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Wiley Wandering

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Messages We Send Different People: Why Is Everybody Tripping?

Back in the days when I was growing up in South Central Los Angeles I had a healthy number of friends. Like most people my friends came in different shapes and sizes, with different views and approaches to life as we were living it back then. While it was the hood and no one was living much larger than anyone else, the way people chose to live was intriguing in itself. Some of the neighbors put all their money into their homes. Others put their funds into their automobiles. Many put their funds into their children’s education, sending them to private schools in an attempt to invest in a better life for their children. As an adult looking back on all those different flows my friends had I understand a great deal of the socio-political implications and influences on their parents behavior which ultimately influenced them greatly. But as a child I only knew that my friends represented a wide array of ways, and that it was my boy David who was a stone trip!

Now, when you hear people say someone is a trip, they probably have just bought into a slice of American slang that has become a cultural norm for the relatively cool. The use of the word “trip” without thinking about its’ true meaning is so matter-of-factly done that most people don’t unpack what it may actually mean. For me, when I call someone a trip, it means that experiencing them is like taking a journey, getting away from everyday type activities, knowing I may be headed toward a conversation or front row seat to something out of the extraordinary. So, when I say someone is a trip I really mean that engaging them is almost like going on an adventure! Feel me on this?

Back to David, yes my boy David was a trip! He was a brown skinned Latino who most of the people in the hood would have seen as Black, except his accent told another story. Life was a trip back then! As kids you think you know everything when in actuality all you really know is what you know, nothing more. (Damn, for that matter that would apply for adults as well, though we will argue against that point if pressed to defend ourselves. Oh yes, we are trips in that regard). For that matter, I was positive that David didn’t know who he was. Since his family spoke Spanish, and all the Spanish speaking people in our neighborhood were Mexican, when I got into a rag session with David, while he was calling me “nigger” or “Black chump” I was calling him “Stupid Mexican.” To this he would reply, “F-you Man, I’m Puerto Rican, not Mexican!” I would laugh and tell him he was really stupid, and insist that he was Mexican. I had never heard of Puerto Rico and so, since I hadn’t, it didn’t exist, and since he sounded like Mexicans sound, he had to be Mexican. But what was it in me, or you in a similar situation that would make us insist that we knew more than the kids we were forcing labels on? Is that what we do as kids? Why?

Looking back on it, it is obvious that he knew he was Puerto Rican! He was definitely very different from any other kid in the neighborhood, and I couldn’t figure it out! Going over his house always felt like I was entering a foreign country, yet he always was David. His mother would speak Spanish to him, and attempt to speak so-called proper English with me. His father, like most fathers in my neighborhood, wasn’t there, so his big brother and sister were like pseudo-parents to him. David, who ate different foods, talked different, even watched some different television shows, was always cool! He was always David! Later, as an adult when I realized that I had really embarrassed myself and shown my ignorance by insisting David was other than he was, I discovered that one of the worst things we can do to someone is commit to an opinion we have on them simply because they fit a societal image. As kids we can’t help it! What is our excuse as adults?

My daughter, in the local Wal-Mart at a very young age, saw a differently-abled child walk past her. She saw the little boy as very different from her. I also noticed the little boy. About a second later my daughter decides to turn to her older brother and let him know that the “different” little boy was “weird.” Hearing this, I took my daughter into the center of the store, and told her (and her brother) to stand there and watch all the kids that were/would be passing by. I asked her to “really” watch all the kids that passed by. After about five minutes (an eternity to a little four year old) I asked her if she saw any kids that looked like her. She said no! I then asked her if that made her weird! She almost started crying at the thought that her dad was suggesting she was weird. I then told her if she didn’t like being called weird, she shouldn’t call anyone else names like that, because since most of the time she would be the only black girl anywhere she went, that difference would kind of make her weird. She would go on to call other kids weird, geek, nerd for a bit of time after that, but she either doesn’t do it at all anymore, or hides it from me. So, either the teaching moment that I took full advantage of was successful, or she knows it’s wrong and still does it just because she can’t yet fully comprehend the hypocrisy of the moment. Of course I choose to believe she is enlightened about both treating people the way she wants to be treated (golden rule), is by her actions trying to set an example for others to follow (categorical imperative), or better still, just knows that calling someone anything other than their name is straight up wrong (doing the wrong thing). How many of you take the time to challenge your children about their perspectives, their “ways of seeing?”

