The Achievements of Marginalized People Are Earned, Not Gifted

the-hate-you-giveWithout having read Angie Thomas’s book, The Hate You Give, I’m already certain of its quality. Where is all this buzz about the book coming from, considering it is only being released today? Why am I so certain it will be a great book to read?

Some of the buzz is coming from the many people who get a chance to read a book before it’s officially released. These are people who are part of the publishing process, and those who have been given ARCs. Part of my reason for being sure this will be a good book comes from trusting the judgment of these readers.

The other source of my confidence comes from a more complicated truth. When a marginalized writer of an OWN story (like Angie Thomas) gets a big publishing deal, people like me tend to assume the book is great. Why wouldn’t we? We know how the publishing industry works. We have seen how hard it is to get an agent, never mind get a deal like Ms. Thomas’s. Intimate experience has taught us nothing in this industry is a gift.

Another group of readers have a less informed point of view about big releases from marginalized writers. These are the people who think there’s a quota of books by certain categories of authors that publishers are forced to print.

This assumption is ridiculous on the face of it. Do they honestly believe there are only a handful of books written by marginalized writers that are remotely worthy of publishing? Do they not realize marginalized writers not only have to compete against everyone else, but also have to fight to be seen among other marginalized writers?

Despite the absurdity, they continue to think the accomplishments of marginalized writers of OWN stories as gifts from the publishing industry.

Marginalized authors of OWN stories can’t be ordinary. They can’t write a premier book that is simply GOOD. That will never be good enough for them to get a publishing deal, never mind a big release. Every book they get published has to be EXTRAORDINARY.

The two sets of assumptions are polar opposites, but both create a trap for marginalized writers. On the one hand, there’s the group of people who believe each book you publish will be golden. By virtue of how hard it is to get OWN stories published, they assume everything you publish will be an example of your best work. You have no room for mistakes, which everyone makes. There is no expectation of growth. If your book fails to dazzle such readers, they won’t come back for another.

On the flip side, the other group consists of readers who assume you are mediocre. They believe you have been given a deal because you were the best out a small pile offered to a publisher, who ultimately settled. Readers like this might change their minds, if you can get them to give your book a chance. That is the hard part. They are far more likely to cling to the belief they’d be wasting their time if they read your book.

The best picture debacle of Oscars 2017 highlighted this phenomena for me. I read a Tweet the following day that suggested Moonlight was only produced in order to satisfy calls for diversity. The person went on to suggest it wasn’t enough to give the Oscar to Moonlight; they had to humiliate the cast of La La Land in the process.

In other words, the makers of Moonlight didn’t earn their Oscar. It was gift from the film industry. The creators of La La Land aren’t to blame for what happened. They never intended to be part of the harm inadvertently caused to those involved in Moonlight. It doesn’t change the fact that harm was caused by that series of unfortunate events. Many people now have it fixed in their heads that the predominately black team behind Moonlight were gifted an Oscar by the mostly white team behind La La Land.

Like I said, this monumental screw-up highlighted for me how the achievements of marginalized people get reduced to a gift, rather than the fruits of hard work.

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Make 2017 The Year Hollywood Stops Stealing Work From People With Disabilities

2016 has been a big year for Hollywood championing disability rights. Observing leaders like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos attacking human rights of people with disabilities, Hollywood turned their eyes back onto themselves. They stepped aside from roles of disabled characters in preference for disabled actors. They declined writing and directing stories about disabled characters in preference of disabled writers and directors. 2016 will go down as the year disability finally started to be represented in Hollywood by people who are actually disabled.

I‘ll pause here to give you a moment to catch your breath from all your laughing. 

With the 2016 Oscars looming, the most that can be said is that Meryl Streep made a condescending speech about people with disabilities at the Golden Globes, to a room full of hypocrites.

(Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe Speech)

meryl-streep

You’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of people in that audience who wouldn’t steal work from people with disabilities, including Meryl Streep. The fact people like her believe Donald Trump sank to a new low when he made fun of people with disabilities only proves they don’t know what it is like to be disabled.

These are the people who should be writing, directing, and playing the roles of disabled characters? These are the people who are going to promote empathy? If they had a shred of empathy, they’d think about how hard it can be to get employment in their industry when you are disabled. If they had empathy, they’d think about how painful it is to see your stories co-opted by people who have a plethora of other stories they could be telling.

