Saturday, January 11, 2014

Definately not ROTFL

Trouble was brewing for a couple of weeks and I was entirely unaware. I woke this morning to an email signed by 52 people. The list of signatures was L - O - N - G - E - R than the message that was sent. I have to admit that I had to think, really hard, about the issue that was being raised in order to remember precisely the situation they were talking about. I finally did.

Here's the scoop. A picture was posted on Facebook by someone who's linked to me, I know that Facebook calls everyone who is linked to me there a 'friend' but in truth I know very few of those linked to me personally, most are there because we are connected through the disability community. The picture was one of those that villify fat people, usually women but sometimes men, that is supposed to make people LOL, or ROTFL, or maybe even LMFAO. I hate these kind of pictures and see them as a violent attack against fat people. I am fat, if anyone wants to remember, and I protest this kind of imagery as I protest all cruel humour.

In fact on April 30th of last year, I posted this note on my page: To my friends, my family, my fellow facebookers. I know I am really fat. I know that being fat means being reviled. I somehow, maybe mistakenly, believed that if you requested to be 'friends' or if you accepted my request to be 'friends' that would mean that I could expect a kindly and friendly atmosphere. For the most part that is true, and I thank you for that. However in the last few days I've been seeing pictures of people used as targets for hatred and vitriol. Pictures of fat women with a large pizza, pictures of a fat woman in a wheelchair eating a block of cheese, pictures of fat men on scooters - these are accompanied by comments about how disgusting, how ugly, how horrifying these people are. I ask of you a favour. If this is how you feel about fat people, please 'defriend' me. I won't be offended, I'll be thankful. I don't need to come here to be reminded that you, and those like you, think that me, and those like me, are sub-human beings. I'd rather gather around me, here on Facebook, like minded, fair minded, kind minded people. I believe in community and I believe we should strive to make community wherever we find ourselves. I wish a safe community, if you can't respect me, please respect that and move along.

Here is what happened: Someone, by his profile picture I'd guess a man in his thirties, put up a HaHaHa picture which I found particularly repugnant. I'm not even going to describe it to you, I don't want to put myself through writing it down AND I don't want to put the image into your head. So, let me just guess that you've seen these kind of things and know what I'm talking about. My reaction? Anger mixed with hurt mixed with outrage. How is it that cruelty is seen as really, really funny? More troublesome still were the comments to the picture. Most saying that it was really funny, disgusting, ugly and several suggesting that the person in the picture should just go away and die rather than be seen in public. All comments, every single one, reacted with either laughter or revulsion to the picture.

I have been the lone voice before.

I left a comment stating that I thought it was offensive. I was strong and clear in what I had to say. I'm used to doing this now because I don't let a single one pass. In fact I wrote a similar protest to a similar picture YESTERDAY. I was blunt, I didn't mince words. It was offensive. It was hateful. The comments were full of bigotry and prejudice. My comment was about the 'behaviour' of posting the picture not the 'character' of the person who posted it. 

Here's what's came of that. I did not know, and frankly don't care, that the person who posted the picture was someone with an intellectual disability. A group of people, not the person who posted the picture, who support this individual and some of this individual's family, sent me an email telling me that I had hurt his feelings and that he was upset by my comments. I was chastised because I present myself as someone who cares about people with disabilities and here I was attacking someone with a disability. I owed THEM and apology.

Let's leave aside, for the purposes of this blog post, the horrible fact that they did this without him, his name wasn't in the list and he was spoken about as if he wasn't in the room when this was done. Let's also leave aside that if I attacked anything it was the picture and the behaviour of posting the picture, I didn't, and don't, directly attack the person posting the picture.

I sent an email back and said that they could read my blog for my response.

Here it is.

I do not apologize.

My response to him was the same response I would have given to any one else. I did not know he had a disability and even if I did I would have done the same thing. People have no right to be purposely cruel to people. There are no exemptions. Read that line again. THERE ARE NO EXEMPTIONS. Purposeful cruelty is wrong. When someone with a disability teases or bullies another person with a disability, what they are doing is wrong. It requries comment. When someone with a disability teases or bullies anyone else, what they are doing is wrong. It requires comment. I suggest that instead of writing me asking for an apology you might want to spend your energy speaking with him, involving him in a discussion about why some people might not find that picture funny. Maybe, he's been teased or made fun of, maybe that experience will help him understand why doing that to others is wrong.

I do not apologize.

Not even a tiny little bit.


Anonymous said...

Good . . . great call! And what were those support people thinking?????

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

I wonder where he got his value system from? You don't have to look very far for the answer. People with disability learn from those around them.
Your response may teach all a lesson. Bullying is wrong!!!

