Privileged

We live in a world of priviledge. White, Male, Able bodied, and sexual are merely a few. My awareness of my disability became a journey into the cryptic world of truth. This is a part of what has lead me to become a reporter for a local paper. The staff understand that due to my limitations I cannot always “do it” but in turn I understand they have questions about who I am. My questioning mind seeks information out, and I never stop analyzing. This means I also have some very high standards for my social interactions with people. I know what I like, and screw you if you cannot maintain a consistent approach.

Having a diverse friend base, this does at times cause internal friction though I have only told the people I am rejecting to go away. I resort to the screw you if I cannot get through to them with the concept that I am not their friend. This as an adult has occurred with two people repeatedly. Today I told my fiance about a woman, Cynthia McKinney who was kidnapped in a foreign country. He hadn’t heard about this. I admit since we rarely watch the TV this isn’t a surprising factor, though when I mentioned that not many others had, excluding the twitter users and bloggers none bothered to talk about her capture, he was floored.  He then said the most wonderful thing, for it filled my heart with joy that I live with a man who is aware of his privilege. “It’s disgusting. We have these rules, that allow people to do that crap and feel better. It’s a band aid over a slit throat that’s dirty, old, and infected. Sure, we think we’re fine but our body is dying.”

Our body is dying. I think on privilege often. Neither of us can ignore it. As a disabled woman, I run into privilege daily. If I leave the house it is there. Yesterday, I was told just how convenient my wheelchair is because it has a sunshade. In my brand new effort to not be Super Cripple, I said, “Absolutely, I only had to break my spine, become homeless, and develop an allergy to the sun in order to have this convenience. Want me to help you get one? I am sure I can find some way for you to become disabled.” I said it with a smile. The cold knife of sarcasm caused the cashier to falter, she looked down, and then I was invisible. She handed MY change to my fiance. He tried to correct her and pointed to me but she just set it down.

i made a choice to use the cutting words, yet this is not the first time that this same cashier has said this. She doesn’t seem to remember that she has done it, and I don’t need to be exposed to her ignorance each time. My fiance and i talked about it before I went home by myself, wanting the sun on my skin and knowing that the side walk was safe between the shopping center and the house.

He asked, “Are you okay?”

I replied with a frown, “Yeah, well no. I am so tired of that same behavior. I think I may write the store manager about it, though the other employees also do the same stuff.” Each time we go in, I have someone leaning on my chair, patting my head, and in general am treated like a child. This is a national chain, and my fiance having worked there knows that Walgreens prides itself on how it’s employees are given sensitivity training. With a higher than average rate of ableism in this store, I think the trainer was flawed.  Every time we go in, I am required to educate someone. It is a burden. I usually just need a cool drink to lower my body temperature so that I don’t faint. I may actually just want to get a candy bar. Why am I forced to deal with their ableism? I cannot do so in silence, or it will get worse, but it is exhausting.

He nodded, “Maybe you should offer to retrain them. For a fee.” I laughed but seriously am considering this. I also plan to detail for the management just how much we buy at their establishment. My fiance is lumped into a new category with me. Each time we are out he is given the pitying look by someone, and often has mostly older persons (yes, an entire generation of people oblivious to privilege exists) whisper to him how nice it is that he takes care of the wheelchair woman. Most actually say “Stupid cripple.”

Sometimes I relish his responses, how can I relish the pain and shock his refusal to blend in with other people causes? I think it’s the freedom it feels. I almost feel like I don’t have the right to do this and that is when I start super cripping. It’s a stolen moment of equality, a moment which by all rights is mine, but has been taken from me by the limited acknowledgment of generations before. My favorite response to a person doing this was actually a few days ago.  He was more frustrated than I was, it was July 3rd and we had to get food. Sprite was tucked up in my sun shade and was very miffed that we hadn’t gone home, but without food there would be consequences. All of the local stores were closing early.

I had just cursed someone out (I really said the”f” word) to get her to keep her hands off of me, and it took the threat of bodily harm via the Scooter to get her to step back. I was seething, then my person, my wonderful person comes and gets what we need off of that aisle. He doesn’t know it’s the same woman, as we are walking towards the next section she sidles up to him, I allow this because I am sure she’s about to tell him how evil I am. She says, “It’s so nice you can tolerate that thing.” Thing. Dehumanized in one sentence. He turns a bit red with rage, but she’s about my mother’s age, old enough that hitting her is worse somehow than hitting someone in our age group. He wanted to, it was there. We were both seething with exhausted frustration. “I mean, cripples are such burdens.”

