Tag Archives: poverty

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: The Awkward Lines of -ist Language

[The scene sets with OYD, a slightly pale yet never-the-less still quite indigenous woman, sitting down to her trusty Macbook Pro, a laptop named “Lappy”, who has seen better days. She sets down and opens up her “drafts” tab under FWD/Forward, where she notices that egads! she has been working on this book review for over a month, and Oh my! how it must have been a long time since she has completed one. She cracks her “double jointed” knuckles like she does it too often, tucks a strand of brown hair behind her ear. She drags the review out of “drafts”, dusts it off, reaches for anything caffeinated, and begins to type.]

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 1st edition cover. A black background with plastic toy figures of a cowboy and an indian, with the title and author's name in chunky green and white letters.I like media where I can consume it, enjoy it, and get a sense that I am experiencing something that touches on experiences that are my own, that seems real to me with out over-exaggerating them (mostly). I also enjoy it when certain traits about characters are touched upon as a description, as part of who that character is, but then they are not brought up as Huge Deals throughout the entirety of the book.

These are a few things that really endeared Alexie Sherman’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to me. Sherman created a protagonist “Junior”, who was born into the world with several oppressions, living on the axis of poverty, race, and disability. Within the first few pages of the book Junior gives a pretty good run down of how each of these things affects his life, and has always affected his life from the moment he was born. From never having quite enough to eat, to the way his “grease on the brain” has given him a stutter and seizures.

But that is where Alexie leaves the discussion about Junior’s disability. It is just a part of him, a description of his character. It isn’t some great obstacle he has to overcome. His disability isn’t some plot point, and it doesn’t help the other people around him become inspired about trying harder or appreciating their lives more. In fact, he goes into great detail early on, in those first few pages, to explain that the reservation kids often bully him. From an excerpt on NPR:

You wouldn’t think there is anything life threatening about speech impediments, but let me tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp.

A five-year-old is cute when he lisps and stutters. Heck, most of the big-time kid actors stuttered and lisped their way to stardom.

And, jeez, you’re still fairly cute when you’re a stuttering and lisping six-, seven-, and eight-year-old, but it’s all over when you turn nine and ten.

After that, your stutter and lisp turn you into a retard.

And if you’re fourteen years old, like me, and you’re still stuttering and lisping, then you become the biggest retard in the world.

Everybody on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day. They call me retard when they are pantsing me or stuffing my head in the toilet or just smacking me upside the head.

I’m not even writing down this story the way I actually talk, because I’d have to fill it with stutters and lisps, and then you’d be wondering why you’re reading a story written by such a retard.

Do you know what happens to retards on the rez?

We get beat up.

At least once a month.

Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club.

Sure I want to go outside. Every kid wants to go outside. But it is safer to stay at home. So I mostly hang out alone in my bedroom and read books and draw cartoons.

Then, he moves leaves it there. We know he deals with these things as part of his life, but they do not define his life. Even the most horrible and hurtful parts of his life with disability are not defining his life.

Some other things that are not defined by Junior’s particular disability:

  • His grades in school — He does well in school, and this point becomes part of the main plot, so I won’t give too much away for anyone who plans to read this book.
  • His ability to participate in sports — Junior plays many sports, including contact sports. He is a good basketball player, playing on the school’s team.
  • His ability to have romantic relationships — Despite his believing how shallow it is, Junior has a girlfriend, and as it turns out, she actually likes him! Imagine that!

The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed, though I don’t expect every reader to view the same way, is that the Indian Reservation depicted has a lot of truth to it from my own experiences of having grown up on and around my own as a girl. Twenty, and even ten years ago, our reservation life was not so far off from the one described here, with the exception of perhaps the climate being slightly different, and perhaps I was too young to understand and remember anything about crime rates. But there was poverty, and then there was crushing poverty where I am from. There was alcoholism, though I would venture that perhaps it wasn’t the hot-button stereotype that I feel is portrayed at times in Alexie’s book. I don’t know. Every Native community is different, for sure, with their own unique set of problems. While I feel that there is a lot of truth to what Sherman Alexie has created, I also feel that there is a sweeping generalization. So, it hits and it misses, and I would encourage you to read it for yourself and decide what you think.

