Tag Archives: bigotry

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, November 10

I am apparently a month behind as I originally dated this for October. Oh self. If it were October, I wouldn’t be so far behind! Wishful thinking?

Captain Kitt at A Gentle Nerd of Leisure: Our Mental Health System? More Mental than Healthy! (Note this post also includes discussion of eating disorders, self harm, and sexual assault but mostly focuses on experiences within the Australian mental health system) (via vass)

Thing is, often those services are really hard to access! I’m great with search engines – thanks to a librarian Mother – so it’s easy for me to find where the services are. Actually getting help from them? Not so easy.

Laura Hershey at Spinal Cord Injury and Paralysis Community: Fairness for Attendants: Enacting Justice in an Unjust World

We can start by acknowledging the profound disconnect between the importance of the work and the compensation it offers. In understanding and analyzing this, we can call upon a radical understanding of how disability justice and worker justice intersect. Providing hands-on personal care has acquired over the years an aura of sentimentality. People are assumed to do such work out of pure compassion (which translates as pity), or because “it’s so rewarding” (rewarding in a vague, emotional, non-material sense). Within this framework, disabled people embody neediness, while support workers cheerfully fulfill our needs. Disabled people are passive objects of support workers’ active “caregiving.”

Elizabeth McClung at Screw Bronze: Aren’t You Proud?

We are, disabled and Able Bodied, all types of bigots, and one of the most supported forms of bigotry is how we encourage each other to give in to our fear of illness, and altered human function and form. Drool, and averting the eyes is ‘doing you a favor’ – haha. Yes, because having everyone glace, look away and then talk about you, because your being alive makes them uncomfortable is helping me? No, helping them. It is no different than spotting who the odd one is in grade school, and somehow, they end up with no friends. They are stared at. They are, as you will well know if you were one, asked, “Why do you keep coming?”, and the idea of invitation to a party, or even having anyone show up at one you host is laughable.

crabigail adams at if you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me: i am disabled

of course, this is a fixed income. if i find one day that it’s not enough money to get by, i don’t have any options. i can’t apply for a better-paying job. i can’t further my education in hopes of a professional career & the attendant boost in income. this is it. & there are other caveats as well: if i ever decide to live outside the united states, i lose my disability money altogether. if i ever get legally married, the government will pull the extra money i get from the disabled adult child program & i’m back to just my $525 or so in disability money. i would have to rely on my partner to support me financially, which is a lot to ask of someone, & which is something that makes me very uncomfortable. i’m not sure what the rules are around having assets (ie, if i were to sign a mortgage, even if i wasn’t the sole person responsible for paying down the mortgage). i’m not sure how social service programs i may be eligible for if i were to have a child (ie, WIC) would impact my social security income.

Casekins at If My Hands Could Speak: Martha’s Vineyard – Utopian Society (Caseykins is not Deaf – I’m linking this because the history is very interesting.)

The prospects for deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard were completely different. Many of the former residents of the island were interviewed, and they paint an idyllic picture of what it was like to live in Martha’s Vineyard during this time. Because everyone had a deaf family member, everyone in the community knew sign language. Deaf people were farmers, store clerks, anything they wanted to be. Hearing people would sign to each other over the large expanses the island farms created, a deaf person could walk into a store and the clerk would always know sign. Deaf people were even elected to high political office, becoming mayors and council members for the island, a thing unheard of in the rest of the country. When telling stories about the community, the people who were being interviewed could only remember after much prompting if the people they were talking about were hearing or deaf.

I’m closing comments on this one because I’m hip-deep in alligators (do people still say that?) and I always feel bad when people’s comments sit on Recommended Reading posts for days until someone can look at them.

Dear Imprudence: Help, My Friend Is A Bigot!

‘Friend or Foe’ is perhaps one of the most deliciously odd advice columns I read; the basic premise is that people having sticky questions with interpersonal relationships write in for advice. As the name of the column implies, it tends to be pretty blunt with the advice and the dividing people into one of two categories. Recently, a column ran from a reader asking what to do about terminating a friendship with a bigoted ‘friend’ (note: The column discusses suicide, depression, and mental health):

Dear Friend or Foe,

My friend “Rhonda” has always been a bit of a bigot, sneering in an offhand way at Muslims, Christians, Jews, gays, Americans, French people, Spanish people, doctors—really, nobody gets off. At the beginning of our 10-year friendship, this bothered me a lot. But I learned to ignore it, as the comments were infrequent and because she has many other fine qualities. Recently, we were talking about a public figure who struggled with depression and eventually killed himself. And Rhonda said how “stupid” the man had been to trust his doctors and the medication they gave him and questioned how such a “genius” could do such a thing. It really bothered me.

