How early do we internalize ableism?

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This is my post for Blogging Against Disablism Day. I hope to have more, but I’m exhausted from sitting up all the time (which seems to be the only way to keep out of the emergency room, but is hell on non-lung parts of my body), and although I have three or four topics I want to talk about, I don’t know if I’ll finish them all today.

When I was in grade school, there was a girl my age who talked in a loud, nasal voice with highly unusual intonation. She chewed on things that were definitely not food. She could get so absorbed in a book that the only way to get her attention was to move the book or put things on top of it. She did not get along with much of anyone socially. She had loud meltdowns and cried a lot when things went wrong, but she wasn’t spoiled or anything, she was clearly overloaded. Her name and mine were often said together by the other children (along with maybe two other names) as if we had something in common.

I don’t know if she was autistic or not, although it’s certainly my first thought. She definitely wasn’t a typical kid of our age. I vaguely remember her mother having told my mother something about “Jessica’s problems” and her theories about why they existed. (Her name wasn’t really Jessica, Jessica is just a common name for my generation and culture.)

You would think, given all that Jessica and I had in common, we would have liked each other. In reality, she might have liked me. I did not like her.

I did not like her because every time I saw the lack of modulation in her voice, I heard my own unmodulated monotone flung back in my face.

I did not like her because I could see that she got overloaded the same way I did, and I saw overload as a horrible flaw on my part, and did not want to see how it looked on anyone else.

I did not like her because I could read her body language, and her emotions seemed the same kind of raw that mine always were.

I did not like her because she lacked the emotional self-control that I also lacked and hated myself for lacking.

I did not like her because every time I saw her, it was like looking in a mirror. I hated to know what I looked like. Bullies and teachers had made it very clear to me which of my traits were desirable and which were not. Every time I saw myself I saw all those undesirable traits to my disgust and shame. And that is what happened when I saw Jessica. It wasn’t as much that I didn’t like her. I never got to know her very well. It’s that her presence made me profoundly uncomfortable with myself and reflected back and amplified every bit of self-hatred I experienced on a daily basis. I experienced her presence as pain.

Dave Hingsburger has told stories of a woman with, if I remember correctly, Williams syndrome, which tends to come with a certain shape of face. If she saw another person with Williams syndrome, or saw her face in a reflective surface, she would try to pummel her own face into unrecognizability.

I understand why she did this. I shouldn’t understand it — nobody should — but I do. I know what it is like to learn young that you are disgusting, defective, freakish, and shameful. I know what it is like to experience the presence of a person who shares your “defective” traits, not as someone who understands you, but as someone who brings all your self-hatred to the forefront.

What I want to know is why we live in a society that teaches so many disabled kids this lesson so young. I’m not the only person I’ve heard of who had similar experiences as a child, by far. As a child, I should have perceived this girl and others I met like her as people I could understand more easily and maybe even, if we got along well in other ways, make friends with. As it was, I don’t think I was particularly unfriendly to her, but I don’t think I was friendly either. (I only knew her for a year.) And I certainly was terrified of her and every sight of her made me ashamed and disgusted with myself.

Ableism (even on the individual rather than systemic level) doesn’t just affect how non-disabled people treat disabled people. It affects how disabled people think about ourselves, and about other disabled people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are hierarchies in the disability community (more like communities, since there are more than one). People who are seen as better and worse. Terror of being associated with the wrong kinds of disabled people.

I have been in all parts of those hierarchies in different communities. I have been considered the most severely disabled (and hence for some reason undesirable) person in certain institutions. I have been put into the “top” academic class in special education (where they taught things I already knew how to do) and had people bewildered that my best friend was someone from the “bottom” one (where they were taught things I still don’t know how to do). I have been only able to sit in one spot and drool, and I have been told by professionals that I “could do better” than day programs that had people who drooled in them. I have been seen in various places as the weirdest, the most normal, and everything in between, and I’ve had different status assigned to me for each of those things depending on whether weirdness or normalcy is more valued. I’ve played along with these hierarchies, and resisted them, at different points in my life, and in different ways.

And I’m convinced a lot of the hierarchies come from this same internalization of all the ableist values we’re force-fed day in and day out.

