Going It Alone
Growing up “just exotic enough” to provoke cruelty from white children and to excite the desires of grown men, I often dreamed of the day that I would gain enough independence to begin to seek out others who would understand my experiences. As I came of age, I would begin to understand that my pale white skin would always betray me. People of obvious color would never accept me as mixed with a valid set of traumatic, isolating and often violent experiences caused by white people’s racism.
I dealt with the trauma of racism alone.
My adoptive family practiced ‘racism light’. Of course they would have never kept slaves. Of course they would have never stolen native lands. Of course they would never hang a black man. Because their grandfathers were ‘ignorant’ but things are obviously different now. My mother would swell with 1980’s caucasian valor as she made the black principal of my elementary school a character in the delusional story she was telling about herself. “There’s a new principal this year at MADcripple’s elementary school…. she’s black” she lowered her voice noticeably as she said the word before continuing on with metered caution “but she’s REALLY nice. And……. she’s KIND OF. pretty. If you can imagine that.”
She waited for her sister to approve the statement with a nod and then said proudly “we have a BLACK principal!”
Meanwhile, as my brother entered his tween years, he began to expand on the passion for racial slurs that the word ‘chink’ had earlier ignited. If we, as a family, were at the dinner table, in the living room, or in the car together and a moment of silence fell over us, he would utter them one at a time and chuckle to himself. He was my parents prized blue eyed, brown haired boy and a chronic mouth breather. I could always feel the racial slur approaching as the corners of his lips curled up enthusiastically into a stupid looking open mouth grin.
He would always leave plenty of open space between one slur and the next to make sure it had room to make it’s impact. “I wonder what you call a mexican person?”
“you don’t” my mother replied, disgusted. “And don’t let your grandfather hear you using the word wop. It’s an ethnic slur. And he’s Italian.”
“beaners I think” dad chimed in “hey, speaking of beans!” He leaned far to one side to break the vacuum seal that his fat ass cheeks made against the leather of the drivers seat so that a loud fart could pass through. “That’s why you don’t eat mexican food!”
Life brings unimaginable pain when you are an isolated undercover n*gger trapped in a cage with psychotic white people who may come and go as they please.
As a child, any time a white kid used a racial slur against me, I dealt with it alone. I did not come home to a family of people who looked like me or who would be remotely interested in my experience. I did not have non white friends with whom I could swap stories and process the trauma as it happened. And I did not have anyone to give me advise. Instead, I cowered in a world full of white people snapping at me to open my eyes wider if I didn’t want the negative attention that ‘squinting’ brought, and I was rejected by People of More Noticeable Color – to whom I was the enemy.
Today as I slowly come to terms with the institutionalized ableism that has robbed me of my freedoms, my dignity, and my voice – I am once again alone. Tears try to wash the rage out of my blood as I read about other’s experiences and I realize that the discrimination I suffer every day is not an accident – it is an established pattern.
I think that my childhood of dealing with violent acts of racism in isolation were probably not typical. Had I not been raised in a white family, I would have been much more likely to find support and empathy from peers and relatives with similar pain.
But ableism thrives in isolation.
It is not typical for disabled children to grow up surrounded by generations of people who have had similar struggles. We don’t have the safety of being in another person’s presence and knowing that we are understood without having to speak. Our parents live in denial of us and grieve as though we are already dead. The only opinions we get to hear are those of the able bodied – and they are not an accurate reflection of the reality in which we live. As we try to develop our sense of identity, we see the warped fun house mirror of ableism staring back at us.
What is ableism? Terror, invalidation, exclusion. Predatory loans, predatory partners. Physical sexual and emotional abuse. It is poverty. It is murder. It is do or die. It is watching ableds treat each other with a certain level of respect and care that they just can’t bring themselves to grant to you for no other reason than because your body fails to operate exactly as expected. To be a victim of ableism is to be habitually preyed upon in countless ways by people who pretend not to know any better. And when there is no outright hostility or threats happening, ableism is people treating you nicely enough – while secretly relishing the damaging power imbalance that is fueled by ableism even more than it is fueled by the disability itself.
‘Nice enough’ people can turn on you without warning. There is no certainty. There is no safety.
I don’t require any special accommodations other than being able to sit or lie down for brief periods out in public. But abled body people can’t be trusted not to call the police, and the police and paramedics can’t be consistently trusted to uphold established laws for protected classes. Although disabled people are frequently described as ’emotional’ – it is actually ableds who CANT be trusted not to fall into unreasonable hysterics. Able bodied white people patrol our society constantly to make sure that everything is in exactly the place THEY think it should be, behaving exactly as THEY imagine it should.
And may God have mercy on your crippled ass if you get caught acting out of pocket.