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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anger Helps

In the Body Silent Robert Murphy wrote about two types of anger. The first, existential anger, involves a pervasive bitterness at one's fate. Existential anger fuels self hate and is tied to shame and guilt. I do not know any people with a disability that feel this sort of existential anger that is directed inward and is inherently self destructive. In contrast, I know many people without a disability that think all people with a disability are angry because of their physical disability. More than once I have been accused of having a "chip on my shoulder" or that it "always has to be about me". What these statements assume is that the problems I have, and obvious anger, is of my own making. But this is simply not the case. My anger does not stem from my inability to walk but the skewed social interaction, stigma, and fear placed on top of an existing physical deficit. This is a point most people in my experience don't grasp and gets me to the second type of anger, situational anger. I have lots of situational anger. Situational anger is why I consider myself a bad cripple. Simply put, situational anger is a personal reaction to a perceived injustice and a violation of one's civil rights. I am not angry because I cannot walk up the steps. I am angry because the law mandated a ramp be constructed and that law has been ignored for a decade. I am angry at the situation and needless physical barrier. I am equally angry when my civil rights are violated as when I try to vote or attend a sporting event without being harassed by strangers who object to my presence. Situational anger is very common because people with a disability are not valued and access is not a priority in this country. If people with a disability were truly valued the unemployment rate would not be near 70% nor would 67% of polling places be inaccessible to me.

To me, situational anger is good. Situational anger rejects commonly held stereotypes and involves asserting one's civil rights. I am all for this. And this is the best thing the disability rights movement has going for it. Interesting to me is that the people I encounter most willing or likely to become angry are not disabled themselves. Instead, the people I see become angry are parents of children with a disability. I wish I could figure out a way to forge a relationship with these angry parents because they have the ability to change our educational system, one that is profoundly flawed. Actually they are changing the way we educate children with a disability and by extension the way we perceive disability. Problems abound as does prejudicial attitudes, especially given the economy and tight school budgets. But I am hopeful because people, parents of children with a disability are fighting back and rejecting dominant socio-cultural norms. I know this to be true as I read editorials from all over the country and parents are asking why their kids with a disability do not have the same rights as others. For instance, in the Kansas City Star, hardly a radical newspaper, Lisa Cannady wrote about her experiences. On November 8, she wrote "Our Most Vulnerable People Deserve a Full Chance in Life". I quote:

"There is something, collectively, in us that has allowed us to ignore the most vulnerable among us. From the waiting list that thousands of Kansans with disabilities have to negotiate, to comments earlier this year by President Obama about the Special Olympics, it is clear that disabled people remained largely disenfranchised. This is the last taboo, the group that it is still acceptable to marginalize.
The ugly truth is that when the needs and rights of people with disabilities are not upheld, when indignities — the big ones and the little ones — are allowed to go unchecked, it tells this vulnerable population that they don’t deserve better. It tells them substandard care and consideration are all that special needs people are worthy of.
As the mom of a special needs child, I am not prepared to accept that as my child’s due. I am not raising my son to sit at the back of the bus."

Cannady is doing exactly what Robert Murphy wanted people with and without a disability to do: reject existential anger. Cannady is not angry her child has a disability, such anger would be counterproductive. She is angry with the prejudicial attitudes, needless obstacles, waiting lists and lack of value placed on educating students with disabilities. We have the power to change this and situational anger is one way to attack the problem. The real trick is not so much the anger involved but in getting society to see past the stereotype of disability as tragedy. As of today society is unwilling to understand why people with a disability are angry but with more parents and bad cripples being produced every day the chances for change are increasing. So this morning I extend a hearty cheers to a mother in Kansas who I have never met but know she is on my side. What a great way to start the day.


Terri said...

That is a great way to start the day... Many of my friends won't get involved in advocacy because they fear the anger. They don't recognize that there is healthy and unhealthy anger. Bitterness is bad and consuming... situational anger is both empowering and powerful. And way healthier for me than just accepting that injustice and prejudice for my child.

william Peace said...

Terri, Your point about some parents being too fearful of provoking an angry response to advocate is spot on. My son's public school has a disgraceful track record for access and inclusion. When I point out the inequities people on the school board groan and I am widely disliked. But my son cannot be harmed directly. I know this and wonder how my advocacy would change if he had a disability. Another aspect of the story I referred to that is positive is that it comes from the heartland of America where dissent is not encouraged.

FridaWrites said...