I heard his response though I dropped back. In all honesty and openness I was considering how hard to ram her, and ifI should try to break her hip. I wouldn’t really but at times the visual is so wonderful. Imagination can be a great equalizer. He replied with anger, “She’s not a burden. If anything I am a burden to her. I don’t always pick up after myself, I sometimes expect her to do things she can’t and she does this with grace. She’s not a thing. That’s my wife.” He likes to call me his wife and I really do like it too. “My wife is a real lady, unlike you. She deals with people like you every day and she hasn’t killed any of them yet but she’d be within her rights.” Sometimes I want to and I usually share this with him, to let off the steam. “Another thing, if she’s a thing so are you! You have the privileged of a working body, it isn’t a right. You can be in a wheelchair like that.” Snapping his fingers he then sped up. I zipped past her, and rode beside him with great pride.

We talk about in this house often. There are no children to educate, it is merely something we both see. He has grown, as I have. In fact, he often tries to subvert is priviledge where he can. When he sees someone no matter who they are, having a bad day, he allows them in front of us in line (barring so low energy that this is a danger to my health). He does this to try and brighten their day and does this regardless of gratitude. Most of the time there is a grunt of anger or acknowledgment and that is it. He doesn’t stop. I note most often he does this for women, children, and persons who are most often ignored, allowing the men to wait. I am not sure if this is an expression of privilege but it is also the sort of person I would leave waiting, so if it is it is one we share. He is a joy to watch in the world. I often feel a separateness from most people but not with him.

How many white men who are so privileged to be in their 30s and still have a credit card from their parents usually see their privilege? How many white men usually can see it? In my experience it is the able bodied white man who fears this awareness above all. I know, too, that a requirement for being with the man I love, is this awareness.

I don’t talk about this often, but, some of the exploitation of the disabled that we see includes the cost of being disabled. It is very expensive, especially when the insurance companies don’t want to cover the cost of a wheelchair until you cannot leave your house, and then you still may not qualify for the one you actually need. if you need a bathchair, it is almost impossible to get a prescription for it, where we live. The cost increases as the economy makes money tighter.

What is my fiance doing to try and bring equality to the playing field? He is using his skills with repairing wheelchairs (he has repaired mine when the manufacturer failed) to try and help. He charges cost of parts, because we have to in order to eat, and a loaf of a specific gluten free bread or two dollars per hour, which has so far been used to buy a single loaf of gluten free bread. This fee is even negotiable. It is an expression of privilege that he CAN negotiate yet, it is also something that he wants to do to help people who may “lose their legs” and not be able to get their wheelchair repaired. I live with a man who knows his privilege. Yes, he is still learning about it but, the fact that he is willing to take that journey is by itself a fantastic thing that is the truest show of love he can offer me.

For more reading about privilege, I recommend checking out two places out of the thousands that you could check first. Start with a peak at http://www.womanist-musings.com/ followed up by http://thewhatifgirl.wordpress.com/. Renne, the proprietor of Womanist Musings is a wonderful writer, who has a life long experience with privilege. I find her writing more direct, and often much more clear about what privilege is. She also often reports on news you will not find elsewhere. The What if Girl has recently begun to discover her privilege and is exploring that. On top of this, she is also a fun read. I enjoy both of their blogs daily. You can find further resources at their sites, if you do not enjoy their writing specifically.

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4 Comments

  1. I not so good at expressing myself but here it goes:
    I think…that people should learn from people like you, your fiance and your person. I think you are all amazingly incredible people who actually have morals and logic and knows their privileges. You are the kind of people who are role-models, children (and adults) should look up to you as an example of what we should be.

  2. “How many white men usually can see it? In my experience it is the able bodied white man who fears this awareness above all.”

    I commented on another blog about another subject and mentioned Hamlet playing the role of a madman, for only mad man can speak the truth without threat to life, when those in power stay there by lies.

    Truth is the most terrifying thing in the world to people who have made a living causing, rather then experiencing terror.

  3. I once went to a supermarket where they said to my staff person (not me of course) “Isnt it funny how many people it takes to make these people ‘independent’?”

    Grrr.

  4. That kind of commentary often makes me have to take my inner eyeball stabbing self. I would love to show them how able I am, but, instead I try to let them be, to ignore them, and mostly not run them down with my chair. My inner imagination is full of violence a bit often with that sort. Also, welcome to my blog Amanda!


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