Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Drip, Drip, Drip

She was mean. She went on a racist rant. She represented the worst of Canadian society, a side that we don't like to show to the world. Yes, racists and bigots live here too. We aren't all the warm, wonderful, welcoming types that is the stereotype. We love this image. In fact for our 150th birthday a Canadian company has a line of products that have the word 'nice' followed by a little maple leaf. Yeah, watch this video, we aren't so nice. You will note I'm not linking to the video. I do this on purpose. I don't want to promote hatred, even promotion through curiosity, and therefore will not spread it.

Here's the thing about this woman that leads to this post being written. She was on a scooter, she's a woman with a disability. Now this is a fact about her. It has nothing to do with her behaviour. Even so, I know that, you know that, others stubbornly refuse to learn that fact. So in the comment section her disability came up a fair few times. I'm pleased to say it wasn't the theme of the comments but it did appear.

What was interesting to me was how those making the comments responded to the incident. There were three ways that appeared most frequently. I'd like to look at each of them:

1) "She's disabled, she should know better." This is a hard one for me because in my heart, if not my mind, I so agree with this. If you have experienced prejudice how can you practice prejudice? But, let's think about that assumption. If a child went to school and the teacher, prejudice, had 'the experience of bigotry' on every lesson plan, what do you think the learning outcome would be? For me, 'compassion for others' isn't my immediate response. We place a burden on those who experience prejudice because of difference or disability. We expect them to use psychological alchemy to turn hurt into gold. People who experience the constant drip, drip, drip, of prejudice have enough to deal with in just coping. To demand that they be better people because of it is a bit rich. Yeah, she should know better, but so should every other person on the plant. Children at the age of three know that name calling and rude behaviour is wrong. It's a lesson learned young that doesn't stick through to adulthood.

2) "At least those women (the people she was being racist towards) are working. They are paying to feed her and her fat ass." The assumption here is that all people with disabilities are on benefits and that people with disabilities are never taxpayers. The assumption, too, is that contribution to society is ONLY done through work and the paying of taxes. What's odd here is that these comment makers are decrying prejudice while practicing prejudice. They are showing what they think of disabled people. They are showing the assumptions made of heavier people. This kind of commentary frightens me. It shows that the idea that we are 'use-less eaters' as that noted model of disability compassion, Hitler remarked, is still around. I know that they say, whoever 'they' are, that as soon as you evoke Hitler, you've lost the argument. Please understand that I'm not suggesting, in any way, that those who made these comments have anything to do with Nazism, I'm suggesting that that hateful idea about disability is dangerous and it's been used before by tyrants to justify our deaths.

3) "That poor woman with a disability must be lashing out because of the deep hurt from not being able to walk." I looked away from my computer screen and keyboard to ensure that, if I projectile vomited I wouldn't muck up the electronics. I hate this so much. Life with a disability is such a drudgery, such a meaningless wander, such a dreadful pain ... oh, stop it. Yes disability isn't the easiest journey. When you are denied access, when you are assumed helpless, when you experience the daily drip, drip, drip of prejudice, it's not fun. But the state of being disabled isn't for me, and isn't for a number of people, a thing that we would wish away. We are who we are made, we are who we become, we simply are. I know that's not where everyone is, I understand that. But this assumption is that we are all people who bear the daily pain of wheeling rather than walking and it hurts us to the core. I call BS!

One final thing I'd like to say. I always find it odd that when an article appears about someone bullying another person, or someone acting in an overtly racist manner, the comments are all in support of the victim, and they all decry bullying, and then they set out to attack, in every means possible, the perpetrator, even if that means becoming ableist, or racist, or sexist, or homophobic. Odd. And that I don't understand.


Unknown said...

well written...a logical examination in the distorted beliefs that are the basis of the behavior you describe...would love to see this expanded a bit into a presentation for junior high age to high school age students in some setting....or in an anti bullying training....usually the responses are based in emotion only.

L said...

I found this interesting.

What are your thoughts about ableism by disabled people?

(I use a power wheelchair, all these incidents were when I was out in my wheelchair).

1) The Deaf man with an extremely large hearing aid (cochlear implant?) who spoke/behaved to me in an incredibly patronising/condescending way when we were both using a lift (elevator);

2) the man with a guide dog who got very cross with me when I asked politely if I could get past him. (The way the train carriages are set up, seating for people with guide dogs is directly opposite seating for wheelchair users. In my experience, it's best not to sit opposite a guide dog if you can, because guide dog + powerchair *completely* blocks the aisle and then passengers trying to get off the train fall all over you. It's better to ask the guide dog user if you can get past, and then go onwards to the next wheelchair bay along in the carriage instead.)

3) The woman with a three-wheeled walking frame who got very irate at me for being on the train and wanting to get off at the same stop as her, despite me assuring her multiple times that I had pressed the intercom button and asked the train driver for more time, so there would be plenty of time for both of us to get off at the same station.

4) On the train, I needed a manual wheelchair user to move so I could get past in my power wheelchair.

The configuration of the train + seated passengers was such that he had *heaps* of room to move out of my way, but I couldn't get past him to where I needed to go to get off the train unless he moved.

Me: Please move, I need to get past.

Him [shouts angrily]: FUCK OFF!

Me: Please move, I need to get past.

Him: *ignores*

Me: sloooooowly starts to try to squeeze past in narrow gap, hoping that this will prompt him to move.

Him: *ignores*

Me: accidentally bangs my power-wheelchair hard into manual chair, painfully jarring my right hand/wrist/arm/shoulder that my physiotherapist had just treated, undoing some or all of my physiotherapists work.

Him [shouts angrily]: Are you QUITE ALL RIGHT THERE?

Me: Finally gets past him

Him [shouts angrily down the train carriage]: MOW EVERYONE DOWN WHY DON'T YOU.

I can't believe he wouldn't just *move*. I asked politely, it was obvious I couldn't get past without him moving, and he had *heaps* of room to move out of my way.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

It is so frustrating and demoralizing when people who should be allies and fellow community members seem to have no concept of what it means to be either an ally or a community member, yes? We people with disabilities form 15 percent of the world population, meaning there are more than one billion of us globally. But we can only be "one billion strong" if we are all strong together. (Paraphrasing here from something my boss sometimes says--I work at a cross-disability advocacy organization)

Although some of us deaf folks are perfectly cool folks, and the younger generation of deaf folks seem to be learning to be more intersectional in their inclusion, unfortunately deaf people of course are exposed to all the same myths as everyone else about disabilities other than our own and end up with the same range of attitudes as hearing people. I have known a few deaf wheelchair users who have faced their share of ignorance within the deaf community, usually similar to the exact same kind of ignorance that any wheelchair user (deaf or hearing) confronts from society in general. Of course it is not any more excusable for a deaf person than it is for a hearing person, even if I might wish that more of us did better than the person you describe.

Is it ableism when both of you use wheelchairs (albeit, different types), or just being a big jerk? Still sounds like an aggravating experience whether you blame his being a jerk on ableism or not.