateful, behaviour. Yeah, let's take someone who is wantonly hurting another and throw classes at them with the same regularity that they throw punches. Yeah, that will work. EDUCATION is not the answer for heaven's sake. I wrote a letter of complaint to a store about one of their staff loudly calling another of their staff a 'retard' ... I got a letter back from the corporate head office saying that they would bring that staff in for EDUCATION. I got badly treated, abused even, by a van driver and my complaint led to assurance that he'd be brought in for TRAINING.
Let's get this straight, shall we, EDUCATION works only when IGNORANCE is the source of the behaviour. I don't think that there is anything that you can teach a teenager that will they don't already know about throwing a Slushie into someone's face. It's wrong. They don't need to know anything about sexuality to know that YOU DON'T THROW ICE COLD DRINKS INTO ANOTHER HUMAN BEINGS FACE. To educate them about sexuality is to confirm that there is something different about gay people that makes them the subject of the training. It confirms that difference needs to be discussed rather than the fact that THROWING SLUSHIES INTO SOMEONES FACE IS ASSAULT. Why even bring up sexuality? Why have classes that confirm to the attendees that the people hit by Slushies belong to a class of people that you have to have classes in order to see as people?
Then, there is always and forever a then, I got an email from someone who saw the lecture on Friday. They said, with great concern that we needed to EDUCATE non disabled people so that they didn't treat people with disabilities so badly. I still haven't responded to the email but I did startle Joe by screaming at the computer for a few minutes. So, a person gets victimized, daily and our solution is to PAY ATTENTION TO AND PROVIDE SERVICE TO THE VICTIMIZER? Make them coffee, serve them cookies and give them little homilies about our shared humanity? That makes sense in anyone's head. What about the victim? What about his experience of daily social torment. Anybody think about teaching him strategies. Anybody think of helping him cope with those who willfully and purposely torment him?
The three 'p's' of hate crime: purposeful, planned and pointed acts of tyranny of one over another. We don't need EDUCATION or training. We need CONSEQUENCES AND ACTION. We need to galvanize our anger and our discontent and ensure that NEVER AGAIN will a person with a disability grow into adulthood without learning about difference, without the opportunity to develop pride in selfhood, without learning about strategies for dealing with those that will be encountered. We need to ensure that through all the bickering between agencies and between ideals that we all draw a line in the sand that, when crossed, there will be action and reaction. That line in the sand to me is any kind of abuse or social violence. That's something that we shouldn't tolerate.
When megastars use hateful words they should be guaranteed a huge social cost to their bigotry. Apology without change should never be accepted. Change is the only form of apology worth breath. When politicians and bureaucrats begin to talk about the lives of people with disabilities in terms of cost not humanity ... there should be cost, huge cost, to them and their political futures. When bullies on streets regularly tyrannize people with disabilities we need to 'take back the streets' and make them safe by the sheer force of numbers. In Gay Pride marches we chanted, 'Out of the Closet and Into the Street,' at International Women's Day Marches, we chanted, 'Out of the Kitchen and Into the Street,' we now need to chant, and mean, 'Out of Complacency and Into Action.
Each of us needs to pledge ourselves to vigilance and to action. No one, that's no one, says disparaging words regarding others around me without comment. Silence is consent. No more silence. No more consent. Hurt me, I hurt back. I'll embarrass you. Even if you don't agree with me, I want to make it such that you are afraid to use the 'r word' because some rabid person will call you out on it. I want you to understand that you are heard and that there are many of us around you. I no longer will ever roll away from a confrontation where confrontation can be safely done. And it's not just that word, its the attitude that allows it to be said.
I'm angry that this man is being hurt every day. I'm angry that I couldn't help him in that moment. I'm angry that his voice, one of pain and suffering, isn't somehow enough to ignite a social movement.
Enough with begging for understanding, it's time we demanded respect.
And until we get it there needs to be a revolution of reaction.