I wonder if I had never had a Puerto Rican friend named David would I have even challenged my daughter about her name calling! I would make the argument that not challenging my daughter after realizing what a trip I must have been when I was young would have made me even more of a trip! If you think so, why is that? Why would it have been a trip for me not to challenge my daughter? More so, how much of a trip is it that you don’t challenge more people than you do?

Hey, don’t get mad at me for challenging you in this blog. You must want me to challenge you if you wander with me, which makes you as much of a trip as me, which is why you wander with Wiley!!!

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Comments

J.W. Wiley, you are a trip by your own definition. Actually, you are more of a trip on a trip! I mean that in a complimentary way and I think you would take it as such.

With regards to the insensitivities our children have towards others who may be different, some of it is probably innocence and inexperience, depending on their age and other factors. Children can be taught right from wrong if they have the proper role models. Not all children are fortunate enough to have great role models as parents.

It is a sad reality that many children are simply mimicking the behaviors they are witnessing in the adults in their lives. Parents, parent's friends, and relatives all have an influence on the lives of our children. The most important way we can influence our children is to be the person we expect them to be, but that is not enough. We should take opportunities to challenge them as they falter. I would like to think I have, but I believe I have room to improve.

I believe our education system also plays an important role in molding our children and the more emphasis on social justice in our schools, the better. I continue to hear positive feedback from my 13 year old daughter and her "crew" (got that term from J.W. too) with regard to the presentation you made at Peru Central School. She and her friends have also viewed the "Dissed-Respect The Impact of Bullying" video you co-produced, and it received rave reviews, as well. I believe they have benefited from being exposed to these resources. You have a great and special talent for the work you are so passionately committed to.

As a parent, I would like to see more frequency in the use of these types of educational programs in our schools.They are invaluable to our society and you should be complimented and appreciated for the positive impact you have had on the youth of the North Country. So Thank You!

Our individual vantage point(s) play a major role in what we deem “a trip.” For you, not challenging your daughter would have been a trip because inaction would have been abnormal to your everyday behavior. You have made it your job, both personally and professionally, to challenge others. In doing so, your questioning has broadened the perspectives of thousands of people and allowed them to hopefully broaden the perspectives of thousands more.

However, many of us have not adopted such behavior. I say “adopted” because we need to learn how to think sometimes; we need to accept something that is originally not ours and acclimate it into our lives. Moreover, I think there are very few absolutes in this world. The majority of our views, opinions, and behaviors are based on our environment and our experiences. In other words, it’s all relative. For me, this concept of relativism was illustrated quite well in a recent conversation I had with a graduate school professor where he told a story of a homeless man in line for food at a shelter. When the food server, who was undoubtedly not accustomed to relying on handouts from others in order to eat every night, asked a man if he had “enough,” the man replied, “Ms., you have no idea what ‘enough’ is.” Prior to this moment, the server’s definition of “enough” was very different from the man’s. For her, enough was probably when she was full and desired no more food regardless of how much was left. However, for him, enough may have been only one single bite, coupled with the generosity and care exhibited by the server’s volunteering her time. Similar to your experience with David, the homeless man took the server on “a trip” by taking her beyond her everyday experience and perspective and allowing her to think outside of herself.

As such, it doesn’t seem that much of a trip that many people don’t challenge others, as long as, those not doing the challenging haven’t been challenged themselves. However, since I have been challenged by others and have had others take me on a trip or two, it is a trip that I don’t take others to task more often. Similarly, it is a trip if other readers of your blog don’t challenge others as they have more than likely been challenged before. I’m not exactly sure why this is. Maybe it has something to do with fear. Maybe I don’t think it’s worth the effort. Or maybe I’m not confident enough in my arguments. I wonder, if I was part of a racial, ethnic, or sexual demographic that has endured years of victimization, would I feel more inclined to challenge others when they use words like “nigger,” “chink,” “fag,” or “retard?” Since I’m not a card-carrying member of either of those groups, do I hold more responsibility to challenge others? Wow, now that’s a trip!

