Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Similarities Between Being A Person of Color & A Person With Disabilities

The Gimp Parade has a great post called "The Sparrow" where Blue wrote a very interesting post about what it's like to travel about in public with a visible disability. She compares it to a book she's reading. In it, the character realizes that, as a priest, when people saw him, they would automatically make a lot of assumptions about who he was on the inside. She also linked to a great post by Professor Steven Kuusisto over at Planet of the Blind .

In "Table Talk", Kuusisto explains how there are time when one just wants a moment to themselves but having a visible disability sometimes makes that impossible.

And all you wanted was coffee. Maybe a cholesterol busting eggs and bacon dish. Yes and you wanted silence. You wanted a moment's worth of freedom from American sincerity. You had wanted to sit, unclouded, contemplating your earthly duties with nothing more than a bite of scrambled eggs and a swig of coffee.

I can really sympathize with what he's going through. Sometimes people just don't feel like giving their whole life story to strangers. Not every person with a disability feels comfortable talking about it, even with those they know and when you're having one of those days when you in a lot of pain it can be especially difficult to be a good sport about such questions.

This is an issue that often comes up in PWD (people with disabilities) communities. I don't think anyone with a visible disability can say they've never experienced a situation where they wound up answering all sorts of personal questions asked by strangers who just happen to be in the same vicinity as them. Several PWD that responded to Kuusisto's post discussed their experiences and all the ways they fantasize about responding to those who ask what they see as inappropriate questions. The two button ideas are absolutely hilarious!

While reading Kuusisto's post, I thought back to an article I read last year in The New York Times called "The Rudeness of Strangers" that provided readers with a few tips for dealing with social situations where a woman is dining alone in a restaurant. It pointed out the fact that one shouldn't assume that the diner would rather have company than to eat alone. I think that perhaps the same advice should be taken when it comes to dealing with PWD.

I've been thinking about what Kuusisto wrote and I keep wondering to myself why I've never minded answering the questions strangers ask me about my disabilities. I'm wondering if it has anything to do with cultural differences. On a hunch, I looked at the profiles of Kuusisto, Bibliochef and Raymond Pert (the latter two are the commenters with the button ideas). As I suspected, all three of them reside up north.

During the periods of time that I've lived outside of the south, I came to see that people in those areas are just a lot less friendly--at least in the way that southerners would probably describe friendliness. It's not that they are necessarily rude but they just don't seem to seek out social interactions as much as we do down here. For instance, if someone saw me eating alone at the local coffeeshop one morning and they started asking me questions about my disability, I wouldn't consider it rude at all. It's just something we do down here. We will hold a conversation about almost anything with a stranger. On the other hand, striking up a conversation with the barista or customer at a northern coffeeshop, just isn't going get the same reaction.

I think it would be a bit interesting to find out if being questioned (about your disabilities) by strangers bothers other southern PWD as much as it does those who are from the north. I wonder if others feel like I do when it comes to these sort of questions from others who have disabilities. When I encounter other disabled people and they ask me questions, it feels less like talking to a stranger. Even if they ask me questions that go beyond what I'd probably be comfortable telling a stranger, it doesn't really seem rude to me because I don't have to feel any pressure to give them the super-cheerful answers that I sometimes feel obligated to give non-disabled people. Does that make sense? I dunno.

7 comments:

WomansSpace said...

There are some things that are really difficult to talk about, for example, I knew you suffered from cancer, it was only the other day that I noticed the word “incurable” and I felt as if I had been stabbed. It’s not that I am not interested in you in fact just the opposite, I am very interested in your. My framing for this issue is that I have no entitlement to know about what is occurring for you and a fear that if I inquire, I may be a source of pain. That isn’t the role I want to play in your life.

I was raised as a southern girl. I was taught NOT to inquire or stare. In the course of my life of course I've gone back and re-examined what I've been taught. I those teachings largely in a positive light. But I do look. I'll look at you in a way that acknolwedges you, your full human presense and existence and in a way that acknowledges that you have value and are worthy of love.

Warm, supporting, nourishing light with you, Bint.

WomansSpace said...

There's more to my rearing than that. From late grade school to college I had a friend who was a paraplegic and I learned to take care of him and when I went to college I had a prof who was also paraplegic. I learned a lot from them really. I learned that in order to really feel included, paraplegics will often prefer to see my face instead of the bottom of chin. I learned that they want to be seen and acknowledged as much as anyone else. I don't feel it needs to be said that PWDs have as much dignity as anyone else, but apparently it does. I know that people look at pwds and as if they see right through PWDs and the depth of that tragedy strikes me.

But more than anyone that I know anout both dark skinned people and PWDs is that "they" is a word I will never use to as I refer to PWDs. The only dividing line between POCs and PWDs and me would be the line that I draw in my head which I refuse to draw.

jb said...

Thanks for the comment re: the America Blog comment.

You explore piquant issues on your site. This post, which draws parallel to people of color and people of disabilities (as well as regional commnunication differences) resonates with me as the sister of a person with a disability and person of color from Seattle and now in Brooklyn via Hong Kong and Atlanta. I find myself wanting to talk to people with disabilities esp. those who are hearing impaired since that is my sister's particular disability but stopping myself, however sincere my motivation, since I'd likely be objectifying them, butting in on their business or infringing upon their personal space.

Bibliochef said...

Augh. I just wrote a long comment which disappeared. Augh. I'll try to recompose.

As a northern type, i agree that some of the issue is regional patterns of interactivity, though I also think rural/urban matters (I live in a small town). As a middle-aged white woman who has no visible disability, my main experiences of unsolicited conversations that trouble me are not really conversations -- they are nasty comments eitgher anti-woman or anti-lesbian. I suspect I get a lot of benefit from white skin privilege (and class privilege too). On the other hand, I teach religious studies and I rarely tell people that on airplanes etc. because it inevitably leads to either a) discussion of my religious beliefs which I do not want to have or b) coversations about otehr people's religious beliefs which I am not inerested in knowing. And I also teach women's studies, which I only tell people when I am in the mood to defend and/or advocate for feminism, which needs to be done but is sometimes exhausting and . . . . Put another way, sometimes the best thing abotu my day is uninvited conversation with others; sometimes not. . . .

And yes, the many things we do not talk about -- or the construction of our private/public personae -- needs public discussion.

I like your blog alot. There'ssome great political commentary here. I'll be back -- and thanks. Myh site is Cooking with Ideas http://www.cookingwithideas.typepad.com

Connie said...

Hi Bint,

I'm writing on behalf of my husband, Steve, to say thank you for your reference to his post.

I'm a little behind on my blog reading but I look forward to returning and getting to know you a bit!

Happy blogging to you...

Kathy Podgers said...

What a nice post! Found you on Steve's latest boost post. I love your writing style.

My disability is hidden, so when I ask for help I am usually subjected to the 3rd degree. Everyone imagines themselves "in charge" of me, with medical and legal expertise they do not have, telling me what is good for me, what I should do, but not simply helping with what I ask.

Yes, I do agree with the comparison to stereotyoing, steering, exclusion, etc. Unfortunatly, even folks in the disability advocasy community do not understand this civil rights issue.

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OF OCURSE I DID