I’ve had my own problems with depression—I grew up in an abusive, violent home—but with the help of a great therapist and medication my life is turning around. I told Rhonda how hurtful her words were and how they reinforced the stigma associated with mental health care. “We’re not talking about you,” said Rhonda. “[The public figure] was a genius and should have known better.” I felt like slapping her. She started crying and accused me of not wanting to be her friend anymore. After protesting for a while, I said, “You’re right, I think it’s best if we don’t speak.” We haven’t spoken since.

Frankly, I’m relieved, as well as happy to be free of Rhonda’s “opinions.” Rhonda was also domineering and critical about what I wore and ate and what music I listened to. However, I do feel a modicum of guilt. Other friends have suggested I was too harsh. Rhonda is professionally successful, but her personal life has turned messy. She recently separated from her husband and began an affair with a married student. Plus, the economy has hurt her business. Was I too harsh in cutting her off?

Sincerely,
Apparently Not a Genius

I confess, this letter kind of puzzled me. Generally speaking, when people toss off hateful and bigoted comments around me, I don’t make a point of befriending them, let alone staying friends for 10 years. As many ‘fine qualities’ as someone has, it’s hard to overlook them if the person is constantly trashing on entire groups of people. Or even not so constantly. My tolerance threshold for that sort of thing is very, very low. The inclusion of random personal details at the end of a letter is a nice touch, too; like, how is it really relevant that Rhonda separated from her husband?

What’s interesting about this letter is that the turning point for the letter writer was when the bigotry started to directly reference the letter writer’s life and experiences, and I think that’s a pattern you’ll see generally in the world. People are reluctant to take action to cut bigots out of their lives ‘really, she’s ok except for the whole hating Black people thing,’ as long as the bigotry doesn’t personally hurt them. Then, suddenly, it’s a problem. In this case, after years of not piping up when the friend said nasty things about people, the letter writer decided that, perhaps, it was time to fight back when a bigoted comment about mental illness was made.

Was the letter writer too harsh in cutting the friend off? Friend or Foe says no:

Dear ANAG,

Whether or not Rhonda is having a hard time, you answer your own question by admitting that you feel relieved to be done with her. The basis of friendship is companionship. If you don’t enjoy spending time with the woman—and find her bossy and obnoxious—there’s no good reason why you should try to make up. Whether or not her comments are offensive and deserving of excommunication is another matter. You don’t cite specific comments she’s made about the various named religious and ethnic groups—I admit I’m curious as the bent of her anti-French smear (“you know those frogs and their love of wine and cheese”?)—but the fact that you’ve even noticed a pattern here sets off certain alarms.

As for the cited dig at docs, it sounds as if you’re oversensitive on the topic—if for good reason. I’m glad to hear that you’ve had such a positive experience in therapy and with pharmaceuticals. But it sounds as if Rhonda might have a complicated history here as well. Why else would she be blaming a stranger’s suicide on his doctors, as opposed to his depression? In any case, given the mess she’s currently making of her personal life, this might be the time for her to find out more about the mental-health profession for herself. I’d leave it to someone else to make the referral, however.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

I agree that the letter writer wasn’t too harsh, but for different reasons. Personally, I think there’s nothing ‘harsh’ about telling bigots they don’t have a place in my life, and I’m perfectly happy to tell them exactly why, too. The only question I’d have for the letter writer is why the bigotry didn’t matter until suddenly it was personal. I don’t think anyone is obliged to stay friends with people who are ‘nice, but bigoted,’ or ‘nice, but kinda judgmental and bossy.’

Given how we’re all trained to make nicey nicey with people, it’s not surprising that the letter writer felt guilt and wrote in to ask for reassurance, but didn’t really get it here. Sure, it was suggested that the writer shouldn’t feel too badly about not wanting the companionship of someone uncompanionable, but why not just go ahead and say ‘yes, it’s ok to stop being friends with someone on the grounds of bigotry?’

And what’s with the ‘oversensitive’ comment and armchair psychology. Really, Friend or Foe? Just had to throw that in there? A ‘messy’ personal life is evidence of a Dark Past, and there are absolutely no contributing social attitudes behind the comments made about depression, ‘intelligence,’ and the medical profession?