I have also grown up being told that who I am is so deeply wrong that by a very young age I had already acquired a revulsion towards anyone who was “deeply wrong” in the same ways. This happened through day-in day-out bullying at school but was encouraged by teachers as well. People were always pointing various things out to me as major flaws and that’s how I came to see them, as disconnected from anything good about myself, but uncontrollable. I remember my horror when my ability to hide some of those “flaws” (a little, and for a short time) began to deteriorate and I saw that I was unable to avoid the category of people I clearly belonged in, and had no effective tools to deal with this realization because I couldn’t even communicate about it. And I remember the level of revulsion I felt when I saw Jessica, a perfectly nice girl my own age who had similar interests to me and was very comprehensible to me. Even her comprehensibility repelled me because I could see so much of what was going on underneath the surface — something I could not see in other people — and so much of it mirrored my worst fears about myself.

I want to know how this sets in so early.

I want to know how it can be stopped.

I still find something disgusting: Not my existence, not Jessica’s existence, but the structures of a society that allows and encourages this to happen to the minds of children, that some of us end up finding ourselves and those most like us disgusting and repellent.

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 have always been told (explicitly and otherwise) by my parents that I am a wonderful person. They love many of my autistics traits and have said so repeatedly (including before we knew about autism). That, combined with my mother being a feminist and anti-racism activist and my dad supporting her, probably greatly reduced the self-hate I have, but even so, I often get mad at my brother for traits that I had (and some of them I still have) at his age. I don’t seem to do this with anyone unrelated to me, even if they have the same traits.

  2. For me, the ableism was there in pre-school, when I was in special education. Despite me being female, my only friends were two boys who, like me, only had physical disabilities. There was a distinct feeling that I wasn’t supposed to socialize with people who didn’t have normal IQs, neurological type, and ability to speak. They were “the weird ones” and I was almost normal. I don’t know where I picked it up. It wasn’t anything I remember the teachers doing. But there was a feel of the “nearly normal” kids who could be normal in every way except walking, and the other ones.

    Then in first grade I got transferred to a normal (non-special education) school, and was the only one with anything that people there would recognize as a disability. I don’t remember going to school with other students with disabilities until high school, and I don’t think I was ever in a class with one. But in high school, I’d get this bizarre paranoid fear that people would spot me walking past the blind boy (who got a special feature in the school paper explaining him to the rest of the students) or the quadraplegic girl who I’d see in the library writing out assignments with her teeth, or the kids in the special education classroom who were strapped into wheelchairs, and spot that I was one of THEM. And this would be what made me not the bright kid, or the tempermental kid who was always in trouble, or that girl with all the drums, but that poor crippled girl who’s ever so bright! Bit of a temper, poor thing, but can you blame her? It must be so hard for her. And she plays drums, isn’t she brave?

    And being trapped in someone’s condescending vision of me, where everything was about my tragic, tragic disability, and anything I did wasn’t impressive, but impressive for someone like me, and any problems I had were understandable considering how hard it must be to live like that, is what horrified me about being seen or percieved as disabled. Not being able to be anything good or bad without it being restricted by that head-patting, sickeningly special mental qualifier “for someone like HER.” Fortunately, I grew out of thinking that this was something I could catch off other people with disabilities.

    • You had a rough time. Always remember that no matter what other’s say, believe in yourself. You are the best. Read the book “Helen Killer” it is a very good book. It will give you the courage to face the world and show the world that you are the best. With best regards, Ashika

  3. There definitely needs to be a change in a lot of society’s attitudes. Disabled people should not be made to feel wrong, or inferior, or reviled, or pitied.

  4. I have a story I think is funny. There was another handicapped child in the same kindergarten class with mine (almost 30 years ago). We always talked comfortably about my daughter’s problems and she must have heard me use the word “handicapped,” about her. The only word that made me kind of nuts was “crippled” I did not like that word. One day during kindergarten my daughter was describing the girl with cerebral palsy and referred to that girl as “the candyhap girl.” Today my daughter seems to be very comfortable around all kinds of people, including physically disabled, mentally disabled and blind (one of her best friends is blind). Her personality seems to be set on “everyone is lovable.”

