Friday, October 28, 2016

A W A R E N E S S

This Little Miggy Stayed Home || Disability Awareness Month
Thanks so much for following along on my month long focus on disability awareness. If you missed them, you should definitely check out my guest posts from earlier this month. Rebekah discusses ableism, Stasia talks about inclusion vs. belonging and Kathryn tells us about the non profit she runs called Changing the Face of Beauty. 

It's an interesting time to be alive with the world wide web and the information overload we live in. There is so much to be aware of--the environment, adoption, AIDS, breast cancer, childhood cancer, all cancer, racism, cultural appropriation, LGBTQ issues, feminism, refugees, natural disasters, gun violence, domestic violence and on and on and on.

The list is long and often overwhelming. Facebook often feels like a masters class in "How to treat everyone in the world the right way customized to their individual circumstances 101."

Overwhelming.

Yet. Also important. We're making strides in so many areas of social change but when it comes to discrimination the one area I consistently see lacking is, you guessed it, disability awareness.

My main concern is that we don't even recognize ableism (the prejudice and social discrimination against the disabled) when we see it. The idea that people with disabilities are other and less than is so ingrained in our society, that we don't recognize it when we see it. I know this because old me didn't see it either. But new me? I don't just see it, it slaps me in the face.


A couple of years ago I read Lena Dunham's book Not That Kind of Girl. I have never watched her HBO show Girls, but I really liked her Ask Lena web series and I wanted to get to know her better. So I read her book and laughed at the appropriate places (jokes!) and felt horrified at the appropriate places (sexual assault!). Lena is a self aware feminist who seems to have her thumb on the pulse of social issues in modern America.

Or so I thought. In one of her funny quips she writes,

"He had no legs, and HE wasn't into ME."

I know, it's a joke. But it's also not. At least not in the sense that other social issues are jokes. First, imagine that instead of saying "He had no legs..." she said "He was black..." That wouldn't be a funny joke would it? Unless of course the punch line had something to do with how out of touch and racist the person was who made the joke. But that's not what this punchline is about. The message this punchline sends is clearly that a disabled person has no right to be picky when it comes to who they date, so WOW... I must really be in a slump. I remember hearing a similar joke on a sitcom once where someone was set up on a date and when asked how it went she yelled in an angry and annoyed tone, "He didn't have an arm!" And everyone laughed... because how ridiculous. Why would a pretty girl go on a date with a guy missing an arm?

I don't think Lena is a terrible person, that is not what I'm saying. Rather, I think that ableism is so deeply ingrained into our world, she doesn't see it. Or maybe she does see it, but thinks it's different than a racist or sexist joke.

One of the most blatant and frankly difficult examples comes from a This American Life episode entitled Matchmaker. In this episode contributor Elna Baker talks about her job selling high end dolls at a high end toy store in Manhattan. It was set up as an adoption agency, so kids would come in and choose their dolls to "adopt" then Elna and her co-workers would do a little mock interview to make sure the babies were going to good homes and all that.

In this story, Elna describes the Christmas she worked there and what happened when all the white babies sold out almost immediately and how difficult it was watching this upper class white families uncomfortably ask for other white babies while avoiding adopting the Asian or (as it turns out) especially the Black babies at all costs.

But there is also another baby discussed at length in this story. Baby Nubbins.

Let me stop for a minute and tell you very quickly about when Lamp was first born and we were on a discussion board for families of children with limb differences. There was a contributor on that discussion board we often considered a little over zealous, even angry. His screen name? Nubbins Respect. "Nubbins" is a term sometimes used in the limb difference community to describe a limb, or a nub, that is underdeveloped. I wouldn't say it's degrading per se, but in Elna's story it is certainly an offensive moniker. Nubbins Respect talked about ableism (I had NO idea what that meant back in 2010) and the discrimination he faced as a man with limb differences. At the time I thought Nubbins Respect was over the top and sensitive. He wasn't. Even as a newly minted limb difference mom , I was the one who still had my blinders on.

Back to Elna. What makes her story so very difficult for me to digest is the complete lack of awareness of what she's doing and saying. She is talking about blatant discrimination and racism, while at the same time describing Baby Nubbins, who earned his moniker because his hands are fused together, (my stomach is churning as I write this with tears in my eyes) as a "monster baby."

In her own words she says, "Something terrible happened in the factory on the day of its birth, because the dolls fingers were not like the other babies. They had been molded together making it look like it had flippers instead of hands. As if that weren't bad enough, it had curly red hair, scary green eyes, and its head weighed at least five pounds more than all the other babies' heads. As a result, when you lifted the baby, its head would automatically flop back, and its little flippers would flip up like a monster baby. Which is how the doll earned its nickname. We called it Nubbins."

She goes on to describe how they would jokingly (it's a joke! wink, wink!) drop baby Nubbins for fun. They enjoyed torturing this "monster" baby as a little inside joke between them all. THIS was fine. THIS was acceptable. In their minds, baby Nubbins didn't represent a real baby. 

The end of the story only gets worse for me as she has a customer who eventually decides that she would rather have baby Nubbins than a black baby. I'm not saying her points on race aren't valid, but again there is absolutely no awareness at all in the message she is sending about children with disabilities. It's one thing to talk about racism, but to pit it against ableism and not even know you're doing it? This is a problem.

This lack of awareness, especially coming from a show that is trying to spread a message about another kind of social awareness, is why I continue to write about our experiences and share stories from other people and families. Again, I don't think Elna is a terrible person. But I do think ableism is terribly and horribly pervasive. 

We can't change what we don't know. And as my girl Oprah says, when you know better, you do better. 

We can do better. 

Thanks for following along. Have a great weekend!
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1 comment:

  1. I am procrastinating at work and I am so glad I read this. Just. So. Glad. Keep writing Miggy!!!

    ReplyDelete