CathyV said...

Overweight people, unattractive people, poor people...are often the targets of hate by people who don't consider themselves bigots. Of course, we should speak out, effectively encouraging others to protest as well. Readers/listeners are educated along the way and there is a little more kindness in the world.

I agree with you in everyway but one. You said that even if you had known the person had a disability you would not have changed your comment. Personally, I would pepper a response to someone with a disability with more education and less shame.

The folks who wrote the petition have lost a precious opportunity to teach about strength, caring and honor.

Gloria said...

Unfortunately the people supporting this person missed a perfect opportunity to teach and help this individual understand he was being cruel and insulting someone .

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

Boy, Dave.

First, I applaud you for being the lone, dissenting voice in the middle of "Comment Hell" which is what I call the reams of comments that often accompany such photos.

And I applaud you again for not apologizing, because most people would offer a token "I'm sorry that I offended you/you were offended" and then launched a defensive.

Your response was clear and strong and ABSOLUTELY right.

Thank you for sharing this, Dave.

Tamara said...

I think, by sending that email, the support people are showing that they really don't respect the person with the disability. They may truly care about him. They may just pity him. But, they really don't respect him as a real, 100% human, being.

They are protecting this "innocent" from cruelty. But, just because someone has an intellectual disability does not make them innocent.

I don't necessarily agree that he was being a bully or purposefully hateful, though. Maybe someone he thought was "cool" posted it, said it was funny, and he went along with it. He didn't think it through. It would have been so much better if even one person who saw him upset over it, would have just said - hey - let's think about this. How would you feel if you were in this picture and someone were saying these things about you.

What a missed opportunity.

Anonymous said...

You were and are absolutely right.

Maggie said...

From my perspective your original comment (to the person who posted the shaming picture) was a demonstration of respect to him: you saw him as a person able to communicate on Facebook as an equal player. You granted him the respect of assuming his actions (even the cruel ones) are deliberate and his ability to respond to critics is intact.

Unlike the people who signed the e-mail to you.

Thanks for standing up for equal treatment and appropriate, civil behavior.

Love and light to you!

Anonymous said...

I have been lurking here for more than a year, reading and learning.

I am severely physically disabled by osteo-arthritis. I cannot exercise. I have become fat. I am fat.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you Dave. It offends me to my core that folks think that having a disability gives you a pass to laugh at others. And I have to say if a person is able to post and share on facebook - he or she has the skills to understand when mocking another is not funny.

Liz said...

My daughter has Down's syndrome and people stare at her with cruel expression every day. It huts her and it makes me rage. We talk about this cruelty and I try to give her tools to challenge and survive. Occasionally she makes a hurtful comment about so,done else, usually someone fat. I explain how it is hurtful to that person in the same way thet she is hurt, and she apologises, usually with a tear in her eye. It is my responsibility, our responsibility to challenge bigotry in everyone. I find it deeply patronising when people say "they can't help it" that is the same thinking that suggests "they have no feelings" which leads to abuse. Well done Dave, I'm totally with you on this..

Anonymous said...

Go fuck yourself you are no freind to the disabled people!

Dave Hingsburger said...

I decided to publish at least one of the responses from the 'team' of people (or that's what I'm assuming)who wrote me the emails. There are four others, all saying pretty much the same thing. In keeping with blog policy I'm not going to publish all of them. I invite people to disagree, and disagree strongly, but ask that they comment without verbal violence.

Sam Connor said...

People are so goddamned stupid.

I remember that woman who was my facebook friend, Mel Lecke, who decided she was going to support the decision to print hate speech on a teeshirt that read 'Retarde'. Why was it an issue? Well, she's disabled. And a prominent paralympian.

Just because your friend has an intellectual disability, it doesn't mean he can't also be an asshole. It's an equal opportunity sport, like being a rapist or child molester or thoughtless or loving or kind or friendly. We are all people.

The support people are fools. I liked your email back.

And on a personal note - I tend never to look at people's facebook pictures, unless it is in their profile picture, and my eyesight is so shot that generally they look like a collection of pink dots. So having to trawl through the collection of your photographs to look for an image of you, Dave, was the first time I had encountered the physical embodiment of the wonderful writer who bleeds integrity and humanity into my life every day. I reacted with surprise - 'oh, Dave is fat! I didn't imagine him as being fat!' That was my first reaction, and it was very quickly overcome by 'Oh, Dave is beautiful!' I could see the humanity and warmth and humour in your eyes and your body size was instantly irrelevant - you have a GLORIOUS presence. Then looking at the image of your partner, I thought 'What an attractive couple.' No more thought to your fatness, your appearance, your age - just happiness that I had gotten to know what you look like and that you looked so good spread across a magazine page, attached to your powerful words and wisdom.

