There’s got to be more to it than that.

Standard

This usually happens when I tell a story about an instance of discrimination. It could be a story about me, about one of my friends, about anyone.

Someone always responds, “There’s got to be more to it than that.”

To give an example, I occasionally casually mention my propensity to attract police officers when walking out the door.

Insert skeptical tone: There’s got to be more to it than that.

The person then grills me for details. If the person finds out what I look like, for instance, they might say “Oh, okay then.” Sometimes they even go further and say that the problem is not that I walk out the door, it’s that I look like I do, and that I should not even want to be able to walk around outside like anyone else without getting picked up by the cops. Because they’re just doing their job, and part of their job, apparently, is to rid the streets of people who look like me.

“There’s got to be more to it than that” translates immediately by now into “I don’t want to see injustice, please explain it away for me so that I can tuck such distressing information into a corner of my head and forget about it and go back to being oblivious.”

“There’s got to be more to it than that” means “Find some way, please, any way at all, to blame the recipients of such injustice, rather than the perpetrators.”

It means “Please, please, please reinforce my prejudices. Please reinforce the fact that I think the world is more or less okay as it is.”

It means “Admit it, you are the one who did something wrong, you’re just pretending it’s about something different to avoid responsibility.”

And much more, but very little of it anything good. It means avoidance of reality, but disguised. It means that when I tell these stories, the people I listen to just flat-out won’t believe me.

Former psychiatric patients who want to believe the psych system is more or less basically good, use it when they want to claim that if I was mistreated, it was only to help me, and only because I was a “danger to self or others” (I hate that phrase).

Non-disabled people use it when they don’t want to confront ableism.

Autistic people use it when they want to believe that all the horrible things that happen to other autistic people would never happen to them, because they are the good and presentable ones.

And so on.

It restores an illusion of justice, order, and tranquility to the world, and puts everything neatly back in its place. I have never seen a conversation go well in which “There’s got to be more to it than that” was uttered.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

24 responses »

  1. I use the phrase all the time and those translations certainly don’t apply. I generally complain when hearing what sounds like a one-sided story. I’ve read your stories and take them at face value. There are other people that use key words that tip me off, I know they are omitting large parts of the story. “My husband of 10 years left me because I was diagnosed with cancer”.
    “There’s got to be more to it than that.”

    Maybe it’s experience, I have known people harassed by the cops merely because of their race, tatoos, face jewelry, etc. There is no more to the story than that. But other life events don’t always happen in a vacuum.

  2. It’s very common for friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and spouses to abandon someone who becomes disabled in any of a number of different dramatic ways:

    It happens to everybody that I know that’s disabled. Happens with friends and family, happens with these do-gooder social systems. For a long time I figured I was the only one; then I was talking with Sandy Ford, a nurse who does research with the Hyperbaric Chamber at Hennepin County Medical Center.

    “It happens EVERY time. EVERY time, ” says Sandy Ford. “Like we’ve got a guy injured, I don’t know, this week. And he’s 32 and he has this cute little fiancée that’s there holding his hand. That’s there crying. Weeping, weeping. All this stuff. And. Unless he has an extremely good recovery she is NOT going to hang in there …”

    (And friends leave.)

    … My friend Stevie, the writer, said having your friends leave happens to everybody. I want to say pure and simple: not all at once or the same way as it happens to people who have been hurt or handicapped, it don’t …

    That’s from Disconfirmation by Billy Golfus.

    I’ve known several people whose friends and in some cases relatives simultaneously and suddenly vanished as soon as they got cancer.

    Of course the way most people see what they’re saying, when they say “There’s got to be more to it than that,” is that the story they’re getting is one-sided. But the stories they (and, apparently, you) assume to be one-sided, are revealing in and of themselves.

    I’ve never heard of a life event that happened in a vacuum, but I do find it very curious (and disturbing) exactly when and where people choose to assume that prejudice of a certain kind doesn’t play the most primary role, and that there’s “more to it” (i.e. the person is lying by omission).

  3. It’s scary how hard it is NOT to blame the victim, I know it is for me…

    Of course, sometimes the victim does stuff to set him or herself up for the problem, but not nearly as often as we want it to be so.

    I think, “there’s got to be more to it than that,” is the brain searching desperately for the way to blame the victim, and as you alluded to, set the world right again (in the brain of the person blaming the victim).