  5. I have a bit of a different story. My son’s little girl goes to a school (in Alberta) where children with any and all handicaps are integrated into the same classrooms as those with no (apparent!) handicaps. She came home from school really excited one day and told her Mom that she had made a new, really special best friend. Her mom knew a new student had just started – a little girl in a wheelchair (I think she may have had cerebral palsy). My daughter-in-law asked “Is she special because she is in a wheelchair?” My granddaughter gave her the “look” and said “No – because she’s from Newfoundland”. This was from a Grade 1 child; because her school accepts and treats all kids like – kids – she didn’t even “see” the wheelchair.

    Most of my life I have had kind of a jaded approach to the importance of what schools can teach, possibly because my experiences at school weren’t all happy ones. Kids can be very cruel and not just to other kids with disabilities and yes, some of those teachers are meaner than the kids. I remember one teacher in particular, and this was at a Catholic school, who was horrible to the native kids, horrible to my best friend who was from a family of 12 kids. Every once in awhile though, there is a little ray of light.

  6. Well, this reminds me of my grade school experiences from nearly 25 years ago, where the special-ed students were practically considered to be “untouchables” that didn’t mix with the other “normal” students. The special-ed classroom was sort of off in its own isolated hallway away from the general elementary rooms, with very little interaction between “us” and “them”.

    There’s actually a webpage that talks about my old school, and recent efforts to eliminate what was practically institutionalized discrimination against special-ed students when I was a kid there:

    http://www.wholeschooling.net/WS/WSPress/ForBetterorWorse.html

    … The beginning of inclusive education at Gilman Elementary emerged approximately four years ago (1994), when the elementary principal, began a principal’s math challenge class. The elementary principal and a group of talented math students needed a space in the building for their class. Due to an extreme lack of physical space, the only space potentially available for the math challenge class was the special education resource room.

    As the children entered the room on the first day, they were reticent, didn’t want to sit in the desks, and would not touch anything in the classroom. The school principal was shocked by their actions and attitudes, and the many parent phone calls of concerns regarding the fact that these students were learning in a “special education classroom.” The principal immediately felt the need to take action. He said, “If this is how general education students felt about a “special education classroom”, how did they feel about their classmates with “exceptional educational needs?” Thus, the principal and a few teachers began developing a school vision, philosophy, and school-wide plan in which all students could have their unique needs met within the general education classroom.

    At Gilman Elementary, inclusion is “the practice of delivering instruction to all students in a manner that meets their individual needs and gives them the opportunity to develop to their full potential, academically and socially, by utilizing the team teaching of general and special teachers, using diverse teaching strategies for diverse learning styles, individualizing instruction, and using flexible grouping” (A. Arnold, 1995).

    As a result of their school-wide vision and philosophy, Gilman Elementary re-aligned the teaching staff and created a school-wide block schedule as two specific strategies for achieving sustaining success with their inclusive education goals. These two strategies (i.e., re-alignment of staff and block scheduling) had a tremendous impact on student learning without requiring any additional fiscal or personnel resources. More importantly, changes in the school-wide schedule and re-alignment of teaching staff were made in order to better meet the needs of struggling students and to provide greater acceptance of all students in a small, rural inclusive school environment….

    -Javik

  7. When I was a pupil at a private school near London from age 9 to 14 there was a boy there with me for some of the time also called Philip. Like me he was different in some way to the other boys, also socially awkward and bullied. Maybe nowadays he would be called geeky, though the term was unknown then. I felt an affinity to him, but also an aversion to him, not wanting to associate with him. I didn’t make friends with him because I didn’t know how to.

    I have the idea that kookiness/weirdness would have been admired and popular in schools in California, but maybe only the right kind.

    Physically disabled children are accepted by school children more than those who are learning disabled or who are cognitively disabled/different such as autistic or ADHD children. But the antipathy and self-hatred which Jessica aroused in you Amanda, are the same feelings which two children of a stigmatised group in any school would have experienced; such as Black or Jewish children in a racist or anti-semitic school, effeminate or ‘sissy’ boys in practically every school.