I agree with this distinction wholeheartedly--I really don't harbor any anger about what I can't do, and it doesn't make any metaphysical difference to me whether I walk or sit as I get around. So long as pain is still minimized, I don't even notice which I am doing until I encounter an obstacle--and it's the barriers to participation and equality that make me and others upset. Wheelchair use is simply not a tragedy. Not having any equipment if one needs it is.

william Peace said...

Frida, If every person I know with a disability gets the distinction between these two types of anger I remain puzzled why society is blissfully ignorant. Surely any person with a general belief in equality should see the gross injustices associated with disability and react as they would to defend any other minority group. I agree it is a tragedy when someone needs an adaptive device and is unable to afford it or denied it by insurance.

misterc said...

Bill can I ask if your blog gives voice to the needs of the disabled in terms of being allowed to live per se, or in going to games? Both can only weaken the message IMO.

In this era of prey and poach on anything that drools, I would say all eyes on survival, and forget the ramps for now.

I speak from experience and as one who has seen where things are really at now. It's bad, really bad.

Anything that drools must never go to a hospital alone. Take someone with you who is very afraid and knows all about the brain... Hospitals know about the brain specifically to avoid the knowledge so you have to show smoke-and-mirrors won't work in your case.

In fact, don't even let anyone know you are one that got away. Go and hide. You are the new hunted.

william Peace said...

Misterc, Yes the situation is bad, surely the worst in my lifetime. And yes hospitals are dangerous places especially for those that are not fully intact cognitively. We need to not only defend out right to exist but insure all those pesky ramps are in place otherwise we will be shut out of the debate (not that we have a prominent voice as is). As to being hunted, I am pretty good at defending myself. I am far more worried about those without an education or resources to protect themselves. These people are at great risk and disappear into institutions from which they do not reemerge.

FridaWrites said...

This, I am discovering, is the more fundamental battle of our lives--more so than access. The right to live and to participate at all, to be treated as equals.

One of my friends called yesterday and we were talking about death and disability, the idea that people kind of think she should die or would be okay with it at any time. It's really hard and she does have to be watchful and attentive. She mentioned a film promo that had upset her--Avatar. I saw it myself last night. While they could construct disability positively, they don't--it's a reality someone wants to escape from in this film.

I looked over at my child during the film trailer. Her own eyebrows were raised. "You know what irritates me, right?" I asked. "Disability is not a tragedy," she said.

Carwile LeRoy said...

Bill, the determination others want to make about my emotional state, i.e am I angry, has been the most isolating aspect of my experience post injury. I feel it is an expression of a common prejudice and is a manipulation that is often so personally damaging.... oh, now this is something to get angry about!

But doesn't that feed into the ignorant perception of others - "oh, you are angry" - "no, really I'm not"- "yes you are, do you hear the tone of your voice?" - "Really, I'm not angry, but your insistence that I AM angry is starting to get to me, and make me ANGRY" - "see: I told you so, YOU"RE ANGRY"

Winning can be so elusive.

I don't think I have time to explain to them the difference between situational and existential anger. Can I just carry around a copy of Bad Cripple and give it to them? Say, when is the book coming out?

Oh, and a one-liner recently came to me that I think fits well in this argument. I am post a break up and looking at online dating. Of course I don't advertise myself as "disabled" - I hate the word, but I feel the need to be transparent. So, what am I saying to others in order to be honest?

My one liner that sums it up for me pretty well:

- I'm not a "dis" ...I'm a "RE"! -

Hope they put that in their pipe and smoke it. Say, do you have an email address for "them"?

Greg said...

good post!

erika said...

I'm nodding and I'm with you, I just don't have anything new or original to add as a comment. But I'm learning a lot from you guys.

emma said...

The distinction to me has always been clear, but you have put it very understanderble way.

Another misconception I can point out as a parent is that, it's known that parents of children with disabilites are more "stressed", what should be made clear is that stress is almost always due to practical problems, dealing with doctors, insurance companies, education departments the reactions of others etc, and not to their childs didability.

Going on from that, from Terri's comment, it may be that some parents are afraid of anger, because that anger plus stress tends to affect their (my) abilities as a parent.

Matthew Smith said...

Off-topic, but I thought I might point out that there was a lengthy profile of Ludwig "Dignitas" Minelli in yesterday's (London) Guardian, complete with a photo collection showing the garden entrance and decor.

It's pretty sympathetic (the Guardian generally is so towards the right-to-die cabal except for the occasional opposing piece by someone like Lady Campbell) and they note that he sends away people who don't need his help or shouldn't be committing suicide. They don't point out that this might include a young man with a relatively recent SCI.