By Carrie Basas
Editor’s note: Carrie joins us to share about disabilities justice. This week she shares micro-aggressions she’s experienced as a white-disabled person.
The holy month of Ramadan starts on Monday, 6 May — Ramzan Mubarak, wishing you happiness and blessings.
Dear Lady Working the Registration Table at that Lawyers Conference:
When you held the paper for me to sign in, I turned red, like the color of the roses that you’ll never receive from me. You didn’t notice it. But I noticed that you hadn’t held the paper for anyone else. I also observed the way you held it, without me asking you to hold anything for me, made it very difficult for me to sign. It was at a weird angle. Maybe we can discuss positioning and your positionality and mine the next time I see you. I thought you were going to reach across and place your hand on mine to move the pen across the page. Imagine that scene in Ghost but with office supplies.
Your look of pity made my hand shake a bit. You weren’t so great at concealing your surprise that I was a presenter. You didn’t ask me what my workshop was about or I would have told you that you were about to become an anecdote in my ableism presentation. As my friend’s t-shirt declares: Piss on Pity. Smooches.
P.S. Please note that “meaning well” doesn’t erase ableism.
Dear Woman Leafleting On Sunday Who Skipped My POC Husband in the Front Yard and Shouted “Yoohoo” at Me Through a Closed Door:
When you came by to gather voters for your candidate who believes that homelessness can be eradicated by cutting program waste and I said no thanks and that I didn’t want your leaflet, you dropped one on the wheelchair ramp at my front door. I stood back a moment until I said, quietly and controlledly again, “No thank you.” I have never heard anyone say the word “harumph” in real life. When you did, I knew you were special. I thought it was a term for comic strips with fat cats and angsty teens, but you said it and my perception changed forever. As you had your outburst at my front door, I explained that you leaving an unwanted piece of paper on the ground was inaccessible to me as well. I couldn’t pick it up easily. I did not receive the notice that I wasn’t allowed to assert myself, demand respect, and point out ableism at my own house. I’ll leave the key under the mat. If you need me to be the mat, just let me know. To the moon and back, sweetness!
P.S. Were you the candidate’s mom? That might explain the extra anger for what appears to be the normal level of rejection with this task.
Dear Audience Members in the Disability Workshop That I Presented with My Non-Disabled Colleague:
Thank you for making me laugh and cringe as a full body response. Nothing makes me feel as heard as people lining up after a workshop about disability to talk to the co-presenter without disabilities and to share how they aren’t used to disabled people being frank. I’m glad you found your safe space. I’m used to you turning to non-disabled people to explain disability to you and for you deciding how much of it you’d like to take in for the moment. In my world, we call that the charitable model of disability. In fact, most disability organizations are run by non-disabled people because we all realize that they are the experts on our life experiences and we ask them to speak for us every time. Thank you, again and again and again for your generosity. However, as much as I expect this behavior, it still hurts and disappoints me every time.
If I’m scary to you, imagine all my kin who don’t have the privileges of an Ivy League law degree, a white body that navigates your spaces with a cane, or an English-speaking voice you can understand. Try reaching out to me. Yes, I’m frank but I’m so weary. I approach the world with love. I believe we can connect through stories. You’re afraid to talk to me about mine, but I have to live with the one you want to tell about me all of the time. I’m here when you’re ready, babe.
Dear Presenter Who Said They Were Committed to Inclusive Spaces and Might Have Been Saving the Environment in Their Day Job:
I was in your liberation and design class, which was ironic because of the oppression. You might remember me– early 40s, reddish brown hair, leopard cane. I know you noticed me. Hey, I noticed you, too, especially when you invited everyone to the front of the room for an exercise that involved standing for a while. Before you had us trudge down those inaccessible stairs, you announced to the class that “We have someone with mobility impairments. Let’s move gently and quietly.”
You know what that did? It gave me a chance to stare deeply into the eyes of every other participant in the room as they stared at me. I think couples do that in therapy together, right? Coupling with 40 other people was really intense. Also, you showed me something I never knew about myself: I didn’t realize I startled easily or was fragile.
Thanks for always knowing me better than myself, even though we were strangers. You might have heard me retort that I would come to you loudly and aggressively. I’ve been in relationships with your type before. They are always warning me about the stairs marked in bright yellow tape or the unexpected divet in the carpet, even though I’m not blind and I didn’t acquire my disability by falling off a step. When you told others to wrap me in the love of bubble packaging, I heard your fear that disabled people look for drive-by lawsuits. If it weren’t completely inappropriate for a work meeting, I would have said loudly “Watch out — don’t trip over my cane!” so all 40 eyes were on you.
Dear Next Person to Micro-aggress Against Me:
I’m here. You always seem to find me at my most vulnerable moment or when I’ve just started thinking: “Hey, this day is going well.” You look familiar. I think we last spoke when you asked me if people with “special needs” ever experience discrimination and then looked at me with surprise when I said that I just had.
P.S. Don’t use the words “special needs,” disAbled, or differently abled — just say disabled.
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