  4. Well, I picked a story from my family. I’m sure there are counterexamples to my examples. I guess I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. However, the lady in question was a troubled person with a troubled family life and she eloped at a very young age. She became sick and eventually “overcame” her cancer. She went on record to say that her husband left her because of the cancer. Though, we all knew she was a difficult person to be around anyways (and her family hadn’t approved of her marriage to begin with). We had a lot of cancer in my family and she was the only person I knew whose marriage broke up.
    But that’s how I see things, if marriage is held together on good looks and charm for a short while, then just about anything can break them apart.
    A different example is a latina girl I went to school with. She showed up late one day and was angry. She had received a speeding ticket. She went on and on about what a jerk the cop was and how rude he was to her. According to her, he was deliberately writing his report slow and acting angry. She made it sound like he was being just racist. I asked just how fast she was driving? 75+mph in a 45, (with traffic lights) So, there was more to her story.
    Then again, I had a black friend who received worse treatment while getting a non-violation fix-it ticket.

    I’m just pointing out that some people use the prejudice card in a manipulative way and I will say, “there’s got to be more to it. . .”.

  5. There have been some times on That Group We Moderate where people basically refused to believe that, yes, you can be involuntarily committed even if you’re not “a danger to yourself or others,” or that what constitutes a danger to yourself or others is usually a matter of someone *else* deciding that you’re dangerous. That whole “but the system can’t be corrupt!” mentality almost makes you think of kids finding out about Santa Claus, the way some people react to it. “But the drugs HAVE to be safe! They wouldn’t let people take them if they weren’t.” “But the research has to be right! It was done by scientists, with degrees!” (Or, if all else fails, the old standby, “THAT’S NOT WHAT MY THERAPIST TOLD ME!”)

    There was a really weird conversation that we had there once that can be summed up as follows:

    Person 1: But you shouldn’t have to worry about being involuntarily committed, after all, they only do it if you’re really a danger to yourself or others.

    Us: No, actually, that’s not true, people can *say* that you’re a danger to self and others regardless of whether you are or not, and if you’re under 18 you have no rights.

    Person 1: That’s wrong. There are laws to prevent that kind of thing.

    Us: Actually, there aren’t, take a look at what it said in this court decision, and this and this– a lot of states have it so that someone under 18 can be admitted to an institutional facility just because their parent or guardian wants it.

    Person 1: Yes, that’s correct, that’s what I was saying, that the laws differ from state to state.

    Us: …uh, no it wasn’t.

  6. Look at the phrase though, KimJ. There’s GOT TO be more to it than that. It isn’t “There COULD be more to it…” or “What else happened?” It’s insistent.

    “You MUST have provoked it somehow. You MUST somehow DESERVE to be treated like this. It MUST be RIGHT to do this to someone like you.”

    There are people who engage in all kinds of manipulations, using all kinds of claims. There’s nothing inherent in claims of discrimination that means they can’t be distortions or lies. There’s also no reason that they’ve GOT TO be. And thinking they do is a kind of prejudice by itself.

    I can tell you right now, being someone people discriminate against by sight, and holding the assumption “There’s got to be more to it than that,” is a good way to wreck your self-esteem. I used to assume that the reason employers were eager to take me from my resume, or over the phone and never wanted me when I showed up in person was that I MUST be doing something wrong in the interviews. No one I knew could spot it, not even people who worked in human resources. I came up with this whole theory that I was fundamentally unlikeable, and the only people who’d ever hire me would be the ones I tricked into taking me on before they met me.

    Eventually I figured out it was the crutches. I hadn’t been mentioning them in applications or phone interviews, because I didn’t need any accomodations for the jobs I applied for. So the moment I walked into the office, I became the person they didn’t want to deal with.

    And the reaction I’ve gotten from everybody I’ve told this to, is “There’s got to be more to it than that.” Since they can’t spot anything else to blame it on, it’s always either 1) the economy is bad and I’m just exceptionally unlucky, or 2) I must be doing something weird in the interview that I don’t do in normal life.

  7. Some years ago I was really good friends (I thought) with a (physically disabled but very NT) Southern guy, and I used to vent a lot to him about my family. Being not only an aspie from an aspie family, but a Northerner (ie: twice raised in cultures where euphemism is not a big priority and is certainly not raised to an art form), I was not as adept at softening the facts as perhaps I would have needed to be, to communicate accurately with this guy.

    Well, I became interested in him romantically and found out after a while that he and his family thought I was dangerous and very terribly strange (so that would be a NO on the relationship, then).