    No doubt that grade school where you and Jessica were pupils prided itself on its open, inclusive, welcome and accepting attitude to all its pupils, and on its valuing difference. Maybe it even had an anti-bullying policy. In my pessimistic moments I fear that ableist values are so deeply rooted in human nature that they are unavoidable, and that only as children become adults will they be rejected. Maybe having disabled children as role models in school stories would help to eradicate ableism.

  8. It was considered open and inclusive in some respects but not others. I remember there were admission tests, and I did not do well on them, and they had to get some explanation that would convince them I was ‘smart’ enough to go there. It was a private school I was sent to because somehow it was believed that my social problems would lessen if I were not in public school (they didn’t). (Public school in the USA meaning, government-funded rather than paid for privately.)

    In addition to being two autistic people there, Jessica and I were two of a smallish number of kids in our grade who were middle-class. (There was nobody working-class or poor at that school to my knowledge, and just being average middle-class was very weird there, most of the kids were rich children of doctors, lawyers, CEOs, inherited wealth, and so forth.) So I’m sure that also contributed. (Anyone who thinks that uniforms make it so that people can’t tell — people can tell anyway.) The school also did not have a lot of black or Hispanic students, most students were white or Asian (and this was in an area where a lot of people were Hispanic).

    So the school prided itself on some forms of diversity.

    They had people come in and talk to us about bullying and stuff, yes. But it didn’t really solve much of it. For a couple of years there was a group of girls I thought were my “friends” because they’d hang out with me, but they ended up actually using my naivete against me, and often played cruel tricks on me, or used me to do things that other people wouldn’t. When I realized this and started avoiding them, they did even more of it.

    They had amazing levels of social skills (even to this day I can’t do some of the things they did at that age) and were pretty sophisticated about it. For instance, one of their plans they never carried out but often discussed, was to somehow manipulate someone they didn’t like into doing something against the rules and then photographing it. Who that was depended on which person in the group of “friends” was in the “out-group” that particular day, since it seemed to rotate and people were always “not speaking to each other” for incomprehensible reasons.

    I couldn’t report most of what was going on to the teachers, so it just all kept happening. I got in trouble a lot because after long periods of intense provocation I’d sometimes grab someone by the arm and just hold their arm there. I got told by a kid a few grades younger than me (who inexplicably started following me around and talking at me) that everyone said I was a troublemaker but that he liked me anyway. That was the first I heard that I was a troublemaker. (Which meant that I fought back, as far as I know.)

    I have to go so can’t finish the comment, but that’s what that school was like. And I see not a lot of difference in my experience between being bullied by rich kids and being bullied by kids of all classes, if anyone’s wondering. :-P

  9. I definitely internalized ableism at some point while growing up — I’m guessing in around fourth or fifth grade. That’s about when I started noticing that I was being “categorized” into the same sort of group as the special-ed kids and those who were considered “crazy” or awkward in some respect. The more popular kids would say things like, “Hey, Anne and so-and-so are best friends!”, or “Anne and so-and-so are going to get MARRIED!” (Where so-and-so referred to some other kid who was considered to be in the same social echelon as me — that is to say, the “bottom rung”).

    I never felt much in the way of animosity toward the kids I tended to be “grouped” with, but I did feel like I had to somehow distance myself from them. And sometimes they apparently felt the same way about me — there was one kid on the bus in 7th grade who most of the other kids picked on; he didn’t seem like a bad kid, but when I got on he would sort of half-heartedly try to pick on me. It was odd.

  10. Thank you Amanda for that description of your grade school.

    In Asparagus Dreams (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2003) Jessica Peers describes her life at a residential school for autistic children in England.

    Vaguely aware that she had something called Asparagus Syndrome she was sent to this school at the age of 12 and stayed there for 5 years. When she arrived she wanted to distance herself from the autistic children, whom she called mad or crazy. She tells how she met a non-verbal autistic boy who used a book of pictures to communicate with.

    She describes being punished by being staitjacketed in a urine stained duvet while three female staff sat on her, and at another time of being locked in the window barred ‘quiet room’ or ‘time-out room’.