"As kids you think you know everything when in actuality all you really know is what you know, nothing more. (Damn, for that matter that would apply for adults as well, though we will argue against that point if pressed to defend ourselves. Oh yes, we are trips in that regard)."

Socrates and Confucius agree, the wise man, knows he knows nothing.

J.W.- I loved reading your definition of a “trip.” (For me, when I call someone a trip, it means that experiencing them is like taking a journey, getting away from everyday type activities, knowing I may be headed toward a conversation or front row seat to something out of the extraordinary. So, when I say someone is a trip I really mean that engaging them is almost like going on an adventure!) It excited me because when I stumble upon someone of that nature, my ability to join and add to our psychological adventure is stimulated.

As far as the situation with your daughter is concerned, I think the trip took place the moment you made the connection between your childhood and your child! How often is it that we get the chance to take such passionate responsibility in the evolution of ourselves? The blessing of a child is one I have not yet experienced, but one that promises to be “extraordinary.”

Challenging other people is a difficult task, primarily because of the defense mechanisms that many people will instantly react with. As a young woman who has always been eager to voice my passions, I remember coming to you with questions on effective ways of challenging other people. The best advice you gave me, which has proven itself effective, is to ask questions. When an individual is promoting racism, sexism, classism, ableism, or any other social power system that places judgment on people, I have found it a very successful method to ask them why they think that. After the individuals rummage through several explanations, they come to realize that there is no backing for their prejudgment. When I enter this type of situation without judgment, the person I am questioning perceives that, our “trip” begins!

In my opinion, life is a series of trips with crossing paths, and at certain times and in certain places, we become dignified as individuals. Those are the moments that shape us.

J.W. - Kudos on the way you approached the issue of disability with your daughter! I have faced the same issue with my own daughter, regarding racial/cultural diversity as well as disability. I wish I had handled it in such an eloquent manner. The truth is that each of us is a unique, incredible individual, who should be appreciated for the richness of our differences as much as a "trip" to an exotic land. Thank you for sharing your insight.

*** Kathy, you are most welcome! Thank you for wandering in! Don't be a stranger!!! *** -- J.W.

Hey JW...I enjoy wandering along with you. It's good to challenge ourselves and always keep a close eye on what's around us.

But...does anyone ever challenge you? Nearly all of the comments I read...on most every post...are simpy agreeing with whatever you write, or praising your broaching of a particular subject. There are a few regulars that "challenge you" at times...but those sound to me as people you are close to, and whose conversations carry over from outside the blog onto these webpages.

While I'd say your teaching moment with your daughter was effective...I don't think I'd go so far as to say, as Kathy did, that it was eloquent. I don't want to appear to criticize a parenting method...that's not my intent. But I don't think forcing your daughter to feel singled out is the best way to teach a lesson on acceptance and understanding.

I think as thinking adults, sometimes we have difficulty putting ourselves in the shoes of our kids. Weird to her was probably nothing more than different...or "I've never seen someone like him before". Do you really think her comment was malicious? If so, then maybe I would agree with your method...but I can't imagine she intended to really make a sweeping statement about differently abled kids.

The fact that your daughter noticed something different about another person, was in itself, a good thing. She's paying attention to the world around her. She's starting to learn how she fits in with others. Being different is just another way of saying you're unique. Our differences are what make us, US.

We need to give our kids the right tools to better express themselves. I don't think tears are necessary to make a point.

I don't intend to be a stick in the mud...I find that many of your posts are extremely thought provoking. But I would like to see them "carried" out some...beyond just your post and some complimentary replies.

Maybe I'm the one who's missing something? Does everyone in Plattsburgh agree with everything you say? :)

*** Whaler, I like you! Seriously, I really do. If you knew me at all you would know that I don't prefer donkey kissers (think about it). I don't grow from a crew that doesn't challenge me. While it takes courage to put a contrary opinion out there, especially if it is going up against someone who makes a living having these conversation, most people don't/won't do it. Why? Because the language of social justice discourse is so unfamiliar that most who don't agree with mE and my takes would be overwhelmed with paranoia about seeming racist, sexist, ableist, classist, etc. if they went up against me. They shouldn't feel that way, but that is just how it is. Previous SUNY Plattsburgh student body president Tim Sarrantonio and current student body president Angel Acosta are two of the young men who were/are not intimidated by me, which is why they are so deep in the crew. So, on some level, I appreciate the fact that you are inadvertently auditioning for the crew. Don't try to back out now!