    Most of the cultural stuff I realized only after a long time, and what I realized was this: if he told things about his family, like specifically complaints, he would only tell the tip of the iceberg, because that’s the way he was brought up to communicate. Whereas me, I told the WHOLE iceberg, because that’s the way I was brought up to communicate. So he thought my whole iceberg (which was some pretty dysfunctional family stuff, I’ll admit, but nothing really earth-shattering) was just the tip. I figured out that this was why he was assuming that there was so much more to the story than what I had told him, and for mainly that reason he thought I was dangerously strange.

    PS: there is a little more to this story than that (~_*)
    …but I don’t want to complicate with more info. What I mean to illustrate was another way that a person’s assumptions can make them think there is something going on that is not going on.

  8. First off, I want to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. There are very few blogs that I compulsively check for new posts and yours is at the top of that list.

    I completely agree with your assessment of the “there’s got to be more to it” statement. It seems to me that once someone has said it they will inevitably find something “more to it” whether it really exists or not. Sadly enough, when they do find whatever that nugget is that makes it all make sense to them, it’s often either something that the person being questioned has no control over or may not even be aware of OR something that doesn’t really exist and is a complete misinterpretation of the situation.

    What really bothers me most about the question is that it feels like it carries a subtle accusation with it. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was directly stated, “Are you sure you didn’t do anything to make the cops come over and talk to you?”, but by making it so generic, making it so that it’s almost not a question anymore… well, that only makes it more hurtful.

  9. “There’s got to be more to it than that” doesn’t necessarily mean the questioner wants to blame anyone. They do, however, want to fit the world into manageable, predictable schema.

    As in, cops don’t randomly pick certain individuals to take off the street. It’s not a sort of roll-the-dice esp, where anyone can be chosen and all of a sudden all cops everywhere know that person is on a sort of cosmic blacklist and must be removed from the street.

    No, it’s predictable. You can figure out who’s going to be targeted by looking at them. Perhaps cops target people who have more than a certain number of “strange” points. And maybe being fat AND a dyke AND in a wheelchair AND not making eye contact gives you four “strange” points which is over some sort of psychogical limit and tweaks cops’ interest.

    That’s not to blame the person who has accumulated all these points, or to agree that anyone who has four ‘”strange” points should be off the street, but simply to develop a generalisable scenario that makes the world intelligible.

    Someone who doesn’t have to deal with a high “strange” index is content to solve the mystery – the world is intelligible therefore we can deal with it. But the person who does have to deal with it is not satisfied: the world might be intelligible, but cops keep trying to pick them up every time they go out to walk the dog, and this is not a way to live. And no, being intelligible does not make it manageable.

  10. Well, we can erase “fat” because it happened before I was fat, and “dyke” because it happened before I looked anything like that stereotype, and “wheelchair” because it happened before I used a wheelchair. “Autistic” seems sufficient.

    However, what people seem to do, is dig and dig and dig for exactly what I was doing that looked unusual, and then kind of become very satisfied with themselves and “Oh wow that makes sense then” and then tell me that it was somehow my doing, or at least that I shouldn’t go outside.

  11. I do think the “strangeness index” is a useful idea. I mean, to explain how we (some more often than others) get treated. It should maybe not exist in the minds of people who use it, but it’s useful to put a name to that behavior.

    The other problem is, without some kind of “strangeness index”, even though it should be a different one, how would police know whom to pick up and how would regular people know whom to avoid in the street (who might be dangerous, who might be “up to something”, etc.), before they do anything that proves them dangerous, or even in need of help?

    We are taught that the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply to personal safety out in the streets, ie: you don’t assume that someone is OK just because they are not doing anything bad right now. If they “look like trouble”, you get away from them, regardless of how this might not be fair to them if they are an innocent person who just happens to “look creepy”.
    (I write this picturing certain men that I have walked by very fast and very nervously, but now I am trying to imagine: if I were them, what would I feel at that moment? What injustices would I be experiencing daily, for that matter? …Assuming that they were just strange-looking guys just minding their own business…)

    I don’t know the answers to the question I am posing above, not having the best level of perspicacity in these things.

    Sorry, Amanda, I gone offtopic again. If it’s too far off to be useful, you can just delete this comment…

  12. Yeah, it’s the equation of Explaining with Explaining Away. If we can understand what’s happening then we don’t have to worry any more.

    Being satified with believing we’ve understood what’s happening does not fix a problem or make it go away: fallacy on the part of the people satisfied with getting their explanation. That doesn’t mean the process of breaking down the problem is useless, though.

    Example: Dennis Debbaudt’s workshops educating police officers about autism, making them more aware of “strange points” that they may be assigning or apparent “noncompliant” behaviours that can attract their attention to autistic people in negative ways, and educating them (police officers) on how to behave better. http://www.autismriskmanagement.com/

    Dennis examines interactions between police officers and autistics to see where they go wrong and why. He has specific advice for both police officers and autistics to improve the chances of good outcomes.

