Come Talk To Me - Blog Against Disablism Day
0 comment Thursday, June 5, 2014 |
I want to address something I imagine other blogs probably won't. I think it's important and it's something I don't think people want to talk about.
As a multicultural woman, gods knows I've seen both sides of the racial equality battle in the US; I've had African-American folks have a go at me for having fair skin and green eyes, I've had white people introduce me to the n-word at a very tender age. I've been pressed to "embrace my culture" (meaning, African and African only) and I've had the struggles of my mother's family during the 60's considered null and void because they were white. I've gone through the not-ever-dated-by-a-white-person thing (and am going through it now in the UK), and the "Can I touch your hair?" thing. I suppose this could have made me rather aggressive about the whole "race thing" - there does get a time when you get tired of being the Spokesperson For Racial Togetherness by being multiracial - a point where you have to smile and nod rather woodenly whilst people assure you they're not racist and then say something completely ignorant within a few minutes.
But the one thing I can say is I never got that "Angry Black Woman" thing happening. I don't jump down the throat of a black man who dares to say something about me, I don't argue for hours with black women who have their own issues with my skin-tone and how being able to "pass" must have made my life so much better than theirs. I don't force every single white person I've ever met into a long discussion about the Diaspora. If people ask and want to talk, I talk. I'd rather they asked their questions - even if some of them are monumentally stupid ('Who is your favourite rapper?' - I once answered the last one rather tersely 'Chopin'; I hate rap). Questions which are answered honestly educate people a bit more and the point is education, not smashing something down someone's throat. White folks don't listen when you get angry and force them to acknowledge what happened ages ago - and even though all one tends to want is acknowledgement, not just some offhanded "yeah, well, sorry" that means nothing - you won't get it going into Angry Blackfolk mode.
Over here in the UK was the first time I never had to have the "Multicultural talk". It just didn't seem like a big deal. However I think that may have more to do with the fact the English rarely say what's on their minds; when served a really rubbish meal one night I was surprised my ex was all smiles to staff, but then as soon as he got into the car he announced he was going to write a letter to the manager. "Um, why didn't you just talk to the manager?" This earned me a horrified look. "We don't do that here," I was told with a bit of reproach. I suppose the direct approach is just too strange - instead, people either stare at you or, worst still, look right through you. Don't draw attention to oneself, don't force someone else to be embarrassed into acknowledging you. I can't help but think that my decidedly Not-English appearance is certainly noticed, but rather than comment on the weirdness of it, people ignore it. I haven't had a compliment on my appearance by a man in the UK in the 12 years I've been here; it does a lot to one's self esteem, let me tell you. But I suppose that's better than being called an ugly fat bitch to my face so I guess I'll take the silence.
This can sting a fair bit for a person who is disabled. But I also wonder if perhaps there isn't something else at work - what someone recently called the "Crip with a Chip" person; sort of like the ABP, the CWAC is the type of disabled person who will slam into you with their wheelchair and then dare you to say a word. If you cast a single glance in their direction, it's automatically returned with a hostile stare. Any attempt at maybe trying to start a dialogue about anything, the "You're wondering about my hearing aid/cane/etc, aren't you?" sentence comes in a voice dripping vitriol. Even if you really wanted to know about their illness, out of wanting to understand or compassion or human regard, you'll get your head snapped off and handed to you. The CWAC is The Only Crip in the Village, and everyone else is either not nearly as disabled as they are or faking it.
When people meet with the CWAC, they never forget it - they also have a real hard time not seeing anything but Chip-Crips when it comes to protests and social actions. Their version of "white man's guilt" kicks in and they knee-jerk against it. We shout, they clap their hands over their ears and hum. Try and get eye contact and their eyes unfocus as they pick up the pace rather briskly. It's not that we don't have a point; we certainly do. It's not even that most of the non-disabled are utter jerks without a shred of humanity; it's that they just plain don't understand. How can we even begin to explain it when our bodies are programmed for forget pain and illness shortly after recovery? Sure, the Spoon Theory does so brilliantly but in order for that story to be told, the non-disabled have to be willing to listen, and we disabled have to be willing to talk.
And I will say right that if people ask out of genuine curiosity or wanting to know, I'll talk to them; believe me I know the difference between the person talking specifically so I can hear about what a crap parent I am to have such a badly behaved child, and the person who gives a somewhat guarded laugh at my son's antics and then asks (with considerable anxiety) "Please don't think I'm being rude your son all right?" Yes, it might be said rather clumsily and I suppose I would have grounds to get rather angry at the idea of my son "all right" or not, but the fact is the person really wanted to know, they just didn't know how to say it. That deserves as honest and as gentle an answer as I can give them, and most of the time I am thanked rather profusely for taking the time to do so. I am not going to jump down your throat because you didn't use the "right term" - I don't like the word "nigger" coming out of ANYONE's mouth, and I certainly am not going to be happy if you refer to my child as "retarded" or "weird" but I won't faint in coils if you use "cripple" or "disabled" at me. If anything I find the flowerly crap really annoying ("People of Colour"? WTF is that? Makes me sound like a damn rainbow...don't get me started on 'differently able'!), but everyone is different. Personally I'm just happy you're talking to me, we can work out the semantics later.
So, today in honour of the Blog Against Disablism, rather than batter the non-disabled with stories of how hellish my life can be and somehow insinuating that it's their faults, I want to open the dialogue, I want to brew a cup of tea, I want to sit down, offer a biscuit and say "I am disabled, and so is my son. If there's something you want to ask, please do, and I'll answer the best I can provided you can try and respect my feelings whilst we do so."
Come Talk to Me.