For many disabled people, 2016 will be the year Hollywood was forced to LISTEN to some of our protests against their representations. It will be the year they gave us a romantic story about a disabled man who taught a girl to Live Boldly; all while tattooed with a Best Before Date of the day he was paralyzed. Me Before You was presented as a story about the personal choice to die. Huge groups of disabled people told everyone involved in the film that the message actually comes off as: Better Off Dead Than Disabled.

me-before-you

If Hollywood actually involved disabled people in storytelling, huge protests against Better Dead Than Disabled messaging in movies might not have to take place. If Hollywood had empathy, maybe they would have questioned the wisdom of turning a book written by a woman who’d never met a paralyzed person into a movie meant to give disabled people representation on film. If they realized Me Before You features a disabled character who’s never been taught ways to Live Boldly with disability, they might not have been duped by the insistence it’s a story about freedom to choose death. If they noted the fact the disabled character in Me Before You is the only main character not given a point of view in the book, they might have dismissed people saying this story gives disabled people a voice.

Maybe people in Hollywood need to stop insisting disabled people need to be given a voice, as if it’s a gift they can bestow, and pay attention to the fact we already have voices. At the end of 2017, I want to be able to claim all my sarcastic claims about the world of film in 2016 actually came true.

 

Disability in Steven Universe: Monster Reunion

monsters-reunion

Greg: Help I can’t relate to my robot son. 

Steven: My mind is the internet. I know every continuity mistake made on television. 

The Message, Steven Universe

This piece of conversation caught my attention while watching Steven Universe with my children. It struck me as an attempt to poke fun at people on the autism spectrum. When I made a comment about it on Twitter, a Steven Universe fan jumped onto my mentions to argue. This person was angry with people like me reading things into the show that the creators never intended.

My reply was simple: The creators probably intended it to be an innocuous joke about people on the spectrum, just like I suggested.

It isn’t like they haven’t had other episodes that touch on disability. I attempted to break down my perceptions of Monster Reunion for this person. Until I referred them to Steven Universe Review 3 x 14: Monster Reunion, they refused to accept anything I had to say as anything more than baseless opinions.

I have a bone to pick about the way this person behaved. Marginalized people are often expected to defend their experiential learning and perceptions (people of various faiths, LGBTQIA, PW Disabilities, POC etc).

When they express an opinion on Social Media, they are suddenly expected to provide a dissertation in support of their point of view. Fatigue becomes a factor when dealing with such people. Sometimes an issue being discussed is so important, the marginalized person is willing to expend energy attempting to clarify. Sometimes they are too tired, or otherwise not inclined. If they tell the person to look it up on Google, they’re generally accused of attacking them.

This person who jumped onto MY MENTIONS demanded I provide PROOF of my opinion. Breaking down my observations of Monster Reunion wasn’t good enough. PROOF could only be provided in the form of referenced articles that showed OTHER people shared my point of view.

The most frustrating part of the whole thing was that the person said my point of view was tainted by personal experience with autism. On the other hand, their opinion that I was jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions was valid because their brother was on the spectrum.

Assertions like this aren’t new for me. They are supported in the writing of autism experts like Simon Baron-Cohen, who says you can’t trust the self-assessment of people with autism. He recommends you ask non-autistic people in their lives if they see the person the same way.

Most of the people I encounter with this attitude have probably never read anything by Simon Baron-Cohen. It begs the question: Where are they getting the idea their opinions about autism are more valid than those of autistic people?

Simple answer: We have Autism Speaks to thank for that.

Slightly more inclusive answer: We have the entirety of history/research surrounding autism to blame.

Before I started to read Neurotribes by Steve Silberman, I was prepared to give Autism Speaks all the blame  for teaching the world they are allowed to speak for autistic people. As I plow through the painful pages of Silberman’s book, I can see there’s a long history of mistreating autistic people. Treating us as irrelevant is actually an improvement from being labelled as inhuman.

stevens-universe

I suppose I should let you in on the points I was making about the way Steven Universe tackled issues of disability in Monster Reunion. If you want more detail, follow the link to the review I referenced.

In the episode there is a corrupted gem. The other Crystal Gems tell Steven such gems are beyond helping because they are torn in the mind, instead of the body. Steven refuses to accept this. He attempts to heal the corrupted gem. His efforts allow the gem to communicate through drawing. She draws a picture that reveals she is desperate to get back to her crew.