Okay, so let's get to it. You don't think the way I engaged my daughter was as effective as it could be. I can appreciate that perspective, especially since you caveated it so well. Yes, there is value in her noticing differences, and value in her communicating that fact. But here is the bottom line for me. I have a larger context of communication with my daughter than I revealed in a short blog posting. So, while what she said wasn't malicious in terms of an expression of hate, it was insensitive enough that if I didn't address it immediately it may have contributed to the development of a maliciousness in her somewhere down the road that I am not interested in seeing happen. You know the old saying "boys will be boys." Well the counterpoint to that saying is "a felony is a felony," or "a hate crime is a hate crime."

You made it seem as if invoking tears was a goal of mine. It wasn't, but if my daughter and I shared an emotional moment in which we both grew as individuals and father-daughter, how is that problematic? It is okay to facilitate laughter with your children, but we should exert overt effort to avoid tears. I am not feeling you on that one! Those two emotions are two sides of the same coin, and learning how to navigage your way around both with your children is what parenting is all about.

Whaler, just because many bloggers don't challenge me doesn't mean everyone in Plattsburgh likes/loves me. And Steve, Card Buddy, Enigma AA, Via Via, EDR, AMW, etc don't all agree with me, all the time. Nor do many other North Country residents. If you don't believe me, grab Bob Grady, Bob Parks, or Jim Dynko and ask them about some of the fan mail I have received over the years. On the other hand, don't hate on the fact that many people have figured out the fact that social justice amounts to as logical an equation as 2 + 2 = 4. In an alternate universe, that mathematical notion may generate a different answer, but in our global society it doesn't. And such is the case with the simple fact that disrespect will never equal respect. If I am good at one thing it is the fact that I just unpack the nuances and subtleties of our everyday reality to better unveil to others and myself how truly complicated it can be to do this human thing!

Okay, so since everyone else let's me off the hook sooo much, I expect that I will see more of your A game (in terms of challenging me). Now I am really excited. Don't get me all amped and then lose your internet connection! *** -- J.W.

In response to whaler - I think it is unfair to make a general assertion as to reasons why certain individuals would respond to this blog in any particular way. Challenge or no challenge, everyone is entitled to agree, disagree or simply just partake in a friendly discussion offering personal insight and experience as a reference to invoke thought in others.

What I appreciate about this blog is that it is so much more than whether or not you agree or disagree with J.W. This blog allows participants to engage themselves in a variety of conversations on many levels and from various angles. It is interesting to see how a topic is presented, interpreted and re-interpreted by the various individuals who weigh in. Even the non-challenging posts are interesting when one takes the time and effort to explain why they agree, possibly offering a story or personal experience. One might enjoy this blog in the same way one would enjoy a support group. I post, then check back frequently to see how others are feeling about the subject at hand. Sometimes the conversation spins in different directions, and sub-topics (like this one) are created as a result. I enjoy the fact that at any given time, I might log on and be blown away by someone's creative articulation or interesting angle on the topic.

I have read enough of Wiley Wandering to know there are differing opinions between J.W. and the blog participants. In addition, there are challenges made between blog participants. I agree there is a value in challenging others. More importantly, we should challenge our own minds and ask ourselves, Do I agree with me?" "Why? or "Why not?"

*** E, half the time I agree with me and the other half I don't. What does that say about me, or myself? I do agree with what you said about interpretation and reinterpretation, as well as challenges. Have I told you how much I enjoy your contributions to the conversation lately. I would say more, but while I am typing this you may be revisiting Wiley Wandering and not seeing my post because I am still writing it, so if I stop this very moment, perhaps you will catch it, say.............right now! *** -- J.W.

Uh oh, looks like there is a little there's a little unrest in the Press Republican cyber arena. Also, I agree with both whaler and J.W. that challenging each other's perspectives is what will take us down different paths while we wander together. The straight and narrow is boring!

