At age 2, my brother Levi was born with Down syndrome. My parents adopted Eric when I was 7 and began to take care of Rand when I was 13. In our household, I was the only “normal” sibling. To me, my siblings were my best friends growing up and since age 2 I have been an advocate. I have watched my parents grow a business for people with disabilities. I have opened my own business that hires people with disabilities. My husband and I have fostered a young lady with a disability.
I think the most difficult experience for me was when my foster daughter and I were kicked out of a store because, “your daughter was looking at me funny and i just can’t help the way I feel.” I will never forget those words. That was the first time in over 25 years of being an advocate that I realized I have what is called privilege. (Definition: white privilege is not a shot at how hard someone has worked to get where they are. It’s about not knowing what it feels like to be carrying out normal life activities and it being assumed you’re doing something you shouldn’t be. If you’ve never been considered a threat while shopping, being pulled over, jogging, etc then that is white privilege.) Luckily, because of my privilege I was able to make a big enough stink that I got an apology, even if it is a sad one. I had a large number of people who had mine and my daughter’s back. I did get a phone call or two telling me I needed to take down my social media post and that the town isn’t nice to people that do these sorts of things…
People think they have an idea of how human behavior should work. Apparently, K shouldn’t have stared back at the lady who was glaring at her because maybe it’s not appropriate that she’s looking at stuffed animals. Likewise once people know you have a developmental disability, this is how “those people” should work. I often hear, “oh I love people with disabilities! They are always so sweet!” If you have ever spent time with a person with a developmental disability, you’ll know that this is not true. My brother Eric had reactive attachment disorder when he was adopted. My sister enjoyed pinching me until she drew blood for pleasure when we were teenagers. People with disabilities have emotions of anger, frustration, happiness and joy like anyone else and they don’t show those emotions with some feeble sense of sweetness. If you are guilty of ever thinking or saying people with disabilities are always sweet, kind, whatever, then congratulations you can now admit you have what is called implicit bias. You as a human being have categorized how another type of human being should act. We all do this. It’s a way we keep order in our minds. It’s a way of knowing if danger is among us. It’s a way of rationalizing that we ourselves are ok.
The thing about people with disabilities is that being known as sweet is not a threat. In fact one of the biggest struggles I have seen for my friends is that if they are perceived as “normal” but don’t act that way, then they are a threat. But as soon as someone knows that person has a disability they are no longer a threat. Now if we can admit we have a bias toward people with disabilities we can admit we have other internal biases, yes, toward people who are black. People who are black are perceived immediately as a threat. People lock car doors, clench purses, ect based on the presence of a Black stranger. Ironically for people with disabilities, admitting their differences is what protects them. For people of color, hiding their differences by dressing or “acting white” is what saves them. (This is what is wrong with saying you’re colorblind. Because you’re not allowing a person to express who they truly are if you are setting the expectation that everyone should be the same).
As an advocate for people with disabilities I can only base my idea on racism from a very small point of view. I am learning to take my own experiences and I am learning to listen to the stories and realities of others. It is imperative I use them to comprehend what racism really is because I cannot fathom what it truly feels like. I do feel it is my duty as an advocate to stand up for all humans regardless because all human life deserves dignity. I say this because I am not the one you need to hear this from, but I do feel if you’ve read this far that you’ve decided my privilege makes me worth listening to. (That being said, if I have said anything incorrectly, I am willing to learn, and opening my comment section for those with more experience with advocacy against racism to teach)
Also, as an advocate for people with disabilities I have time. Clearly, as I just spent a ridiculous amount of time typing this. The reason that the Black Lives Movement is so important today is because they do not have time. Black lives matter is to say black lives matter too, not more. Again, this is not about white people not mattering. When someone says save the whales you don’t say save all the fish. It’s referring to the group who is in danger. (Also, I titled this all lives matter to catch your attention. You’re almost done so you might as well keep reading now.) Anyway, Our friends who are black are endangered and running out of time.
But what about the police?! Cops are expected to instantly perceive a threat and act on it. Police by definition are not bad people. In fact the biggest part of their job description is to make the world good and protect us from bad. But in order for us to admit cops are not bad, we have to realize a much deeper conclusion and that is all of us are, well, bad. We have to internally admit that we have categorized people who are black as a threat. Then we have to work at addressing the problem. For my blue life loving friends, cops will continue to take the fall for all of us white people until we can all accept our biases exist. (If you still don’t believe me, watch the racism experiment episode of 100 humans on Netflix). So yes, police are just doing their job. But when human error results in the end of human life we cannot turn a blind eye to the systematic issue in front of us.
People who are black do not have the time to sit and explain over coffee what white privilege is, why black lives matter is ok to say, where implicit bias exists or who threatens their lives. Likewise cops who are expected to act immediately are not granted the time to listen. If you really care for police then you will actively push for implicit bias to be recognized in police training. Educate your cop friends on implicit bias so they can educate their cop friends. If you truly care for human life then you will actively work on recognizing the biases in your own soul. When you can internally accept those biases tell people. It’s more important to admit we’re learning than to pretend we are not wrong. Say black lives matter even if you used to say all lives matter. Not only that but by accepting this you could be saving lives. If you won’t do that then I hope you can perceive that every second of time you continue to hold in inaction is a nice warm feeling where your world feels safe and you don’t feel convicted. Here is your conviction: Every second of time we spend in inaction could be a second off another human being’s life. There is not a single principle, moral, or belief that can justify that human life is not worth fighting for. Choose your fighting methods wisely and go change the world.