Dear Imprudence: It’s Just A Little Bigotry! Calm Down!

On to the other letter in last week’s Dear Prudence with a response that made me, to be blunt, extremely angry. A letter writer submitted this:

Dear Prudence,
I am a proud gay man and for the last several years have worked in a high-ranking position for a company where my homosexuality has never been an issue. Recently, while a group of us were having lunch, the topic of two straight female celebrities kissing on an awards show came up. Everyone agreed that the kiss was a stunt, but one co-worker, with whom I’ve always been close, called it “trash.” She ranted about how it was indecent and that children were watching. It made me very uncomfortable that she displayed a hateful side I’d never seen before. She later apologized, saying that her comments were in no way directed to me. I accepted her apology, but I’m still very bothered by it because there was a tone of disgust toward gay people. I’ve changed around her and no longer talk to her about my personal life. She’s noticed and keeps asking me whether I’m still upset about that conversation. I say no, even though I am. I have great memories of the fun times we shared as friends, and I don’t want to bring this up because it could have an impact on our professional relationship. How do I tell her how I feel and finally put this behind me?

—Out

How does Prudence respond? Shall we predict? Possibly she will reinforce that, no, this man is not obliged to be Bigoted Coworker’s Friend anymore, and that, yes, he should perhaps bring the issue up with her, since he was obviously upset by it? Since he’s comfortable being out in the workplace and his workplace seems supportive, maybe it’s worth talking to a supervisor or a member of the human resources staff about the company’s antidiscrimination policies?

Her response was highly relevant to my interests, because while the letter writer was writing about an instance of homophobia, these kinds of interactions play out in workplaces all over the world with other dynamics involved, like race, age, disability, and gender.

And, surely, Prudie couldn’t deliver two instances of deplorable advice in the same week, right? Oh, no.

Dear Out,
When Joseph Biden declared his candidacy for the presidency, he evaluated his opponent, Barack Obama, by calling him “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” It was the kind of compliment that required an apology for its racism, yet presidential nominee Obama selected Biden to be his running mate. Which means you should let go of an ill-considered remark by someone you know to be a decent, nonhomophobic person. It’s possible your colleague’s ire was more about the slobbery, in-your-face nature of the kiss than a commentary on homosexuality. Surely, how she treats you is more indicative of her true feelings than her reaction to celebrities being deliberately provocative. It’s a mark of how comfortable she is with you that she could express her unfiltered opinion (which she won’t do again). When she saw you were upset and realized she may have been out of line, she apologized. It’s churlish and even mean-spirited on your part to accept her apology, yet behave in an obviously cool fashion. There’s nothing to be gained by re-airing the whole episode. I think you should tell her that she’s right—you’ve been letting the lunch incident eat at you, but you’re over it now, and you look forward to resuming your close relationship.

—Prudie

I am horrified and angered by this response. No, Prudence, this man is not obligated to resume their close relationship just because the woman is comfortable letting fly her bigotry in his presence. He was fairly explicit about the fact that the ‘rant’ was centered on homosexuality and how gross and icky it is. This is not an ‘ill considered remark’ from a ‘nonhomophobic person.’ It’s an unfiltered opinion, all right. And what, exactly, do Barack Obama and Joe Biden have to do with Out’s coworker?

One of the changes that we have seen, culturally, is that it is less socially acceptable, in many circles of society, to air these views, but they still skulk below the surface. When they do come out, it’s not an indicator of ‘comfort.’ It’s a reminder that there are no safe spaces, and that behind every person who words things carefully to avoid being outed as a bigot may possibly lie, well, a bigot. It’s a reminder that when people ‘forget’ who you are, they will feel comfortable assuming that you are not the Other and that, therefore, it’s ok to air their true feelings around you. Out’s coworker showed her true colours, and Out is being told to basically just let it go.

How many times have I heard people spew ableist rhetoric and then say that they weren’t talking about me? Or air their transphobia around me, thinking that I am a ‘safe’ person to air it around because they believe that I’m a cisgendered woman? If someone told me that I should just let those things slide, I’d be livid, as I hope Out was when he read this response to his letter.

People. We are not obligated to be nice to people who think that we are disgusting, awful, or should die. We don’t need to play makeup with people when they air their bigotry in front of us. The belief that we need to is precisely that which allows really destructive social attitudes to persist.

Dealing with these attitudes in the workplace is challenging, but the appropriate response is most certainly not to ignore them or pretend that they didn’t happen.