Monday, 3 March 2014

Hate: the letter and the spirit of the thing

*Trigger warning for some ableist slurs in the middle paragraphs of this post.  I don't normally use trigger warnings on this blog, but this time I think it's only fair to give warning.*

No matter who you are, there's someone out there who hates you just because you exist. Maybe they don't like your gender, your skin colour, your religion or lack thereof, your nationality, your job, where you went to school, your social class, which sports team you support, your genitals or what you do with them.

Now, this isn't meant to be a radical statement, but I think hating a whole bunch of people you don't even know just because they're gay, brown, or Protestant is a dick move.  (Then again, I live in a state where a billboard of two men kissing has been banned, so maybe it's a more radical position than I realise.)

I reserve the right to hiss at you for arbitrary reasons!
I wonder if there's a tendency for people to realise that a specific type of hate is wrong, but then not extrapolate that idea any further.  They get that sexism is not cool, or that racism is a brain stem response to a frontal lobe situation, but they don't go so far as to think "hey, why don't we treat all people equally and with respect?"

This is my theory to explain why people who should know better, who have demonstrated their even-handed and magnanimous nature in matters of gender, race and sexuality, can still be ragingly ableist to the point they'll get shouty if you even suggest that ableism is a thing that exists.

I don't just mean overt stuff, the people who openly advocate for the euthanasia of anyone with a sniffle or who expect four year olds to rattle tins on street corners to pay for their own wheelchairs.  There are people who think that, and it's scary, but ableism is often much more subtle, and much more pervasive.

Take the use of words like "retard" and "nong" as a synonym for rubbish, broken, stupid, or otherwise under par.  The problem's not just that you're taking a word that's been used to bully, abuse and belittle people and using it in casual conversation, potentially triggering all that hurt and pain all over again just because of the deficits of your vocabulary.  The problem is the implied belief that people with intellectual or developmental disability are rubbish, broken, subnormal, worthless, and as such are a suitable analogy for the printer that won't work because you've plugged it in wrong.  If it weren't for those unspoken assumptions, the use of that word in that situation wouldn't make sense.

Take the idea that health care and disability support services are a privilege, rather than a right.  Our society measures a human being's worth in dollar signs, and if you happen to need more or different care than the next person, you're considered a drain on the taxpayer and people feel entitled to discuss whether or not your life is worth sustaining, as though you're a theoretical concept rather than a human being who deserves to exist because existence is a basic human right.  (And don't tell me we can't afford to care for our disabled citizens - we're not so badly off that we couldn't afford to send our largest contingent ever to the Winter Olympics recently.)

It's not really about words though, and stopping people using the words won't change the thinking behind them.  But by the words people use, you can glean an insight into how they think.  And sometimes,what you learn is disheartening.  Because for all that, collectively, we're starting to get our heads around specific kinds of discrimination like sexism and racism, we're still a long way from respecting all people as equal.