There are a lot of instances of language that I would not recommend in a progressive or social change setting going on here in this book. I see it being useful and very much achieving its purpose, for example, there is a very racist joke told by a white boy that Junior meets on his first day of school, using the “n”, which I will not repeat, but which is disparaging to Natives and Black people alike. Junior demonstrates an intolerance for it, without missing a beat, and in Junior’s point of view, the kid respects him for it. But, I have to wonder, is it because of how Junior addresses it, or because this particular student realizes that what he said was hurtful and wrong? The demonstration of how wrong racism is in YA literature is something I want to see more, but I question, sometimes, the ways in which we see it handled. There is almost no discussion or consideration of why this is wrong, just the very visceral use of very hateful words (like above, with the use of the “r” word in so casual a context). Just like using rape as a metaphor to show that a “bad” guy is bad, I don’t need to see or read -ist language for shock value to confront -isms. However, a well placed word could have the proper effect if viewed through the proper lens, but I don’t know if that is quite so obvious here. Junior simply reacts, saying he has to defend Black people, and Indians, but he doesn’t go into much else.

I will also note on the Wise White Person, or WWP, as I will. It takes a WWP living on the rez to point out all of Junior’s problems early on, and essentially Save Him! from the Rotten Destitution! Without a WWP, why poor Junior might be dead, the victim of a trailer fire started by grease from frybread, helplessly drunk and passed out.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is an excellent book, worth reading, for many reasons, but I caution you, gentle readers, there are many themes addressed, in very direct and raw ways that I am still not sure that I wholly approve of, and yet, as a non-white, Native American, woman, with a disability, I am not fully sure that fully disapprove of all of them either.

Oh, except for the sexist language. I found no use for that at all. I found no point where that taught any lesson, except where young boys were using it to show that “Hey!  Women and girls’ bodies are weak, so calling you a woman or a girl body part means you are weak! Har har!” You get no points there, Alexie. Misogyny wins again! Whee!

Signal Boost: Northern Ireland: Access Resource Knowledge Seminar on Poverty

Takes place on 16 November:

Protecting the vulnerable: Poverty and social exclusion in the Republic of Ireland as the economic crisis emerged

Professor Chris Whelan, University College Dublin, will explore poverty and social exclusion in the Republic within the context of the current economic crisis.

The seminar will take place at NICVA, 61 Duncairn Gardens, Belfast, from 12:00-13:00, followed by lunch.

To book a place please email info[@]ark.ac.uk or telephone 028 71375513

Information on this and other ARK seminars here.

Slam after slam for people with disabilities in Australia’s new Budget

The Australian Federal Budget is out, and it’s being feted in the media as a sober, sensible fiscally reasonable budget in which there are no really big winners or losers. “No frills, no thrills, no spills”, says the ABC.

Except for people with disabilities. What has received a little bit of coverage is the fact that there is no improvement in funding for public mental health, despite lots of rhetoric in that direction from Rudd and his cronies. There is apparently nothing toward practical improvement for Indigenous health, and $380M in cuts for disability pensions.

$380M in cuts for disability pensions.

Applicants for the Centrelink disability pension who are considered “borderline” will be routinely denied, put onto Newstart (unemployment payment), compelled to stand in line every fortnight and job-search on an ongoing basis, and sent to “up to 18 months” of mandatory job training.

Let me guess – “borderline” means “the probably currently-nondisabled official making the assessment will decide that they can’t see the disability concerned”. I expect this to disproportionately affect people with mental health issues, fatigue based disabilities, autoimmune problems, chronic pain, and so forth.

And let me guess again: if PWD are too sick to get to their training courses but can’t “prove” that to some random douchebag’s satisfaction, they’ll get breached (decreed as being in breach of Centrelink requirements) and, in the absence of substantial family support and the ability to organise themselves through a litany of appeals and assessments, end up on the streets.

This combination of further increases in the already huge pension obstacles for people with “less clear” disabilities, along with no improvements in mental health and Indigenous health programmes, is, in my opinon, a recipe for a huge increase in homelessness.

But Treasurer Wayne Swan is spinning this as being for PWD’s own good.