    Now these workshops use the information gained from a detailed examination of what exactly is so upsetting to police officers to try to offer practical advice. But, for instance, one of the pieces of advice for autistics is to tell the officer that you are autistic and to carry a police-officer-specific information card.

    Okay, that might help prevent you getting assaulted or arrested… but even in the best of scenarios you would still have to present this card every time you left your apartment in order to make the cops go away and leave you alone. This is both humiliating and inconvenient. All the explanations and well-intentioned deductions won’t change the fact that this sucks. It just does.

  13. Stephen Kuuisisto touches on the perceived deviance of being a disabled pedestrian in his “Blind Pew” bit. No doubt, appearance alone is the determining factor in this scenario — and I think this may help to reinforce: When folks ask, “Well, what were you *doing* when you got stopped by the cop?”, it probably applies to the possibility of a cop presuming you were up to no good, i.e. something suspicious and potentially dangerous (and the person asking presuming that it’s understandable). I think a cop’s motivation for stopping you is probably more along the lines of “Are you lost, little girl?” type paternalistic presumption that, looking the way you do, you must be in somebody’s charge, ’cause people who look like *that* can’t go out unless there’s somebody around to supervise. Let’s say you were simply strolling. Let’s say you didn’t even have a particular destination. There’s no crime in strolling with no particular destination. But if the person strolling is perceived as inherently incompetent, strolling is quickly pathologized into “wandering”. So in that case, it wouldn’t matter a lick what you were doing — strolling, sitting, standing, gazing, dog-walking, bashing somebody’s head in — since you were perceived, by looks alone, as not being able to do it suitably without supervision.

  14. even in the best of scenarios you would still have to present this card every time you left your apartment in order to make the cops go away and leave you alone. This is both humiliating and inconvenient. All the explanations and well-intentioned deductions won’t change the fact that this sucks. It just does.

    yeah especially if you were one of those (probably fairly many) with both high strangeness factor and high executive dysfunction.

  15. Evonne, you have given me the amusing/disturbing mental image of someone receiving supervision in order to ‘suitably’ bash someone’e head in.

  16. We had a conversation some years ago with a friend, in which they brought up that whenever someone is considered in some way ‘abnormal’ and ‘nonstandard,’ and appears to be happy with themselves and even to like their life, attempts will be made to dissect them to “find the flaw”– the reason why they aren’t “really” happy with themselves and why their life is “really” not going that well after all. Many people seem to absolutely insist on the idea that there just has to be one and that the person really, even if they aren’t aware of it, would be better off living as close to “normal” as they can.

    …and, oddly, the other place we’ve encountered this, is in talking about how doctors and drugs didn’t really help us with solving any of the problems we’ve had on a long-term basis. There seem to be those who insist that if your experience of a certain ‘disorder’ doesn’t fit the stereotype of that ‘disorder’ and how it’s treated, if your experience with various ‘treatments’ and drugs was less than helpful, then there must be some sort of ‘additional factors’ that you’re not revealing, things that would give our experience a place in the mental model of the essentially benevolent system they were trying to hold on to. Like that “you must really have been a danger to yourself or others and just didn’t know it” business you mentioned. Or “you must have been misdiagnosed; if you’d really had XYZ disorder then all those things would have helped, they only didn’t help because they were trying to treat the wrong thing.” Or “You must never have been that badly off and therefore you just can’t understand the situation of those for whom these things are absolutely life-saving.” Anything that lets them shove you out to maintain an All’s Right With The System, or At Least Right Enough That It Doesn’t Need Changing pov, apparently.

    Or, of course, they can always write you off as someone who did and still does desperately need all these treatments and drugs and any insistence to the contrary is just more proof of your illness. “Trust me, you can’t see it now because your disorder makes you think you’re all right, but you’ll be so much better off.”

    For the record, if I ask someone a question like “what were you doing when the cop came over to you,” it tends to be more along the lines of “well, what stupid reason did they come up with to harass people this time.” I’m not… very good at subtext-izing my words, however.

  17. This happens to me because I am “visibly gay.” I generally don’t relate incidents of discrimination, because when I do, I am depressed by the fact that straight people frequently do one of two things:

    1. react in the way described in your entry, or
    2. acknowledge that I was treated a certain way because of my gayness, and don’t see a problem with this at all.

    I find that using the word “homophobia” backfires, as it causes people to dismiss me completely.