I have a fat friend who I adore. She is Canadian, weirdly. She laughs with her head thrown back and she is one of the most beautiful women I know. She has no desire to lose weight, which I know many people with bigger body types do. But I hate, loathe, detest those images - and my daughter posted one the other day, and I blew her out the water, by the way. It seems to be something we do - we laugh at others to make ourselves feel better. 'I can count to potato'...I don't know if you saw that, but those words hurt others every day.

I hope the young person thought twice about his hate speech and I understand why you were so upset, because you are such a vehement champion for disabled people. But, friend, I would also rejoice that this man can be a racist, or bigot, or asshole - he does not have to be a 'good person'. And isn't that what equality is all about?

Thank you for rocking my world. Much love.

Anonymous said...

Stay firm, Dave. No one gets a "free pass" to be cruel to others. No one.


Kris S. said...

Agree, Dave, with the stand you took and with taking that stand.

GirlWithTheCane said...

You were right. The support people lost out on opportunity to educate the young both about bullying *and* about Facebook...even if you had been wrong, it's a reality that participation in social media and online communities sometimes brings people into contact with others that are going to disagree with what they post, most often in ways that are much, much more unkind than it sounds like you were...and if this young man can't handle that, then perhaps he's not ready for a social media account.

I'm not saying that it's right that people are unkind on social media when they disagree with someone, or that the young man should feel that he *has* to leave because his feelings are hurt. How to respond to unkindness is his choice, and something that all of us as social media users have to work out for ourselves. These issues of online engagement (including when "fun" becomes bullying) are thorny and he needs to work them out for himself, the way we all do...if his support team was on the ball, they would be assisting him to do that and helping him to evaluate if online interaction is simply too much of a stressor for him and something that's better tried at a later date, rather than fighting his battles and shielding him from the consequences of his actions.

You are not the one to blame here.

I think that internet and social media access can be great for people with intellectual disabilities...but they need the proper support behind them, and this young man obviously isn't getting it from his team.

Thank you for doing what you do.

Tamara said...

Whoa! That was one nasty comment. I'm wondering if they're reading our comments. I guess we're no friend of people with disabilities either - even though many, if not most, of us are either disabled or have a family member with a disability. Stay classy, DH!

Anonymous said...

Note to "anonymous" (just prior to Dave's comment)- please use spell check when you use the word "friend"

Deb said...

Everyone deserves respect, and children (whether disabled or not) must be taught by their parents, teachers, scout leader or boss at work that ridicule of another human is never acceptable.

If this young person is able to use FB to communicate he is well able to understand how to behave in a civilized society. Perhaps his caregivers feel *rightly* ashamed for not teaching him the values he needs, and that is why they are so upset. If that is the case it's time for them to educate themselves about bullying.

We are like gifts, we come wrapped in all shapes, sizes, colours and weights. But the beauty of each one of us lies in our character, not in the wrapping paper. No amount of beautiful wrapping can hide a selfish, hateful character for long. And a beautiful character will shine through the most unexpected of wrappings.

You and Joe wrap each other in a hug for me. :)

Anonymous said...


I think you did exactly the right thing! Everybody cries out for equality, so there is no reason to answer diffrent to someone who does something like this; disabled or not.

True values and empathy have to be learned by everyone!!!


Shan said...

Agreed 100%.

wheeliecrone said...

Well done, Dave.

Anonymous said...

There is a case going on right now in which a doctor took a picture of an obese person and forwarded it, NOT for medical reasons. Bigotry comes in all types of wrappers! Keep up the good work Dave, and thanks for screening most of the abusive comments and language out.

Mary said...

Guys, guys. Let's have a little pity here.

After all, this is fifty two people who are insufficiently socialised to be able to comprehend that their behaviour may impact on others.

Fifty two people whose lives are so bereft that all they have left to give them a sense of purpose and belonging is Being Mean On Facebook, and congregating to send emails in an effort to provoke and prolong the ZOMG Dramaz! that has lit up their dull, miserable lives for a regrettably short time.

If we don't reach out to these people, soon their lives will deteriorate to the point of no return. They may even become Those People who write to the editors of magazines insisting that the crossword "has a mistake" because they've been unable to complete it - and no one wants that, surely?

Perhaps we should hold a telethon to show our sympathy for Those Less Fortunate?

Belinda said...

I agree with your response 100%, of course I do.