Now, I'm going to comment on the blog post above quickly before moving on to weigh in on the main subject matter. I'm not in a position to comment on parenting techniques because I don't have children and, honestly, it's a reality I can't possibly conceive at this time in my life (pun intended). However, I would like to chime in on a couple of points that were made by whaler. I guess I'll just go in chronological order. The first statement that caught my eye read, "I don't think forcing your daughter to feel singled out is the best way to teach a lesson on acceptance and understanding." This is often not the case. In truth, we are only completely able to understand another's perspective once we've been able to stand in their shoes, if not for only a brief second. This is the difference between compassion and empathy (compassion being defined as "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering." and empathy being defined as "the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.") The ultimate goal in understanding is to have a complete, well rounded conception of life through another's lens and empathy is one stair case in that M.C. Esher painting. At one point or another we are all the "other" and sometimes the only way to gain empathy, in terms of oppression, is to identify with the pain experienced by being marginalized for characteristics that are outside of your control.

Secondly, I'd like to address the intent behind the word weird and the statement made that, "She's paying attention to the world around her. She's starting to learn how she fits in with others." Let's start with the word weird. I think that most of us would agree that it carries with it a negative connotation. Even the argument that J.W.'s daughter is young and didn't realize this connotation is null and void considering she was almost brought to tears when labeled by the same word. This means that she is aware that it is a word that devalues another person. Now, everything that has a reaction has an equal and opposite reaction. This is also true with the power behind words. When we devalue a person it not only attempts to lower their status in our eyes and the eyes of others we influence (either consciously or subconsciously), but also by default attempts to raise our own status to that of a position higher than the person being devalued. If we can agree on this then we can also agree about what it is really saying about how she (J.W.'s daughter) is "paying attention to the world around her" and "starting to learn how she fits in with others." By saying nothing, one not only allows another to devalue a valuable human being, but also gives silent approval to the aggressor's feeling of superiority.

There was one other thing that struck me about the response post above and it entails the statement, "Being different is just another way of saying you're unique. Our differences are what make us, US." This statement comes from a privileged perspective. As members of the dominant structures (i.e. heterosexual, male, white, etc.), we see our differences as our hair color, the fact that we can play the violin well, or our impeccable taste in clothing (my weakness). However, the unique feature whaler has decided to illustrate is most likely not what that disabled person would call their defining characteristic. In short, a disabled person (or any member of an oppressed group) does not want those specific characteristics to make them, THEM! While one may own their disability to the point of embracing it, if asked, "What makes you, you?" I would expect it would rank as high on a list of their defining attributes as I would rank my height among mine.

Now, briefly onto the main subject matter. The question was posed as to how much of a trip is it that we don't challenge more people than we do? This, I think, can be broken down into the difference between doubt and belief. Charles S. Pierce writes in his essay The Fixation of Belief that, “Doubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and pass into the state of belief; while the latter is a calm and satisfactory state which we do not wish to avoid, or to change to a belief in anything else.” This can be applied to challenging people. Challenging someone puts one in the position of possibly ending up in a state of doubt about one's own belief. In addition, it puts the one being challenged in a state of doubt which we, maybe subconsciously, try to avoid doing to others based on the mutual knowledge of what that feeling entails. However, those whom have taught themselves to think critically (and real critical thinking is a skill that is practiced), have pleasantly acquiesced to living their lives with a certain level of doubt. Peirce goes on to say that both belief and doubt can have positive effects when he states that, “Belief does not make us act at once, but puts us into such a condition that we shall behave in some certain way, when the occasion arises. Doubt has not the least such active effect, but stimulates us to inquiry until it is destroyed.” Those whom have decided to live their lives peering through a critical lens have an endless stimulation for a certain type of knowledge and, therefore, have had to embrace doubt on a certain level. As Peirce says, without doubt we end up “believing just what we do believe.”

I'm glad that I'm able to share this positive quality with both J.W. and whaler. It's been a pleasure. I'M OUT!

*** KMP, welcome to the intellectual party we like to throw on the Press Republican's website. Your first entry I "doubt" even you "believe," pun intended! No, seriously though, I would give you some props on what you said but then Whaler would get on me again, so I'll wait until you agree with me over and over again without once disagreeing before I officially anoint you as crew! By the way does anybody know who was that masked man? *** -- J.W.

