Saturday, March 02, 2013

On Inspirational Videos and Memes

I have an uneasy relationship with the videos and memes that get passed around the Internet, the ones that are often posted on my Facebook page. You know the ones I'm talking about: basketball player on opposing team passes the ball to a disabled player. Or the ones where a student council decides to ensure that a couple with Down syndrome become Prom King and Queen. These seem like such touching moments. Filled with compassion. Kindness. Why the hate? Well, I wonder sometimes if these actions are also twinged with pity, and while I want people to feel compassion for Jude, I don't want them to pity her. There is nothing, after all, to pity. And I also find myself challenging our notions of success and winning. Of being popular. What I've realized is that I want all my kids to be treated the same, as humans with dignity and respect. But I've also come to realize that what this means for us is likely very different than what it means for other families.

H and I are committed revolutionaries in many senses. We joke that we had so many kids because we wanted to produce future leaders of the coming revolution. For us, our entire lives are about challenging the status quo. We are skeptical of cultural motivations, and we challenge the ideas that shape our society. It is why we home school. It's how we raise our children. Thus it's not surprising that we really don't want Jude to be a prom queen or to be super into sports. We don't really want that for any of our kids.

For a bit of time, I did start to want those things for Jude. Why? Because I saw her as different. I imagined that her life couldn't be like ours. That I had to do Special Olympics, and that we should want her to be a prom queen due to some nice kids at her local high school. But as Jude establishes herself into our lives, I've come to see how awful this view was. The assumption that Jude would be different reveals my own unknown bias towards people with disabilities. It would be like me assuming that the other beasties couldn't be a part of my life because they're Hispanic. It's just wrong, and now I see that we can't do anything but raise Jude as we are raising the other kids. I'm not sure what this will look like but it won't involve pity.

Which brings me back to these videos and memes. I don't want to totally disparage them because I understand they are sent to me with love. It's my wonderful community saying "We love Jude." But I also find them disturbing because I think in some ways they are false ways of introducing a child with disabilities into a community. They seem like posed set ups even if they are done with the best intentions. If they were done with a sense of challenging the values of our society, I could get behind them more. But I don't think that is the motivation. Ultimately these actions are just moments in time. They don't seem to be lasting ways of finding real and valuable roles for children/people with disabilities. They don't suggest provocatively new ways to look at winning and losing.

This is by no means to suggest that people who do these things are unkind. I have no doubt that they have the best intentions. But I can't help but be reminded of the early actions of white people towards people of color. The kind gestures that masked unseen prejudice. Or the ways a teacher might encourage a working class student to not take an AP class out of kindness (after all what is the chance that such a child would go to college?). Often the tokens we hand out to those different than us are ways of keeping people firmly in their place. Intentions are not always the way to equality, and in these moments where we hand someone a ball out of pity, we are depriving them of a full human experience.

One of my favorite blogs write about the video, using some of my ideas as well as proving a link to another provocative opinion here.

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