Sunday, July 26, 2020

Why Can't You Find a Polio?

On this, the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), amidst current and remarkable social unrest, I wanted to take some time to reflect on our ongoing struggles with isms and Civil Rights in general.

Listening this morning to an old interview with Civil Rights icon and Congressman John Lewis (RIP), and recently watching the Netflix documentary Crip Camp, I was struck by the amazing work of our forebearers (of which I've reaped the benefits), progress made during my lifetime (between Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act [not implemented and enforced until 1977], passage of the ADA in 1990, the election of the first African American President in 2008, and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015) -- as well as how far we still have to go (as exemplified by the need for the Black Lives Matter movement, the way people of East Asian descent have often been scapegoated for covid-19, and how the vulnerability of people with pre-existing conditions is sometimes blamed for inconveniencing "healthy people" during the pandemic).

Crip Camp also contains some "beautiful" examples of unconscious discrimination that jumped out -- such as a woman with Cerebral Palsy who mistakenly had gonorrhea diagnosed as appendicitis, because the doctors in the ER couldn't imagine she was sexually active -- and the reaction of that same woman's new mother-in-law to her son's choice of bride: "I understand why you'd want to marry a handicapped girl, but why can't you find a polio?". We go out of our way to build arbitrary hierarchies even within marginalized communities, I suppose to make ourselves feel better but always at the expense of someone else. When will it end? 

I'd say that at least covid-19 is an equal opportunity infector, but we know that isn't true: institutional biases toward race, class, and "health" beat the impartiality of nature every time. 

Hooray for civilization!