E-

I don't disagree with any portion of your response to my comment. JW brings up the issue...we read it...think about it some (or alot)...and some choose to comment.

I don't have a problem with people who agree. Bloggers often attract like-minded people, so in that sense it would stand to reason that many of us are on common ground. Also, if you, and I, and the others listed by JW are taking our time to read a blog entry on diversity...or social justice...or relationship issues, it also stands to reason that we are likely on the "more tolerant" or "open-minded" side of the fence.

I wasn't trying to be critical of individuals. I guess what I meant by challenging JW was that it would be nice to see a little more give and take. Push back a little. Press the issue. It's hard to have a real conversation with one blog post (even as articulate and thought provoking as JW's are) and one comment left thereafter. In order to dig deeper, I think it would be good to keep the dialogue rolling. Personally, I get excited when I see the comment counter approaching double digits...it shows there is the chance of a more "lively" conversation. :)

KMP-

Thanks for your thoughtful responses to my comments. This is fun...

However... :)

First, I couldn't disagree more with the assertion that one has to actually walk in another's shoes to understand their plight. That doesn't leave much room for the human mind. I may not have ever been subject to racism...as I'm not black. But I know how it feels to be rejected and ostracized for an unjust reason.

From somewhere in my past readings, I remember a poem. I have no idea who wrote it, and can't properly give the author his/her due, but the refrain was: "I don't have to be black, to understand struggle. I don't have to be black, to...". That's all I really remember.

A trivial example, but one that is relevant today can be seen in choosing our Presidential candidates. If I follow your assertion, women should vote for Hillary, blacks should vote for Obama, and all white men should vote for McCain. (If you're a white or black woman, I'm not sure what you'd do ;) ). Only a woman can best "speak for" women, or a black man best "represent" blacks? I think issues are what's important...fairness, equality, respect. While each INDIVIDUAL might have a unique perspective, I do not need to HAVE that perspective to understand it or recognize the value of it.

Second...in regard to being different as being unique. I don't understand your comment that my position is one of a priviliged nature. For one...you assume I'm not different in a way similar to a disabled person. But more to the point...people define themselves by whatever they choose to define themselves as. I don't say that I'm goofy looking because some creep laughed at me in Walmart. I choose to define myself by my actions, my thoughts, and my dreams.

I'm not naive enough to think that comments and looks/stares don't have an impact on one's self-image/self-respect. They do. But only to the extent they are allowed to influence one's thoughts.

The more I think about it, the more I think that your example actually makes my point. I don't define myself as goofy looking...even if someone says my eyes aren't level. Just like the disabled person doesn't define themselves as an amputee, because someone points they're weird. Like you said...it wouldn't rank that high on the defining attribute list.

JW - I haven't forgotten you! I'm out of time to respond now...maybe later tonight! :)

I am curious as to the whereabouts of Stephen, one of my favorite bloggers. I am wondering what might be keeping him from this lively conversation? Stephen, are you o.k.?

JW-

Thanks for the gracious comments...and for recognizing that my post was not intended to be antagonistic…just probing. That's the nature of philosophers like us.

Responding to your comments a little out of order, I'd like to say your point on your daughter's tears is well taken. We shouldn't be afraid of our emotions...good or bad...as they, too, help shape who we are. Sometimes those most difficult moments are the ones in which we grow the most.

But, I am still having a little trouble with the depth to which you attribute your daughter's comment. On some level, I agree with your "slippery slope" explanation. Let a little comment slip and the next time it's a little more egregious...and the next time it's truly offensive. Maybe I’m putting myself in your situation and I’m not comparing apples to apples. I have a 4-year-old daughter. I very easily could see her make a similar comment. But I don’t know if she would have fully grasped your lesson had I done the same thing. Maybe I’m not giving her enough credit…or more likely…maybe I’m just a softie…but I think the message may have been lost in the fact that I hurt her in some way. I think you daughter is a bit older, right?