The Sydney Morning Herald explains further:

New applicants will first undergo a ”job capacity assessment”, as they have always done. But the government is reviewing the impairment tables to make it a tougher assessment and harder to get to first base. After that unless people are manifestly incapable of any paid work, or clearly incapable of working even 15 hours a week, they will be put on the Newstart Allowance. Then they will be sent on a training course, either with a special disability employment agency or a regular one. The training is meant to increase the numbers who can work at least 15 hours a week, thus disqualifying them from the pension.

Efforts to curb the growth in the numbers going on the pension would be admirable, given people mostly stay on the pension for life. But the move is not admirable in the absence of an increase in the level of Newstart Allowance, or a loosening of its income test, which exacts harsh punishment on those who get a little work.

On the disability pension a single person can live a frugal life on $350 a week. On Newstart a single person is plunged into poverty on $231 a week. How many of the 25,407 people who might once have qualified for a disability pension will end up, not in work, but unemployed and in poverty?

The comments at the Herald, enragingly but unsurprisingly, are full of people flailing around about how people on disability pensions are big bludging fakey fakers.

Another slam for taxpaying people with disabilities is the change in the tax offset for medical expenses. There will be a big jump in the offset threshold and indexing after that, expected to take away from PWD almost much again as the funding cuts for disability pensions.

Lastly, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Australia’s mostly very good pharmaceutical subsidy and safety net programme, will be “reformed” to the tune of $2 billion in government savings – but we’re not told how.

In other news, there are huge boosts in funding for elite sports and for ‘border security’. So crips will be paying for Olympians and for the harassment and prolonged detention of immigrants – while many can’t afford wheelchairs, homes, or medication.

This budget, just to make my disgust even more perfectly clear, is coming from a nominally LABOR government.

On twitter I summed the budget up thus:

@ilauredhel Aust’s priorities: $237 M boost for elite sport; $1.2 B boost for ‘border security’; $380M CUT for disability pensions #budget

I’m still gaping. At the budget itself, and at the nodding, satisfied happiness of most of the political media at there being supposedly “no big losers”.

Why SF’s Proposed Sit/Lie Laws Are a Terrible Idea

In San Francisco currently, there is something of a debate brewing about Mayor Newsom’s proposed sit/lie laws, which would make it illegal for anyone to sit or lie on any public curb or street in San Francisco (with a couple of exceptions).

The intersections with disability here are rather clear. For one thing, there are some intersections between homelessness and disability, because some homeless people are, for example, mentally ill or have disabling physical problems. Do either of these things make them unworthy of compassion, or not human? Of course not, but from the way this proposed ordinance is designed, it is, on a very basic level, criminalizing homelessness even more than it is already criminalized (not to mention socially stigmatized), while taking extra “common sense” steps to avoid citing non-homeless people for an offense. Observe the following response to concerns that SF police would begin to crack down on non-homeless people were the laws to go into effect:

During a heated, five-hour Board of Supervisors public safety committee hearing on the issue Monday, Adachi showed photographs of behavior that would be illegal under Newsom’s proposed law: a well-heeled tourist sitting on her luggage as she waits for a cab, a little boy sitting on a sidewalk clutching his skateboard, and tourists sitting on a curb and gazing up at the sights.

Assistant Police Chief Kevin Cashman said all of those people would be warned first to move and that none of them would probably receive a citation.

“Obviously common sense is going to be part of the training with enforcement of this statute,” he said at the hearing.

Ah, yes, “common sense.” Common sense, apparently, still makes the further stigmatization of homeless people de rigeur. Because apparently, they don’t deserve to sit down in public, unlike “well-heeled” tourists and neighborhood residents. I wonder what the response to a person with disabilities — tourist or not — needing to sit down on a public street might be? Someone waiting for an ambulance? While that is approaching a bit of a slippery slope argument (which I generally like to avoid), it is worth considering, simply because “common sense” will mean different things to different people — those whose job it is to enforce the statute included.

Also interesting is the framing of this ordinance in terms of concern for children. From one of the SF Gate articles:

Newsom, who bought a home in the Haight recently, was convinced to support an ordinance after walking along Haight Street with his infant daughter and seeing someone smoking crack and blocking the entrance of a business.