I saw you across a crowded room last week and I saw a man with laughing eyes, who is a repository of so much wisdom and brilliance; a treasured friend; a devoted family member to two little girls who are so blessed to have you in their lives (and vise versa of course;) a big man--in so many more ways than just weight. I'll take the whole package and love it.

Aside from this personal perspective I hate cruelty in all its forms; disguising it as humour is tasteless and offensive and makes it no less painful to the target, than a well aimed brick.

As to the disability slant--are the friends and family kidding? How insulting to the person that they don't think he needs to learn respect and kindness. I was glad to hear that he didn't comment negatively on your comment. I wondered if he even posted the picture or if someone elso is facilitating hatred on his behalf. Yuk.

Glee said...

I had a similar, but of course different, exchange on a physical disability FB group attached to an association I helped found many years ago.

The paid employee of this organisation posted a link to a news story about disability that was over a year old. I posted a comment that this was very old news and really should not have been put up. It was out of date and irrelevant now.

I received an angry and accusing email from the president saying that I shouldn't be so mean as the employee was a person with a disability. I wrote back and said that I didn't care if the person was disabled or not. It was old and irrelevant news and I expected better "service" from my organisation than that. A paid employee is there to represent the organisation and also the work of that organisation and to properly inform its members. Whether this employee had a disability or not was irrelevant as they must be able to perform "the inherent requirements of the job" as the legislation states.

If we excuse people with disability then we are just committing the soft bigotry of low expectations! And the results of that are, as we all know, limiting and oppressive!

clairesmum said...

Well said and well done. Thank you, Dave.

Anonymous said...

I think that support persons of the boy posting the photos should be called to reflxion about their values. We should not attack them, but call them to reflexion about their own opinions, and their role as support persons of somepone with a disability. If they are working to support a boy with intellectual disability, they shpould know that he needs to find her identity, to be self councios, to know and defend his rights. The boy should then be aware of the rights of others. Should try not to be cruel and not doing to others what makes Him sad . If these are the basic targets of the environment, the boy will not repeat these offensive and cruel events.

Anonymous said...

I have thought about this often yesterday and today and I keep coming back to 52 people were distressed enough on this persons behalf to write to you. That gives me pause. What did they see in that person that was so upsetting they reacted in the way they did towards you. I do not think that many people can distinguish the niceties of I am criticizing the behaviour but not you. It always feels personal and if this person admires you then it would be intensely hurtful to feel you were annoyed with them. It does not make what he did right or diminish your right to respond the way you did or excuse his support people from using this as a learning opportunity but this is the kind of thing that scares me as to how someone can react when really hurt by someone they admire. I just wonder if there is something being missed here. This is just a comment and one that will not be popular on this blog but I just wanted to say it.

Jayne Wales said...

I could not agree more with you. First of all occasionally these photos come on my screen. I have ignored them because I am worried that in fact they pass on to others if I don't and they won't see my comments. I think anything like that is just so mean and unnecessary. I don't think it or want it in my life. I wonder whether its best to report it as offensive? I'm not sure what to do with it.
Secondly, I am horrified that people think it is ok for a disabled man to post such images. If that's what he likes then he can unfriendl you, that's his choice. Someone just needs to sit down and explain the choices to him like anyone else. I had a young man send me some pretty graphic images of a woman showing her genitals. I messaged him and told him I did not want to receive these images and if I said I would unfriend him. He has not sent them since. What's re difference between me and a person with a disability sending out hurtful or pornagraphic images? If this guy had sent you some child porn would this be acceptable because he us disabled?. We have to have common humanity to be friends, that goes without saying. In my view you did right.

Annie said...

It sometimes hurts to have your behaviour criticised, and to have it pointed out that what you've done is harmful, and to have someone you respect not think well of you. Each of these things is about your behaviour, though, not you, and so if you choose to change, they are only temporary! I do have sympathy for the person who posted the cruel image if they feel hurt, but not so much to excuse their behaviour. After all, I feel sad for the people targeted by the image, too.

I really appreciate, Dave, that you don't mince words when it's needed to call a spade a spade. Society needs to change. Yes, your words are harsh, but only in the sense that they honestly reflect what is going on.

Moose said...

A classic example of what happens when we take someone with a disability and shove them on a pedestal of "No Blame Here."

No matter the type of disability, disabled people are still PEOPLE, and the masses tend to forget that.

It's demeaning and dehumanizing when this is done. The idea that a disability means you're exempt from basic social skills is nonsense. The people who perpetuate this nonsense are only making things worse.

The worse problem may be that many of them think the same lack of social skills is 'normal', so it is just bad heaped upon bad.