    She asked the female staff looked at the female students while they were having a bath. She was told that it was because one girl bit herself, another girl flapped and stimmed, and another girl – no reason given.

    In the final chapter she describes her thoughts on leaving the school: “Although at times I had detested the place, opposed to the strict rota of abilities, I would miss the place.” She would miss being challenged by the rules which the rebel in her found constant pleasure through disobeying.

    She was out in the real world which was unsanitised and had no staff to watch out for mistakes.

    “The real world had been compelling me to join it for so long, yet now it frightened me. In the real world, there would be no one to tell me whta was ‘appopriate’ and ‘inappropriate’, nobody to correct my mistakes. […] My actions belonged to me. This, I was afraid of. She would miss the friends she made with her fellow pupils.

  11. Philip:
    But the antipathy and self-hatred which Jessica aroused in you Amanda, are the same feelings which two children of a stigmatised group in any school would have experienced

    You hit that nail on the head. I have seen that in my own reactions, having grown up an (unrecognized autistic) icky hillbilly in a university town school system which is openly hostile toward the local Native people. (It is apparently OK to treat people like dirt, as long as you classify them as “white trash”–even if you are very openly considering them members of a very different ethnic group. But this is neither the time nor the place to go off on the fun of eastern U.S. Native invisibility!)

    In the past ten years or so, I have been horrified to wake up and notice just how much hatred I have internalized. In school, I considered other local, Native kids to be tacky at the least, and did not want to associate with them. It was as Amanda has suggested: I did not want to have the similarities shown up, or even to think about them myself. Ditto for other kids who were “crazy acting”. I clung to the not-so-veiled suggestions that I was some sort of “special case” in multiple ways–therefore marginally worthy–for long enough that it hurts to think about. I did not want other people dragging me down when I was barely functioning as things stood. My stomach is swooping around just thinking about it. It’s ugly, but I still don’t think I had much of a choice at the time, especially with a strong urge to please. It is awful that children are put in that position, and I suspect a scarily huge number are.

    Those categories did overlap to some extent, especially (IMO) since the culture I was raised in is not so big on insisting that children behave “normally”–or, indeed, all be the same. This is a big reason I was 31 before I realized the ASD description fit; it was only in school that anyone suggested there was something badly wrong with me. Thom Hartmann, IIRC, made a good point about what is viewed as non-NT behavior by the current mainstream (in that case, AD(H)D-type, which I show to the point that my mom was fighting my being put on meds for years) being very culturally linked, as well. I think this is so.

    It is interesting and frustrating to look at how these -isms are tied up together.

  12. I remember how the few friends I had were also outcast from about forth on. Before that at a different school I was best friends with a girl that had a lot of physical disabilites and even tried to talk her special ed teacher into to letting me go to that class because the environment was so much kinder on my senses. Although in that grade I didn’t consciously realize it I was already falling into the fringes. In fourth grade the other kids classed me with a couple of girls who had some sort of developmental disabilites. I’m not sure why exactly, I just didn’t fit in, but in that school even the kids who got into the gifted and talented program were teased, I got placed into that because of my voracious reading. I had so much trouble with the neighborhood and school kids my mom switched me to private school. That didn’t really help other than that there were fewer kids and they didn’t seem to be quite as eager to attack. I was still the bottom of the pile and my only friend was also in that catergory only a grade lower. I remember being ashamed of myself because I didn’t really like her because she was kinda strange. When I went to high school, also catholic I did make one close friend, I looked up to her cause she seemed so cool but she was also an outsider and the small group we associated with were as well, I sorta pulled a mental trick and decided weird was cool. I ended up moving again and was seperated from my friend partly due to problems she was having with drugs that got her put into some weird very restricted school and partly because when I was hospitalized my mom talked to her mom about it and her mother didn’t want me contacting her,

    I’m still not sure why I was always on the bottom rung, except that I was probably acting weird a lot due to various kinds of dissociation. The thing is I’m still ashamed about not liking people who were also different for the most part, I never thought of the self-hate variable but it makes a lot of sense I think also there was a level of being ashamed for the other person, sorta a sympathetic pain.