The innocence and innate sense of fairness that kids have is something I think needs to be fostered. Granted…kids can also be cruel, and I agree with you that a parent has to understand their kids and find a way to pick and chose those moments when a real sense of insensitivity was intended. But a parent should also know when to let innocent comments go…even when on a surface level, they may appear insensitive. Otherwise you chance stifling inquisitiveness and questioning…and force them to internalize their thoughts to a place where we (as parents) cannot evaluate them.

I had a similar experience to yours in Walmart with my daughter a year or so ago. There was a man in a reclined wheelchair who was obviously agitated. He was quite vocal too. We happened to end up in line directly behind him. My daughter asked what I thought he wanted. She thought he might have forgotten something. She didn’t point out his wheelchair, or his flailing arms, or the guttural sounds he was making. She saw him as someone else who was upset about something. BUT, the point I’d like to make is not that on that one occasion I was proud of how my daughter handled herself. The point I’d like to make is that from THEIR perspective, they might have been offended by her actions. Yes, we were only 10 feet away, but if they looked back at us, they likely saw my daughter pointing to their family member. They likely saw us talking about him. They likely saw me shrug my shoulders. On some level…how much responsibility do we carry to make sure we don’t hurt others? The big things are obvious…but these situations are a little tougher.

OK…this is getting kind of lengthy. I don’t want to monopolize your space. J And while it’s an honor to have inadvertently begun an audition to the crew, I recognize that I’m talking to a professional. My A game may not be in the same league as yours…but it will be an honest perspective, with only the best of intentions.

*** Whaler, as we often would say in the hood, "game recognizes game." You've got skills!

Having said that, perhaps the difference between how we would handle situations like that is also the fact that I have already been on the other end of that with my son. You may recall the loss of his innocence from an insensitive comment by a fifth grader when he was a first grader--that I have chronicled in one or two blogs. Well, I am probably super sensitive to the possibilities that my children may hurt some other child like my son could have been hurt by that little boy's ignorance who called him the "N" word. As well, yes, my daughter was one year older, and perhaps a bit tougher in receiving criticism, having an older brother who unfortunately is adept at doling it out.

Hey, as I often say, it is about the context. I think I know my children well and so I push them in ways that others may not. People compliment our children all the time on their maturity and communication skills. Does this also imply a loss of innocence? It could! But on the other side I am having conversations with my children that I wouldn't trade for the world and am fairly comfortable that they have an adequate-to-good understanding of who they are in this often daunting world of ours.

You make great points about stifling their innocence! On the other hand though, innocence isn't worth preserving if you live in an environment that is going to take it away at any given moment simply because you represent something that is devalued. So my solution, within reason, is to prepare my children--as best I can--for the onslaught of ignorance that they will encounter in this world. In doing this I have a responsibility to not let teachable moments pass, or my children may become the perpetrators I am trying my best to prepare them for. At the end of the day, considering the thought you and I put into our children and apparently everything else we do, I am confident that our children will be well served from how we handle ours, even though we handle ours differently. As I always say, difference isn't necessarily good or bad, it is just different! *** -- J.W.

I am glad you took a positive roll in teaching your child what i perceive is the right way. Many people are raised in a world where there is something WRONG with people with disabilities, and there is something WRONG with people of different skin color. My fiance' is Puerto Rican, and I am white, and if we ever had kids, I don't ever want adults or children treating him/her differently just because they are of mixed races!!

whaler,

I'm not exactly sure you took away what I was hoping readers would take away from my reponse post.

First, I was making no literal reference to others actually having to be another person in order to understand their reality or in order to represent their specific concerns or issues (if we're speaking in your political terms). I was making the much more poignant point that gaining empathy for another's plight is an important step in really embracing an empathy for other people's truth (and by that I mean the victimization some individuals experience due to means beyond their control). This would include someone making unjust comments whose connotation aims at taking another's energy away.

Secondly, I just have two quick responses to your statement, "For one...you assume I'm not different in a way similar to a disabled person." This statement alone leads me to believe that you're not a member of the disabled community and therefore come from a privileged perspective because you are part of the dominant culture, in that respect. Those with disabilities are lumped together in a group labeled by the dominant culture as "disabled." By saying, "similar to a disabled person" you're taking part in this dominant ritual of projection that pictorializes all disabled people as sharing the same realities and experiences.

