This Blogging Against Ableism post is devoted to challenge patronizing people with disabilities. In my experience, it's one of the more common and typical manifestations of (dis)ableism, and also one of the most slippery and insidious. How can you check an attitude anyway? Yet, as far as abuse of power, the dismissal of someone is a major action.
I define patronizing as:
Treating someone as if you think they are dumb, pedantic, annoying, or otherwise less valid of public contribution and participation. Behavioral examples include eye rolling, private looks of condescension, dismissing, erasing, cutting off, babying, or otherwise invalidating.
I kept returning to this idea of posting against patronizing, and kept talking myself out of it. What about the ways in which many people with disabilities are systematically oppressed as among the most poor, least employed, and least educated in the world? What about the ways in which our "social security" systems lead people away from contributing to society and trap people in poverty? Globally, what about the lack of even basic access to health care and sanitation, to basic mobility equipment and medications?
What about the ways in which psychiatric system survivors are among the most frequently homeless, due to the decentralization and then unfunding of support services? Patronizing just seems like such an unimportant issue. Who cares if we get patted on the head or treated as children occasionally?
Well, why is it exactly that people with physical, communication, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities are undereducated? It could be that the educational systems have systematized patronizing by undervaluing, underfunding, and underestimating students with disabilities.
And why is it that people with disabilities are more often than not un-employed or under-employed? Just thinking of a few friends, I can only guess that discrimination based on appearances and prejudices outweighed the Masters degrees, years of professional experience, and demonstrated competency had something to do with an attitude of patronization. After all, even if someone with an obvious disability could do a challenging job, it surely couldn't be as good or beautiful as anyone else, and wouldn't the customers question the business's competency then, too? It's interesting that bosses and HR departments' patronizing have often been inaccurate when people actually have the chance to interact with customers and do the jobs.
The de-institutionalization movement was probably a good thing, but as community services were never funded enough to fully develop or to be sustainable, people were left without services or options. So the jails, hospitals homeless shelters, and streets became the institutions. But what could we expect from psych survivors? Perhaps if our patronizing attitudes didn't write people off as hopeless failures, we would see the injustice in these broken systems.
Patronizing can be babying, bullying, or talking down to someone...
but it can also be violating another person because we can't quite see them as fully human.
My own experiences of being patronized are memorable but limited. When I am patronized for looking too young (as an autistic FTM) or too autistic (which is sometimes misread as intellectual disability, anxiety, psych disability, or even younger age), I have the privilege of opening my mouth and quoting theory or showing diplomas, and I have the skin color and class markers to back up my claims along with the privileges of medical care, technology, and diagnoses. But what would it mean to use this privilege in a way other than simply showing that people were mistaken in their categorizing of me as one of the patronizable ones? I've often gotten angry not that my characteristics were misread, but that there was a different way to treat people based on how we are viewed. Yet, I must say that in the moment, I don't know that I've ever challenged those assumptions in a more universal way.
Here are some ideas of how I intend to challenge to act of patronizing:
- Find and express ways that all contributions are valid and important, even those that seem impractical or simplistic, overly-emotional or naive
- If nothing else, what one person voices is an indication of their experiences
- Take the time and effort to listen critically to ideas that seem strange, pedantic, or simplistic
- If behaviors or ways of being are annoying, dull, or odd, have a direct and respectful conversation with the person to find ways to work out understanding and respect
- Call out and stop the patronizing of others
- If all else fails, try to save eye rolls for alone time