I suppose the question in this post is for anyone who’s faced discrimination for what sort of person they are, or watched others (such as their children or clients, given that I know a lot of parents and professionals read this blog) face discrimination for the same.
When did it hit you that this (an actual pattern of discrimination, etc.) is what it was? As in (any combination of the following, or anything that seems related that I’ve forgotten to add, and switch the questions around to be about another person if you’re not thinking of yourself here)…
…that it wasn’t a bunch of isolated incidents of injustice or unpleasantness?
…that it wasn’t your fault, or something to do with you alone?
…that there was actually a pattern to this?
…that it was actually real, and not imaginary or in your head?
And what thing(s) made you realize this? (Which could be sudden or gradual or combinations of both, or anything else.)
I’ll answer this as well:
For my part, it’s hard to say exactly what all the little pieces were that I started with. I knew certain things were wrong, or that they ought not to happen. And then I gradually got used to them happening, and happening to me, as something inevitable. But I’m very certain of the two things that made it stand out to me.
The first was that as I gained more precise communication, and was finally able to put huge amounts of my actual thoughts together into words on a regular basis, and really have that be a more or less stable ability, and also gained a lot more self-awareness, and a lot of other things… it still happened. People still treated me badly. I had decided at some point in the past that the only reason people treated me badly was either because I was having a hard time communicating (at best), or I was, in my efforts to figure out what exactly I ought to say, communicating things that were untrue (at worst). I thought that if I were able to say exactly what was truly inside my head, things would be better. And they weren’t. It had been something I experienced as a drastic change, but some other people didn’t, or didn’t see it as enough of a change, and some even (to my immense surprise and disturbedness) told me that they liked me better before. (As in, back when whether what I said bore any resemblance to my thoughts was random and barely if at all under my control. To hear that they liked me better like that was a massive shock.)
The second thing had to do with people I looked up to a good deal. At the time this realization was going on, the people that come to mind are Jim Sinclair, Cal Montgomery, and Laura Tisoncik. I had varying degrees of actual communication with them (and varying degrees of conflict, for that matter), but they were all people who impressed me with assorted combinations of integrity, clarity, honesty, and wisdom, and who had a lot of influence on my understanding of things like disability politics.
So here were these people I thought of as some combination (different for each) of strong, clear, wise, competent, of good character, and all these assorted positive things that I did not at the time believe possible for myself even though some of them kept telling me they were possible for anyone.
And then I saw them talk about getting all the same sort of discriminatory bullcrap that I got all the time. And I saw them talk about being treated as inferior, worthless, pointless, empty, stupid, dead, and whatever other ugly stereotypes can be conjured up.
And that’s what it finally took for me to put it together, that when I was treated that way, it wasn’t because of something I did wrong. That I’d be treated that way even if I wasn’t the colossal screwup I believed myself to be. (And that maybe, possibly, I wasn’t so much of that as I’d thought.) I somewhere along the line had internalized the view that all these things happened to me because I must be inferior, worthless, pointless, empty, stupid, and dead, not to mention a whole lot of other things.
So it was the combination of changing a great deal internally but still meeting with the same old crap all over again, and watching people I admired for all sorts of traits I didn’t think I had, getting treated the same way. And that’s what made me grasp that something was going on beyond just me being a failure and getting what I deserved. Like so many such realizations, in hindsight I had all the pieces of it, but I hadn’t put them together yet, or if I had they hadn’t come together in any permanent fashion. And those two things were what it took for me to finally get it.
By the way, Dave Hingsburger wrote a way more intense version of assorted political realizations around disability, called Mourning Has Broken. When you follow that link, be aware that there’s one word written as “chickens…” that makes no sense unless you know those dots are in there to blot out “chickenshit”, and the sentence makes absolutely no sense without knowing that. This was written when he was a non-disabled staff person. (He’s now a disabled staff person. And a prolific blogger, who blogs here.)
I think I first read that article in an issue of Mouth Magazine called Waking Up. And I guess “waking up” is exactly the sort of experience I’m asking about in this post, because I’m curious how, when, and whether it has happened for other people. (And it doesn’t have to be specifically about ableism, either, just anything similar. Nor does it have to be specifically about the exact questions I asked, just anything similar there too. I’m not at all able to cover all possible bases so please fill in the blanks — or not — as you see fit.)