In addition, I think you're statement, "She's starting to learn how she fits in with others. Being different is just another way of saying you're unique. Our differences are what make us, US" is a problamatic platform. When you write this you're, at the most basic level, saying that the aforementioned disabled person is unique because of his difference. His difference being his disability. You're in contrast with this point when you write, "I don't define myself as goofy looking...even if someone says my eyes aren't level. Just like the disabled person doesn't define themselves as an amputee, because someone points out they're weird", and, in conjunction, illustrate the difference between our points. The difference is that you're labeling another unique (which can be coded term in itself) based on appearance and then claim that you would never define yourself by the same terms. This is the hypocrisy of an abelist perspective.

whaler, these are just another couple of thoughts to chew on for a moment. It's been fun. Get back at me.

Hey KMP-

I enjoy reading your responses, as this topic is quite interesting to me.

I have great difficulty understanding why people treat others the way they do. I've made it a point to try and assess how I look at people, and particularly how I treat people...and am quite confident I treat others with respect and fairness.

Like I said to JW...I consider myself a Philosopher...by experience and by education. But...and here's the big BUT…I think throwing around words like "privileged perspective" and "dominant culture" and "hypocrisy of an ableist perspective" is nothing but throwing fuel on the fire. In the context of the classes JW teaches, I understand what these words mean, and more importantly, what they represent. They have their place and their purpose. But…they are buzzwords, and in my opinion…loaded buzzwords.

Is it OK for you to label me as “privileged” and complicit in a “ritual of projection”? That sounds like a lot of academic crap to me. These kinds of words, used in the classroom can make a point and are easy ways to explain what is happening “out in society” or “in the real world”. But you better take care when applying those words to an individual. They are divisive terms. You calling me privileged based on what you gleamed from my words is no different than someone judging another person because of a physical impairment.

Finally…the last paragraph of your reply is unfair. The danger in a healthy discussion of in depth concepts like fairness and tolerance is that by digging deep, you can sometimes lose sight of reality. The fact is…a disabled person is IN FACT disabled. They ARE different in some way…and sometimes in a VERY NOTICABLE way. There is nothing wrong with that observation. The problem comes when one defines that person solely based on that one feature.

Someday I might bump into Ronan Tynan in Walmart (wouldn’t I be so lucky). I’d likely first notice that he’s bald…and rather portly. Then I might look down and notice he has two prosthetic legs. That is a defining characteristic of his appearance. It’s there…it’s obvious…and I would notice it. But…do I define him as a no-legged, bald, fat man? No…that’s ridiculous. Just because I recognize a physical uniqueness, doesn’t mean I’m labeling that person in any way.

One afterthought - I think in a spirited conversation, a line can be toed where a discussion can become personal. That is especially the case in charged conversations…like dealing with inequity and respect. I’m pretty easygoing…and thick skinned. I’m also one who prefers simpler language…for easier communication. But…I choose to be that way. Don’t think the implication you make by calling me an ableist just slips by. In this case I choose to let it pass to keep the conversation on a productive level.

*** Whaler, it is really nice to see you passionately defend yourself. This was your first posting where, while philosophical as always, your blood was pumping as you hit those keys ,wasn't it? Welcome to my world! Conversations with intelligent people on passionate, complex topics are actually exhilarating. I don't know how many of the bloggers get their blood up when they are responding to one another, but you two appear to have quite a bit of energy in your exchange. I don't know what your future with KMP holds, but I would really like to have you read an article called Constructing Normalcy, if you are so inclined. Let me know if you would like to. Now, catch your breath Whaler, and save some of that energy for future blogs! *** -- J.W.

JW-

I read Constructing Normalcy while eating my breakfast this morning. Whoa! There's lots of juicy stuff in there. Bell Curves, Darwin and Evolution, Eugenics...

It was a very interesting read...I particularly enjoyed the concepts of the ideal vs. the norm.

I do have a few thoughts...should I use this space here? I don't want to drive too far off the topic of your post without the OK from you.

*** Whaler, since it isn't necessarily germane to the blog topic we discussed perhaps we should find another venue! Check your email for a correspondence from me. *** -- J.W.

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