Certainly, children need to be protected from dangerous situations or potentially dangerous situations, but is an ordinance that criminalizes the poor and homeless — not all of whom are recreational drug users or addicts — really the way to do it?

Additionally, nowhere have I seen any plan to increase the number of homeless shelters or services for homeless people attached to this ordinance. The implicit message behind these proposed sit/lie laws seems clear: It’s too bad you’re homeless, but don’t you dare be homeless on our streets, because it might make our city look bad. Oh, and you certainly shouldn’t expect the city to help you not be homeless — even after it cites you for breaking the sit/lie law.

(Cross-posted to ham blog)

Recommended Reading for December 7

Disability & Poverty

People with disabilities, the report says, account for a larger share of those experiencing poverty than people in all other minority, ethnic and racial groups combined and are even a larger group than single parents.

The extra costs associated with living with a disability such as purchasing expensive equipment like wheelchairs and catheters or obtaining specialized medical attention keep many disabled people and their families in poverty, the report notes.

Autism Speaks Hits A New Low

Before I explain what they’ve done to make me say that, I have to provide a bit of background information. You see, back in early August, Autism Speaks sent out this press release encouraging people to submit videos of autistic individuals for use in an upcoming film project. This project had huge names behind it— most notably, award-winning movie director Alfonso Cuarón, the man behind both Children of Men and the third Harry Potter movie— and was to be titled “I Am Autism.” According to Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright, this project was intended to “shine a bright spotlight on autism,” and was to be unveiled at the United Nations World focus on Autism on September 22.

Seems pretty harmless, right? “I Am Autism.” Sounds like it might be some sort of “We Are The World”-type production, about how we’re all affected by autism in some way. And “shining a bright spotlight”? I actually had a small gleam of hope that Autism Speaks was finally shedding their doom-and-gloom message for something more positive.

Well…

Diagnosis of a Faun

Determined outsider triumphs over mainstream medical, using a disabled artist as her protege/experiment. If not dance as therapy, the therapeutic effects of dance. Those are the storylines here; not Mr. Mozgala or even the piece itself — which, btw, I hope to see in June if not in December. So, here, we go.

Mozgala does not gain much space in the article except as a medical project with a weird gait: his CP has “caused him to walk for most of his life like ‘a human velociraptor,’ as he put it: up on his toes, lower extremities turned in, seesawing from side to side to maintain balance.” In fact, we don’t hear much about his acting career; he’s more of a specimen. Once, we’ve got the details of an enslaving CP out the way; the whole thing starts out with an outside: a choreographer who has done with with nontraditional dancers (my phrase) — the article’s author, Neil Genzlinger says “outside normal dance parameters. She sees Mozgala and is “inspired.” Yeah. That thing.

My Experiences with Vulvodynia

On the other hand, I found the medicalisation of my sex life difficult to deal with – in the end, I was dreading trying to have sex, and tried to only do so the weekend before an appointment because I knew that a doctor was about to ask how it was. I dread to think what the reaction would have been if I had admitted to seeking treatment for this condition while single; there was no opening for the possibility of non-straightness or non-monogamy. It wasn’t until I saw the final doctor, a sex counsellor, that anyone asked whether my relationship was good; even then, the focus was on returning me to a fit state to have penetrative sex and babies. (When I finally took a deep breath and said, “I don’t think I want to go on with this, I have no motivation to cause myself pain every day,” the counsellor replied that other women often went through with it because they were trying to have children. Fair play to them, but she didn’t ask whether I wanted children.)

In the news:
Ambulance Unable to find place for suicidal girl

A mentally ill, suicidal teenager was ferried around for hours by an ambulance crew because no NHS unit would accept her, the BBC has learnt .

The girl eventually had to be taken to a police cell, documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Recommended Reading for October 30

#Antidev: Some thoughts on disability “devotees”

The issue of disability devotees — and let’s call a spade a spade here: they’re fetishists — divides the disability community at every level, from academia to, well, Facebook. It’s something women with visible disabilities encounter regularly. And I believe that, while the extremists are relatively rare, the growing acceptance of “devotees” online will trickle down into the broader social constructs around disability.