  18. Yeah. Exactly. That kind of thing.

    I think I would be “visibly gay” if it weren’t for the fact that, since I’m “visibly autistic”, people assume I’m asexual. (And as a result of some mind-twist around that, tend to assume I’m male, at least since I cut my hair short, despite the fact that you don’t have to look too hard to find evidence of femaleness.)

    The main reason, unfortunately, that I haven’t been able to connect to the GLBT community, has been because… I get the same kind of eye-rolling around “ableism”, from GLBT folks, that a lot of gay people get around “homophobia”, from straight folks. As well as a long string of disturbing comments.

    One day I should post the song I wrote about my “coming out story”. It’s all about going to a community center where just in casual conversation people managed to be about as offensive and at times downright frightening around disability, as they possibly could, seemingly out of nowhere.

    This includes the guy who told me he used to work in institutions with people like me, and stand over some of their beds asking in an anguished voice “Why are you alive?” — and wanted my sympathy for this.

    And the guy who saw what I was reading about the murder of a disabled person (in Mouth Magazine or something like that) and commented that it was “very hard” to “take care of” disabled people and that I should not be bothered that people were killing us right and left and getting away with it.

    And the woman who asked where I’d been, I honestly mentioned institutions, she freaked out thinking it was because I was a lesbian, and when she found out I was autistic it was “Oh, that’s okay then.”

    The one good thing there was I did meet an autistic transguy who I still keep in touch with.

  19. The ableism stuff can be found in a lot of other communities, in addition to GLBT — for instance, I found a post on a feminist blog randomly earlier this week. And despite the fact that feminism is supposed to be about proclaiming equality for females, apparently, the blogger here is “celebrating” the fact that men might now be “blamed” for something (in this case, the existence of autistic children).

    I get the whole thing about how women have been accused of “causing” disabilities and differences in their children throughout history, and I realize that was the point the post was trying to make. But along with that, it ended up making a statement that autism is something that needs blame placed somewhere, and at the same time, that contributing your genetic material to the creation of a child is a blameworthy act, somehow.

    (And predictably, the commenters start arguing about vaccinations.)

  20. I liken certain characteristics (whiteness, wealth, etc.) to playing cards. If a person has been dealt one of these “privilege cards” in life, he’s going to play it for all it’s worth. This is why people have problems admitting that they benefit from a certain privileged characteristic, and this benefit comes at someone else’s expense.

  21. I like the idea of “privilege cards” a lot. Especially because I often hear people muttering about “playing the [blank] card” where [blank] is any number of very non-privileged characteristics (“playing the disability card”, “playing the race card”, etc), yet almost never hear about people “playing the privilege card,” which in fact happens way more often and usually with way more destructive results.

  22. Amanda says: “yet [you] almost never hear about people “playing the privilege card,” which in fact happens way more often and usually with way more destructive results”

    … Probably because privilege cards are usually invisble to their owners. Most people who use privilege cards aren’t even conscious of HAVING “privilege cards” and hence assume they can’t possibly be using them because how can you use something you (supposedly) don’t have?

  23. I realize this is an old entry, but I’ve experienced this so many times I had to comment.

    I’m (as far as I can tell) neurotypical, but I’m also a trans woman. I’ve had a period where I couldn’t take hormones for mostly economic reasons, where my appearance was too masculine. My job hunting during that time was almost identical to J’s above – I’d get interest in my resume or applications until I had to go in for an interview…and then, no job. Ever.

    I told straight friends about it, and their response was “there’s got to be more to it than that.” Like what? I was too qualified? I don’t know – I also felt like J did, that I could only get a job by getting hired before they saw me.

    Observer’s post made me think of this – I recently had a frustrating exchange with a friend of mine – I’d pointed out an excruciatingly offensive stereotyped character from a roleplaying game that actually hits gay men and trans women to her (she worked on the book, but didn’t write that character), and she tried to convince me I had no business being offended, that the writer didn’t intend offense (because that’s an acceptable reason to be offensive) and so on. She tried to convince me that my reactions were wrong and refused to admit that “results matter.” It was really weird coming from her, since she’s encountered harmful stereotypes of both the poly and BDSM communities (and is involved with both).

    There’s just a certain degree of obliviousness and denial from privilege. If you have that privilege, you can deny and erase bigotry because you have no responsibility to understand it. After all, your survival isn’t on the line.

    “Playing the [blank] card” comments are directly playing the privilege card, too. People say that to shut other people up. It’s a way to say “You’re just trying to get sympathy/pity because you’re not white/straight/male/cisgendered/able-bodied.”

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