Monday, February 14, 2011

Respect, Revolution, Reaction

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.


Glee said...

Because of this post I just went and asserted myself with a young woman (who I have known since she was born) who insulted me and diminished my experience of disability discrimination in her comments on Facebook last year. I have left it go even tho I have seen her twice since and she hasn't apologised. Why did I leave it? So I didn't upset her FFS. What a load of crap.

So I just send her a message about it and challenged her cowardice in not apologising. We will see eh!

Tamara said...

Totally agree with you. For me, educating is acceptable when people misuse words associated with disability in a way not directed at another person. I still find those situations unacceptable, but think the source is ignorance, habit, becoming immune to what they're really saying. And, I've found that educating those people can make a huge difference.

But, not bullies. It doesn't matter how one person is bullying another, the intent to abuse is clear, and it is certainly purposeful, planned and pointed.

You write good stuffed when your angry, Dave.

Sher said...

AMEN!!!!! I'm so tired of the education answer. At some point we all have to be accountable for our actions. If we are not responsible for what we do, who is. Education is a fine answer in some instances, but you DO NOT need to spend money educating someone on the reasons why it is wrong to throw a frozen drink at someone.....unless the thrower is 2 years old! Thanks for saying it.

Joyfulgirl said...

Thanks for stating this so clearly and cutting through the nonsense to the real heart of the matter. Your anger is totally justified and understandable.

Socrates said...

Get Militant dude and kick ass.

David Weintraub said...

Very, very helpful. There's nothing wrong with education, by which I mean presenting the facts about whatever category of people is being targeted. The bullies are generally horribly misinformed about the targets of their abuse, and their humiliating education can benefit observers as well. It's the context that matters; the message of that education must be this. This is the way things will be: You will be mocked and embarrassed each and every time you try to abuse group x, and by the way, you are burdened with false information which you can now make the choice to reject.

I realize you are using 'education' in a very specific way here, but I say this because I think it would be a mistake in the other direction to act as if it doesn't matter whether the defamatory lies being perpetuated about people are corrected. It's the framing - being uninformed is not the reason it's unacceptable to abuse people. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

rickismom said...

a powerful post. Good points

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for challenging us all to remain in the fight instead of becoming spectators to it. I am one of those people that others are afraid to say the "R" word in front of because I have called them out about it. However, I admit that there have been times when I have "let it slide" because I didn't want to embarrass someone. Now I will have the message of this blog shouting in my head the next time I am tempted to be silent. Thank you in advance for fueling my courage in the next tough moment. I think more people need Dave in their heads :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. I remember when the Abu Ghraib prison photos and investigation broke and people talked about the military personnel needing more TRAINING. I said then, as I agree with you now, if people don't know that humiliating others who have less power is WRONG there is no training in the world that can help them.

Nan said...

Too true! The best teacher my daughter ever had was one who stepped in immediately and loudly in the playgroud when she saw 2 children slyly tormenting J. She saw it for what it was, named it, and immediately metted out the punishment. There was no discussion of why etc... It was just .. this is NOT acceptable, and I don't care about your reason. This did more to support my daughter and her relationship with peers than any other 'education/teaching' program.

Belinda said...

There's a place for education and enlightenment--and a place for corrective action of the strongest kind. Knowing the difference matters.

There is some excellent material out there put together by people with disabilities, where they speak of their struggle to find a safe place to express what is simply their identity. It helped deepen my awareness and strengthen my resolve to uphold people's rights to freedom.

Committing verbal or physical assault, which is what bullying, teasing and throwing slushies is, needs a different response.

Anonymous said...

There are still Nazis in the world!

World paralympic body slams Laws' comments
NZPA February 15, 2011, 7:34 am


Mayor Michael Laws

NZPA © Enlarge photo

The head of the world paralympic body has slammed comments made by radio host Michael Laws that disability sports are "ludicrous" saying he had stooped to a "pathetic low" and should be taken off the air.

During his talkback show on Friday, Laws said it was "crazy" that disabled sports people were able to compete for the Halberg Awards saying "If you have had your legs chopped off, you shouldn't be in there at all".

Laws was also critical of paralympian slalom skier Adam Hall who got up and won a gold medal after dramatically falling over at the Vancouver Paralympics last year.

"The fact the guy was able to fall down, get up again and still win, shows that really there wasn't a hell of a lot of competition in his field, was there?," he said.

International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven, said he was "utterly disgusted" by Laws' comments which were an insult to all paralympic competitors.

"His derogatory comments are an insult to all athletes within the paralympic movement who train for long hours each day to compete at the highest level," Sir Philip said.

"To say there is not a lot of competition in paralympic sport is pure ignorance."

Laws had stooped to "a new pathetic low" with his comments and listeners and advertisers should boycott his show, he said.

"What is equally disappointing is that his employers RadioWorks are standing by him claiming to have not received any complaints."

Sir Philip said he would be writing to RadioWorks and the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority to highlight his disgust at the comments and urged others to do the same.
"His comments have absolutely no place in society, and his employer should do the responsible thing and remove the platform they currently give him to air his archaic and mindless views," Sir Philip said.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -

Perhaps it is time for all of us to lose our sense of humour. You know - "I was just joking. Can't you take a joke? You people are so sensistive." We've all heard that one, haven't we?

Perhaps it is time to teach those who are being abused how to gather witnesses and complain. Officially.

Here in Australia, it is a cumbersome, tedious process to complain to the Australian Human Right Commission, but it does seem to change behaviours. A bit. Sometimes.

Official complaints are not a perfect answer. But they are something - which is better than the nothing that most of us do in response to discrimination and insult.

I have only made one official complaint. It was against a government commission which flagrantly discriminated against my human rights. The complaint process was a hassle, the person who represented the government commission was an arrogant mid-level bureaucrat who had not been given any authority whatsoever - however, at the end of the day, I received what I asked for. I also signed a confidentiality agreement, so I cannot be more specific about my experience. And others who are discriminated against in the way I was discriminated against cannot learn from my experience. As I said - not a perfect answer. But perhaps that government commission learned something in the process. If nothing else, they may have learned that it is inconvenient to have a person with a disability complain about you.

So, my advice is - do whatever you can legally do. Complain. Do not take injustice as if you deserve it. You do not deserve it.

What's right is right. And unacceptable behaviour should have consequences.

hawk said...

Thanks Dave, your comments are right on - no one requires training to understand acting like a jackass is not allowed.

Anonymous said...

I was at that video conference, even asked a question and was very impressed with all you had to offer. But I don't recall that question, nor your response to that question.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, I think it was the second or third question. I've contacted the video conference person and tracked down the site where the question came from and will be calling them today. I don't want to leave it where it lays.

Anonymous said...

I too was at that conference, as you know Dave, and I can't forget that young man. I had no doubt you would try to find him. You are a good man Mr. Hinsberger.