    I don’t know how to get rid of the “different is wrong” thing that pervades our culture. Does anyone know of any countries in the world where this is not so much of a problem? It would be nice to know if it’s a cultural thing or a basic human trait.

  13. First, to some degree, we are all afraid of the unknown. Part of that is bound to be instinctual on a primitive, survivalist plane. Wariness helps species survive.

    Second, visible, noticeable differences, when not understood, are typically demeaned. This falls into the mythology our world has apparently operated under for the thousands of years our species has existed. We all know the story… There’s a good person and a bad person. They fight. The good person “wins” in the end — because the good person is good. Our world culture is so caught up in this. When we read/watch stories, most of us want to identify with the “winner”, the “best”, the “good” person. Therefore, if someone is not as skilled, good looking, intelligent, or what-have-you, they must be “bad”. Get it? This is drilled into all of us since we were born, even though our parents’ and our culture are usually unaware of this and/or unable to recognize it.

    So, what is to be done about this? Is it too prevalent, too insidious, to change? No, It can be changed. The typical way individuals address this is through studying their religion and recognizing that ALL religions focus on loving compassion, the golden rule, loving each other, valuing ALL aspects of each other with compassion for ALL of our differences. (See the end of this posting for examples. These, and many other cross-cultural, cross-religious values, are identified on the Tanenbaum.org site.)

    I think consciously working to be better persons, ourselves, and religious or spiritual practices/activism of some sort on this issue, is the only way to change. We can at least work to BE the change we want to happen.

    I did not have disabilities then and yet I felt devalued, disliked, inferior, discriminated against, etc., as a child. We all are put in some category in one way or anoather. For one thing, it helps us understand things Hey, I continue to have some of those inferior, inadequate, feelings every now and then — sometimes daily, even though I am now in my 50’s! My point is, we are all human. We all experience rejection and degradation in one form or another in our lives. Yes, it is not right. It is not fair. Yet it will continue as long as our cultures focus on competition and “winning” over cooporation and loving one another.

    Take off as many blinders as you can. Study your religion/spirituality. Study the lives and teachings of leaders you respect and admire (ex: Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, David Hingsburger). Study philosophy such as existentialism. Look to being the change you want to see in this world. Practice love and compassion, cooporation, tolerance and non-violence. (After all, discrimination in any shape or form is a form of violence.) We cannot change the past. Let’s move beyond the injustice and the unfairness of it all. After all, “fighting” against anything is still a form of violence – and perpetuates violence – yet is is the “violence” against each of us, no matter what shape or form, that we really want to end. We cannot end violence against us, or against anyone, by being violent ourselves.

    Bahá’i: “And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.” Lawh’i ‘Ibn’i ‘Dhib, “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” 30
    Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga, 5:18
    Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.: Mahabharata 5:1517
    Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:1
    Christianity: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7.12 (All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Matthew 7:12)
    Confucianism: Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. Analects 12:2
    Confucianism: “ Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15.13
    Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” The Mahabharata, 5:1517
    Hinduism: The raft of knowledge ferries even the worst to safety.” Bhagavad Gita 4:36
    Islam: “Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Fortieth Hadith of an-Nawawi 13 (No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what which he desires for himself. Sunnah)
    Jainism: “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.” Sutrakritanga 1.11.33
    Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole of the Torah; all the rest of it is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a (What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.: Talmud, Shabbat 31:a)
    Native American:
    “Respect for all life is the foundation.” The Great Law of Peace
    Sikhism: “Treat others as thou wouldst be treated thyself.” Adi Granth
    Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien
    Zoroastrianism: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.” Dadistan-I-Dinik, 94:5

  14. First, to some degree, we are all afraid of the unknown. Part of that is bound to be instinctual on a primitive, survivalist plane. Wariness helps species survive.

    Second, visible, noticeable differences, when not understood, are typically demeaned. This falls into the mythology our world has apparently operated under for the thousands of years our species has existed. We all know the story… There’s a good person and a bad person. They fight. The good person “wins” in the end — because the good person is good. Our world culture is so caught up in this. When we read/watch stories, most of us want to identify with the “winner”, the “best”, the “good” person. Therefore, if someone is not as skilled, good looking, intelligent, or what-have-you, they must be “bad”. Get it? This is drilled into all of us since we were born, even though our parents’ and our culture are usually unaware of this and/or unable to recognize it.