It’s widely believed that people with disabilities are viewed (in contemporary Western culture, at least) as “asexual.” The truth is more complex. We certainly do not fit the airbrushed-cover-of-Vogue ideal of beauty that is shoved down our throats. But then again, neither do all but a few supermodels on the planet; we don’t consider 99.99% of women as asexual, though. So here’s a key point: differentiating beauty (or physical attractiveness) from sexuality. To be sure, sex can be different and require a bit of creativity and patience, but most women with physical disabilities (at least, the ones I know!) have pretty normal sex lives. Nevertheless, because we can fall so far outside the norm of what is considered attractive, we (like all women) tend to conflate general beauty with sexual attractiveness, making us easy targets for people calling themselves “disability devotees” — sexual fetishists who objectify women with disabilities and reduce them to the sum of their (disabled) parts. Many women with disabilities entertain such advances, or even encourage them; when you’ve lived in a society rife with ableism it can be easy to believe that your disability defines you (and as a woman, that your sexuality defines you), and fetishists play right into that mindset.

Personal Situation

Now that I know all these things about my father I can‘t stop thinking about it (especially the new info in addition to the terrible tirade from him the day before). I don’t want to live with him anymore, but I don’t really have any other options. I need constant care and there’s no one else in my family who is able to take care of me. I know everyone says this, but he truly does love me and wouldn’t be able to take care of me like this if he didn’t. Out of everyone in my life he’s given above and beyond anyone else when it comes to my caretaking – he’s here full time and any one else is less than once a month. But I can’t stand to be around him anymore. I have so much anger. I’m angry how he treated my mother, and indirectly caused her to hurt me. But I’m angry at my mother for directly hurting me. I’m angry at my father for having such an anger problem that we had to be afraid of it. I wish I was healthy so I could just move away, but my disability is so severe that I really can’t do anything for myself and need the constant care. I don’t want to go to some nursing home – I’ve heard too many stories about that to trust it.

One time in the past when he exploded emotionally, I called a nearby shelter because it was having such an emotional impact on me. I told them about my physical situation and they said that they were not handicap accessible and referred me to another shelter. Neither shelter would be able to care for me in the way that I need it. I just don’t want to be alone in this world – it‘s not just emotional, I need a someone to physically protect me because I am that fragile. It sucks that my family sucks, but they’re all I’ve got right now and they’ve helped me in a lot of other ways.

In the news:

Via email from Ira G.: Minds Interrupted: Stories of Lives Affected by Mental Illness:

The three will be among eight Baltimoreans who will discuss the ways in which mental illness has wreaked havoc with their lives in a program called “Minds Interrupted.”

Participants wrote and edited their intimate, sometimes funny, often harrowing tales at a recent workshop that included tips on performance skills. Tickets will be sold to the show, which is being held at Center Stage, and which was modeled on the popular Stoop Storytelling series in which nonactors tell seven-minute-long anecdotes about their own lives.

The hybrid nature of “Minds Interrupted” can be perplexing: Is the evening a high-minded attempt to publicize a vexing and misunderstood social problem, or is it entertainment? And can the two categories successfully be mixed?

Five benchmarks for social assistance [Canada]

The next bold move the government must make is to stick to its guns on a comprehensive review of Ontario’s broken social assistance system.

The commitment to review Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program – made in the province’s poverty reduction strategy last December – has been agonizingly slow to get off the ground.

With the first anniversary of the strategy quickly approaching, more and more Ontarians are being forced to deplete their savings and join Ontario’s swelling welfare rolls.

As the province moves to more effectively employ resources to meet people’s needs and promote economic recovery, we can no longer afford to wait.

Student beaten to death in his Sac State Dorm Room

Scott Hawkins had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, “that made him very obsessive about his favorite things,” his father said. He especially enjoyed studying ancient European and Middle Eastern history and was hoping he could graduate with a minor in one of those areas, his father said.

“He could go on and on about the history of Rome or the reasons that the Greek empire did this or that,” Gerald Hawkins said.

The attack was reported just before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday when one of the dorm’s resident assistants called police after hearing a loud disturbance coming from one of the suites.