Hi! I’m back from a whirlwind couple of weeks, during which I attended a conference here, then flew across the country to tag along while Al attended a different conference. Which means I’ve pretty much spent 2 straight weeks negotiating enormous crowds in not entirely familiar places, sitting still more than I like to, and doing a lot of squinting across rooms, going, “Is that someone I know, or just someone who looks like someone I know?” I’m tired.
And in the meantime, the internet has continued its job of documenting the mind-bogglingly assholic things people say. I have two “favorites” this week.
1) The BBC kids’ show CBeebies recently introduced two new presenters, one of whom, Cerrie Burnell, was born with only one fully formed arm. This has led to comments on their message board such as this gem:
I question the logic of hiring a girl with part of her arm missing (and so obviously placed on display for kids to see it) to present cbeebies. My child was immediately freaked out and didn’t want to watch. There’s a time and place for showing kids all the “differences” that people can have, but nine in the morning in front of 2 year olds is NOT the place!
Little overboard on the need for political correctness, perhaps?
Now, before your head explodes — as it certainly should — I want to say that I did follow links back to the message board, where I learned that the ratio of comments like that to comments like, “OMG, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU ABLEIST SHIT?” (I paraphrase) was roughly 1 to 200. I found that heartening, and I think it’s worth pointing out that the “controversy” seems to have originated with a Daily Fail article, sensitively titled, “One-armed presenter is scaring children, parents tell BBC.” Whipping up outrage is what that publication does best, so keep that in mind.
Of course, one comment like that is obviously one too many, and if anyone deserves a good pile-on, it’s a shit like that. What I find perhaps more troubling, though — because openly bigoted assholes are neither surprising nor necessarily the most formidable enemy — is the ableism coming through even in the messages of support. Such as:
- People talking about how “brave” Cerrie is. Sigh.
- People smugly announcing that they’re raising their children “not to see” differences among people’s bodies, and proudly declaring that their children “haven’t even noticed.” Oh, okay. Because your two-year-old hasn’t mentioned it so far, it’s clear that pretending physical differences don’t exist is a stellar way to combat discrimination.
- People smugly explaining that when their children asked about Cerrie’s disability, they simply said, “Not everyone grows properly in their mothers’ tummies.” I think there’s a slight cultural thing here, in that British people seem to throw around the word “properly” a lot more casually than Americans do, but I cringed every time I saw something along those lines — way to reinforce that there are “correct” bodies and “other” bodies when you’re ostensibly trying to give a lesson about human diversity. (Also, telling children that babies grow in “tummies” is an unrelated pet peeve of mine.)
- People referring to Cerrie as having only one arm, when she clearly has two, one of which is more developed than the other. I’ve only seen one picture of her and have no idea how she uses her smaller arm, but it’s amazing how many folks erase it completely.
That’s off the top of my head, without going back to look at the comments again. I’m sure if you go look, you’ll find more.
I’m as outraged as anyone by the “People with disabilities frighten children!” crowd, but at least in the context of this message board, it’s a crowd of 4 or 5, that I noticed — vs. dozens of comments in which folks pat themselves on the back for being fabulous, open-minded parents while slinging more subtly ableist language and sentiments. The vast majority of that, I assume, comes from privilege, not malice — and I can hardly cast the first stone. Ableism is probably one of my biggest blind spots, as I’ve only started to actively learn and think about it relatively recently. (Two or three years ago, I was still defending my right to say “retarded” because “I didn’t mean it like that.” I hate admitting that, but given how often I smack commenters down with Rule 10, I think it’s only fair.) And obviously, I still have major blind spots about stuff I’ve been learning and thinking about for years, because that’s the nature of privilege.
But that’s exactly why it troubles me that all the attention here is going to a few openly bigoted shits, rather than the entirety of the conversation, which involves many, many shades of privileged ignorance and discriminatory language. Granted, the shock value of seeing someone claim that disabilities are frightening to children (conveniently ignoring children with disabilities themselves) might shake up some people who’ve never thought at all about hatred and discrimination. That’s worth something. But it also provides one more opportunity for privileged people who aren’t openly hateful to congratulate ourselves for not being openly hateful — “I’m not bothered by it” was a common refrain among the comments, with no one noting how incredibly patronizing a statement that is — without examining our own prejudices. “As long as I’m not like that asshole, I’m clearly not ableist, and as long as most people on the board are condemning that asshole, we clearly don’t live in an ableist culture! Vive la difference!” Yeah, no.
So. If you want to use this thread to vent about those few outrageous comments, please do feel free, because they are fucking outrageous, and I know how hard it is to resist railing about how hateful and willfully ignorant some people are when you’re given a prime example like that. But I’d also love to see this discussion go beyond that.
And now I’m going to save the second asshole statement I was going to write about for another post, because I think this one deserves its own.