    So, what is to be done about this? Is it too prevalent, too insidious, to change? No, It can be changed. The typical way individuals address this is through studying their religion and recognizing that ALL religions focus on loving compassion, the golden rule, loving each other, valuing ALL aspects of each other with compassion for ALL of our differences. (See the end of this posting for examples. These, and many other cross-cultural, cross-religious values, are identified on the Tanenbaum.org site.)

    I think consciously working to be better persons, ourselves, and religious or spiritual practices/activism of some sort on this issue, is the only way to change. We can at least work to BE the change we want to happen.

    I did not have disabilities then and yet I felt devalued, disliked, inferior, discriminated against, etc., as a child. We all are put in some category in one way or anoather. For one thing, it helps us understand things Hey, I continue to have some of those inferior, inadequate, feelings every now and then — sometimes daily, even though I am now in my 50’s! My point is, we are all human. We all experience rejection and degradation in one form or another in our lives. Yes, it is not right. It is not fair. Yet it will continue as long as our cultures focus on competition and “winning” over cooporation and loving one another.

    Take off as many blinders as you can. Study your religion/spirituality. Study the lives and teachings of leaders you respect and admire (ex: Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, David Hingsburger). Study philosophy such as existentialism. Look to being the change you want to see in this world. Practice love and compassion, cooporation, tolerance and non-violence. (After all, discrimination in any shape or form is a form of violence.) We cannot change the past. Let’s move beyond the injustice and the unfairness of it all. After all, “fighting” against anything is still a form of violence – and perpetuates violence – yet is is the “violence” against each of us, no matter what shape or form, that we really want to end. We cannot end violence against us, or against anyone, by being violent ourselves.

    Below are the examples collected by http://www.Tanenbaum.org:

    Bahá’i: “And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.” Lawh’i ‘Ibn’i ‘Dhib, “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” 30

    Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga, 5:18

    Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.: Mahabharata 5:1517

    Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:1

    Christianity: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7.12 (All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Matthew 7:12)

    Confucianism: Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. Analects 12:2

    Confucianism: “ Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15.13

    Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” The Mahabharata, 5:1517

    Hinduism: The raft of knowledge ferries even the worst to safety.” Bhagavad Gita 4:36

    Islam: “Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Fortieth Hadith of an-Nawawi 13 (No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what which he desires for himself. Sunnah)

    Jainism: “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.” Sutrakritanga 1.11.33

    Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole of the Torah; all the rest of it is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a (What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.: Talmud, Shabbat 31:a)

    Native American: “Respect for all life is the foundation.” The Great Law of Peace

    Sikhism: “Treat others as thou wouldst be treated thyself.” Adi Granth

    Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien

    Zoroastrianism: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.” Dadistan-I-Dinik, 94:5

  15. Joy: Obviously religion is very important — for you. And for a very large number of other people as well, or the various religions would not be as prevalent as they are. And obviously a great many people do find them very valuable means of learning, and thinking, about our most fundamental human values.

    But that said, I think it is important to acknowledge that religion is not the only way of examining and transmitting values. I come from an atheist family and am atheist myself, and we all upheld (and uphold) pretty much all the same underlying values you present here. We just don’t wrap the trappings of religion around it.

    If religion is what works for you, then I respect that. I’m only asking that you please show a little more respect and consideration for the fact that some people out here happen to be atheist. And I resent when people seem to assume (or imply) that we are somehow lacking in values just because we don’t believe in a literal, all knowing, all powerful God. We simply take a different path to reach the same end.

  16. Dear Andrea, I apologize to you and anyone else who feels I was pushing religion or being insensitive. My intent is the opposite. I’ve lived with disabilities in four generations of my family and worked with and advocated for people with disabilities for decades.

