Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Us and Them Full Circle

I ended up chatting with a young fellow, to me that's around 30, with a disability on a ride to work. He asked me what I did for a living and then told me about his job, about which he was quite proud. Without even lowering his voice to become conspiratorial, he openly said that we weren't like 'those others.' And while he is right, the employment rate of people with disabilities is abysmal, it is so because of employers refusing to make accommodations either to their workplaces or to their mindset. I didn't want to feel like he thought I was in a club with him, 'employed and valuable' v 'unemployed and of significantly less value.' So, I said so.

He vehemently disagreed and did the 'if I can do it anyone can' kind of speech that people find so inspirational. It's not true of course, but people love that shit. Non-disabled people realize that since Chis Hatfield could be an astronaut then so can they. Time and talent and opportunity matter. Not everyone is fit for the same path, we are all resolutely making our own way and cutting our own path. I told him that I thought that argument 'nonsense' ...which was probably the wrong word to use and he reacted in a manner which I should have anticipated, he got angry.

It was very important to him that he not identify with 'those people' and it was clear that he identified with 'valued working people' most of whom are non-disabled. He felt that his work raised his status and had him accepted as equal to his non-disabled colleagues. His value as a person was diminished by his disability but then enhanced by the fact that he held a job and was respected at work. He was shocked that I didn't feel the same way, that I belonged to a, though he didn't say this exactly, 'different class of disabled person.'

Then. THEN. He said that it annoyed him when people assumed that he was ... and here he used the r word ... maybe the first time I've heard it spoken in casual conversation by another disabled person. That 'those people really had no place in a modern society. I challenged him on his use of the word, his hatred of people with intellectual disabilities and his own deeply held self hatred.

It devolved from there.

When he got off the bus, the driver joked that he was relieved that we were bolted down on each side of the bus to keep us from getting into a brawl.

I've been bubbling this interaction around in my mind for a long time now. Because what came of it for me is that I do think that there is a 'right' type of disabled person, one that his part of the disability pride movement and who values the disability experience and one who lives without need of approval of the non-disabled. He's not that. I'm having trouble not valuing him less.

That makes me as bad as him.

I need to examine ways to love the disability community, with all its parts, even the one's I disagree with. I have something to learn from them too, I don't know what yet, but I know I do.

7 comments:

Glee said...

He is suffering from a bad case of internalised ableism. Most of us disabled people hold a certain amount of it and some a lot. He may learn and he may change or he may not. The more it is discussed the less there may be. I tend to just not hang out with people who are ableist. He would be one of them. Disabled or not.

Jenni said...

Some people are jerks. Some disabled people are jerks. You're not disliking him for being the wrong kind of disabled. You're disliking him for being a jerk. Seems a reasonable response to me.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

So much is required, in the current world, for a disabled person to find and keep a job, that it is almost a matter of luck.

Some of that 'luck' is personal determination, some the specific kind of disability, some where the person lives.

But pretending everyone could do what I do is insane: I'm a novelist, and it is the ONLY thing I can do, because I'm practically homebound, have almost zero energy, and try to make tiny contributions to my little community of family and church.

If I had been the exact person I am, but with no ability to write (or no desire to learn), I would be financially useless, instead of in the beginnings of a possible career. There is literally nothing else I could do.

If someone could work the counter at MacDonald's - but can't get there - they essentially can't do that job. So many barriers!

Being proud of your luck - as if you had that much control over life - is dangerous if that's the source of your self-esteem. I think that was what you and this man were arguing about.

Sharon Potter said...

I remember my beloved mother in law, who was African American making a statement about a person a family member was dating. She said "He is not like us" He too was African American, but he dropped out of high school and was working as a laborer. She and my father in law carefully planned their children 5 years apart so that they could afford to send each child to college, which they did.
She didn't look slightly below the surface to understand that the young man dropped out of school to help support his single mom and siblings and worked at the only job he could get. Opportunities or lack of, circumstances, good and bad matter. He was a good and decent fellow and maybe my mother in law didn't want to identify with the struggle that she left far behind.
I struggle with being respectful to those who have total opposite views but try to live by: Be Kind; Everyone is fighting a mighty battle

Amanda Forest Vivian said...

It doesn't make you as bad as him. It's not the same at all. That's like saying it's equally prejudiced if you don't want to associate with people who are prejudiced.

Ron Arnold said...

The way I see things - my job is to sow seeds when it comes to ideas. I am not really responsible for the seeds' growth. You had sown some seeds with the fellow. Maybe they'll sprout, maybe they won't, but you did express your thoughts on the matter. As for me - if I've done my best to sow seeds and it's met with resistance . . . that's OK. Maybe their soil is a little stony right now. Seeds are hardy though, and tend to stick around. (Sometimes - it takes years for seeds to sprout root in me.)

As for your thoughts on the state of his soil - well . . . you know stony soil when you experience it. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Ettina Kitten said...

There's a big difference between disliking someone for something that they can't necessarily help and aren't using to hurt others, and disliking someone for a choice they are making that harms others. It's the difference between hating someone for being single and hating someone for being a rapist.