November 12th, 2021Kate Taylor imagines no more disability tropes
IMAGINE there’s no disability tropes. I wonder if you can.
And I don’t mean to hijack the lyrics to one of the most recognised songs of all time, here. I think it’s more just another verse that Lennon totally would have got to, once he sorted out imagining no heaven and no religion, no possessions and a brotherhood of man. And women. And gender diversity. Okay so he had a bit of a way to go there but you know where I’m going with this, yeah?
Sometimes it’s nice to imagine. To imagine a world where I don’t have to fit the stereotype of disability. Because at the moment, I feel like I have to live a trope. I’m blind, therefore I have to appear happy all the time. I can be sad, yes, but only because I’m blind. Not for any other reasons. Certainly not sad because I accidentally booked in to give nine guest lectures at uni in one day. Nope. Not that. Just sad about being blind. Or back to happy.
We do it to other people, too. Judge them. On appearance. I listen to a podcaster who was saying that because he’s 6’7”, he can’t approach women in bars. Ever. He has to sit down and wait for them to come over to him. Because otherwise? He’s seen as threatening. Someone that tall is clearly always up to no good.
I have another friend who is tall and he, like me, must never be angry. Ever. Once, he met a very high-up politician. And it didn’t matter that he was standing there in a suit, that he has lovely manners and is eye-wateringly intelligent and empathetic. The first words out of the pollie’s mouth were ‘Wow I’d hate to run into you in a dark alley’. Because he’s tall. Therefore threatening and violent by his appearance.
What is happening? I thought that, as a world, we were moving forward. Making great gains in diversity, equity and inclusion. But I was imagining that. Another great example of how we are told we must appear by society is the #blacklivesmatter movement. Amid all the progress, society still heavily criticised a woman of colour who did an amazing video comparing slavery in America to the game Monopoly and it went viral and everything…yet she was criticised for ‘being angry.’ Look, ‘Angry Black Woman’ as a trope even has its own Wikipedia entry: Angry black woman – Wikipedia.
Michelle Obama talks about copping it too. In her biography Becoming she describes how she gave a ‘passionate’ speech in the early days of her husband’s election campaign…but was told by his campaign managers to tone it down because they were seeing voter backlash against her appearing as an ‘angry black woman’. And if there’s one thing American voters don’t like, apparently, it’s an angry black woman.
In years past, we’ve had to market ourselves as ‘palatable’. Which is repugnant in itself. But when you look back over history we have done some pretty rubbish things all over the world. There have been laws prohibiting people with disability from working, from earning money at all. There have been laws prohibiting marriage. We have been locked away from society. We have been killed by our parents out of shame. Does that make me angry? Yes. And do you know what? I’m allowed to be angry.
Yep. Me. Blind. And angry. And you can’t stop me. Not anymore. Because I’m no longer just disabled. On Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, I have a voice. I’m educated. I’m capable of independent thought. I have opinions. And I’ve thought about this. About you ascribing your social expectations, your stereotypes, your tropes to me about how I must appear and act and behave to meet your standards for inclusion into your society. And you know what? I’m choosing not to go for litigation. Not to make you pay for each and every time in history you have tried to crush us. To hold us down. To hide us. To hurt us. I’m not seeking redress, reparations, liability.
Instead? I want a deal. You have to stop trying to make me into a disability trope. No, scratch that, you have to stop trying to make anyone into a trope based on their physical or intellectual attributes. If you let me be who I am, then I’ll let you be who you are. It’s as simple as that.
Do we have a deal? Because…you may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday, you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.
Kate Taylor is an award-winning journalist…and she’s also blind. In this series, she explores world issues through the lens of living in regional Victoria with a disability. Sometimes dark, sometimes funny, her stories will always make you think.