    I understand how the word “values” grates due to the politicization and misappropriation of the word – as does the term “family values”. It also bothers me. Reclaiming the concept of “values” from the way it, and religion, for that matter, have been declared by what I view as “commercialized religion” and “politicized” as opposed to “legislative” politics. Just as NO side can claim, “God is on our side”, no particular group can claim they are the only ones with values, or that only their definition of values is the one and only valid definition. Because one party talks louder or has more money does not mean they are either right or more virtuous. As for the term spiritual, I was not referring to religion. The first definition of spiritual is “an adjective, 1. of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things”. We need to move away from categorizing people based on looks and abilities, in other words, based on material or physical things. That is divisive, harmful, ignorant, and destructive.

    All of us are valuable, lovable, and worthy beings. We all need to know that and act accordingly for ourselves and others. There is far too much violence, aggression (yes, discrimination is aggression), resentment, and hatred in this world. To change violence, aggression, resentment, and hatred, we need to change those aspects in ourselves so we do not perpetuate or continue to practice the very things that have hurt us. Again, “We cannot end violence, including prejudice and discrimination against us or anyone else, by being violent ourselves.”

    One of the inclusive statement I wrote to specifically include atheism, agnosticism, and anything else was, “…and religious or spiritual practices/activism of some sort.” In other-words, we need to be true to ourselves and act based on what seems right to each of us. Based on our own belief system and experiences, seeking to act differently, to do no harm, with caring instead of aggression, is what I believe can and will change discrimination and even war. It is important to improve the world, whether it is by disability rights activism, religious practice, eco-activism, “spiritual” practice (e.g., meditation), or another means. In order to change our world for the better, to end violence, including the violence of discrimination, we need to act differently than people have acted before. We all do “take a different path to reach the same end.”

    Material from The Tanenbaum Center, an organization on tolerance and on understanding each other, in the hopes that our shared visions, worldwide, religious or otherwise, was simply shared to show our commonalities are greater than our differences, and to help make that more apparent to us all. It was not to promote religion, Andrea, it was to show how myriad belief systems, atheism included, tend to share common goals

    Joy

    P.S. To clarify assumptions about my beliefs, you might want to know I never have “believe[d] in a literal, all knowing, all powerful God”. HIstorical and metaphorical, yes. Literal, no. As for God’s power, check out the wonderful book (sorry, it is by a Rabbi and based on the three Abrahamic religions), “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Rabbi Kushner examines our cultural and religious assumptions of what and why things, like disabilities, happen. (“Bad” things are part of life – I’ve lived with my child’s disabilities, including autism, long enough for my child to teach me that society’s judgments are superficial, at best, as well as ignorant and fear-based, among other things. At this point in my life, I prefer my child’s, now a young adult’s, abilities and grace over a “normal” child – if there is such a thing as normal, but I digress.) Kushner’s conclusion is, if we believe in the God of Abraham, that we cannot believe God is (1) all powerful/omnipotent, (2) all knowing/omniscient, AND (3) all love. Think about it. One can believe any two of those qualities, but the third quality always contradicts one of the other two.

    Andrea, I believe that we, as a species, can do far better than the way we treat each other now. I believe it is time we, our species, grow up and take care of each other.

  17. Pingback: Autistische Selbstvertretung im Internet: Foren, Blogs, Barrierefreiheit und Respekt

  18. Hi Amanda,

    Could you please contact me via email (can you see the email address that I put in?)? I’m in the process of creating toolkits on various topics for my school that will serve as introductions to these issues for people who don’t know very much about them. I was wondering if I could use this post (How early do we internalize ableism?) for a toolkit on disability. Your article would be attributed to you.

    Thanks! If you have any questions, please feel free to let me know. I hope that you have a good weekend!

  19. I didn’t discover I was disabled until I was an adult… or rather, knew I was disabled but there was no diagnosis until I was 36. I kinda get what you are feeling but kinda don’t. All I want to do is give you a great big hug. No one should have to experience that level of self-inflicted self-loathing. Or other-loathing. It is rough to be “other.”

  20. When I was in elementary school, their was a kid whom I knew had ADHD that sat next to me into class. I was diagnosed with ADHD myself. I got upset at him because he was licking his knees (stimming) and I asked him to stop. I realize later how it had a lot to do with the shame I had for myself. Though part of it was it not being a great environment, and one ADHD kid getting distracted by another.

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