The day before ...
Yesterday I wrote about not speaking up at the movie theatre, about the exhaustion that comes from the constant need for advocacy. I talked about the despair I sometimes feel about having to ask for consideration when it, really, should be freely given. As I read the comments I began to think more deeply about my reaction and the 'why' behind the silence. I had attributed the silence to weariness of the constancy of the battle, but I think something else is happening.
The day before ...
I was in a line up in the grocery store. The woman in front of me, with a basket of stuff, was chatting with another woman, with a basket of stuff, in the line up beside us. When a price check was called by the cashier at the other checkout, the woman said to her friend, 'I think I'll come over there and join you if that's OK.' The other woman said 'Sure' and welcomed her friend into the line up ahead of me. I said, loudly, to Joe, 'I guess we simply don't count.' The woman coloured and turned angrily to say that she and her friend were together. I said 'I don't like people cutting into line in front of me without asking me.' She said she asked her friend. I said that it wasn't her friends decision alone, we'd been waiting patiently for our turn. The two of them were really upset by my thought that 'line cutting' was unacceptable and that my protest was ill mannered.
What astonished me was that everyone around, at least those I noticed, looked sympathetically towards the two women. The woman who stepped in front caught the eye of the cashier and rolled her eyes. I said, 'Don't roll your eyes, you don't like people cutting in either. I don't like being treated as invisible simply because I have a disability.' That astonished everyone. That I thought it was a 'disability issue' seemed outrageous.
But I did and I do. I know. I ACTUALLY KNOW, that people with disabilities get discriminatory treatment. We are way too visible at some times completely invisible at others. Yet I think most people think that people with disabilities are simply recipients of society's generosity. Think about it everyone knows what 'sexism,' 'racism,' and 'homophobia' means. Do you think that, outside of the disability community, the words 'ableism' or 'disphobia' are understood. People don't even recognize, with a word, that prejudice against people with disabilities exist.
Thus protests lead, often, to a sense of sheer isolation as many react with annoyance that an 'uppity cripple' is making a scene or calling out prejudice.
I felt entirely alone.
The month before ...
I am in a store and hear an employee make a joke with a fellow staff and says, 'I always knew you were a ret@ard.' I stopped dead in my tracks. Double checked to see that I was, indeed, in a public space. I rolled over to make complaint, first with the speaker - who didn't get it, then with the manager. I acknowledge that it did get a little loud. Them protesting that they 'didn't mean anything by it' my protesting that words have meaning. The manager and the staff caught each others eye and there was overt communication that I was simply over reacting.
And what astonished me was that everyone around, at least those I noticed, looked sympathetically towards the two men. I grew uncomfortable at now being the centre of the spectacle. The person who tossed a hateful word into a public space was now the victim and I was the victimizer. My feelings as a person with a disability were completely disregarded. It didn't matter that I might have felt pain at hearing hate speech in a public space, it didn't matter at all. What mattered was that I broke decorum and spoke up.
I felt entirely alone.
I had, at one time, believed that there was a quiet public support of the idea of equity and equality for people with disabilities. I no longer really believe that. I believe that there is strong public support of the idea that people with disabilities are cumbersome and unnecessary and that what we are given are concessions and what is expected is gratitude. We are NOT seen as a legitimate minority. We are NOT seen as engaged in a civil liberties movement. I don't believe that we have begun to get the message across that we are wanting RIGHTS AND RESPECT.
So sometimes I don't speak up, I am now thinking, because I don't want to have that sense of utter aloneness. That sense of being 'the problem' when speaking up to address 'the problem.' I don't believe that others in the theatre would have been on my side, I think that most would have simply been annoyed at having their fine time, at a movie about the life of a person with a disability, disrupted by a person with a disability.
Is that irony?
I don't know.
But it certainly is depressing.
I know, just know, that even in writing this there will be those thinking or saying: 'Those things aren't about disability. Those things don't mean that there is prejudice against people with disabilities. Those things can happen to anyone, regardless of disability.'
I know, just know, that there is this deep need, even in the disability community, to subvert our experiences and fold them into the 'norm.' Into the idea that prejudice just doesn't exist in interpersonal interactions in the community. I know, just know, that people will pull out times when people cut into lines in front of non-disabled people to explain how discrimination is my INTERPRETATION of what happened, not what ACTUALLY happened.
But if you live life alert, you will notice patterns of behaviour, the constancy of invisibility, the regularity of disregard. If you live life awake, you will notice patronizing voices saying patronizing things and soft eyes offering pity rather than respect.
Until we acknowledge discrimination we can't fight against it.
Until we confront our own sense of 'deserving less' we can't begin to demand equity.
Until we eliminate the sense of individual aloneness we won't have a community where anger can be shared and comfort can be sought.