Her drawings might have revealed more than Steven realized. She drew a picture that looked like a scene from the war. The corrupted gem and her crew were taking orders from what appeared to be Pink Diamond, except the picture looked like Steven. Since gems consistently can’t tell the difference between Steven and his mother (Rose Quartz), it makes me think this corrupted gem was trying to tell Steven that his mother had been Pink Diamond (and therefore part of himself continues to be).

What is troubling about Monster Reunion is the attitude of the other Crystal Gems. They treat the corrupted gem as beyond hope and void of value, until Steven gives her the ability to communicate. This is the experience of many people with disabilities that effect their ability to communicate, including people with autism.

I’ve had people with disabilities tell me it was a little less painful to watch their experiences portrayed through a cartoon fantasy. They also found it gratifying to see the creators of Steven Universe present their point of view to an audience who might not otherwise think about it. Once I got over the initial shock, I found myself agreeing with them. When I had a stranger on Twitter demand I explain and defend the way I saw the episode, this gratification was somewhat dulled.

 

More Afraid of Men as a Gender Than Terrorists

47285_enough_is_enough_graphic

My post today is inspired by the New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof called: Husbands are Deadlier than Terrorists

In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, terrorists born in the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban killed zero people in America, according to the Cato Institute. Zero….

It’s true that Muslim Americans — both born in the United States and immigrants from countries other than those subject to Trump’s restrictions — have carried out deadly terrorism in America. There have been 123 such murders since the 9/11 attacks — and 230,000 other murders….

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

Nicholas Kristof Husbands are Deadlier than Terrorists

So what do the rates of domestic violence look like? These are slippery statistics to nail down, thanks to the inherent problems with tracking such information in a system that too often shields perpetrators, and under reporting. One has to assume that for every reported case of assault, there are a multitude that go unreported. For every confirmed murder as the result of domestic violence, there are many that are recorded as something different. Since it is difficult to put an accurate numerical value on deaths due to domestic violence in any given year, I will reference some estimates:

It’s a sobering fact. At least one third of all female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by male intimate partners — husbands and ex-husbands, boyfriends and estranged lovers.

At Least A Third Of All Women Murdered In The U.S. Are Killed By Male Partners

Allssa Scheller, The Huffington Post

As a victim of domestic violence, who has sat on the precarious edge of not knowing if I’d see another day, I have no problem believing these estimates. As a person with the simple power of observation, able to see the attacks on women’s rights law makers are willing to take in public forums, I have no problem imagining the horror happening behind closed doors.

 

Life Unworthy of Life – DeVos, Sessions, Piers Morgan & Life of Disabled People

After telling Piers Morgan to fuck off on live television, Jim Jefferies went on to tell him that Hitler didn’t start killing Jewish people on day one. This was in response to Piers Morgan echoing a popular sentiment that critics of Trump are grossly overestimating the damage he intends to do.

They Say: He hasn’t done this or that, and he probably won’t

Jim Jefferies Says: Give him a chance. Hitler didn’t kill the Jews on the first day. He worked up to it.

Piers Morgan: You see. That is the exact, ridiculous, hysterical, over the top nonsense that is making people frightened. 

Paraphrase of spoken conversation – Click the link to watch the conversation clip – Piers Morgan and Jim Jefferies on Real Time with Bill Maher

While it is true Jewish people weren’t being killed enmasse from day one, there certainly were Jewish people among those who were being killed.

Who were these people?

Disabled people were one of the main groups being killed early on; through the Aktion T4 program. In 1939, Adolf Hitler signed an official Euthanasia decree that resulted in an estimated seventy thousand people being murdered. Steve Silberman points out in his book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of NeuroDiversity that it would be naive to believe the killings began with the official decree. Disabled people were being quietly murdered long before that. Silberman talks about how German officials came to the conclusion that as long as you told families the cause of death was something natural, they’d feel overwhelming relief to be rid of the burden.

The official propaganda often pointed a finger at the cost to taxpayers of providing services to people with disabilities.

life-unworthy-of-life

People like Piers Morgan want to label expression of fear in the era of Donald Trump as hyperbolic.

What are you so afraid of? Nobody is being killed…..

Except the people with critical illness and disabilities who rely on the Affordable Care Act.

What are you so afraid of? Nobody is being denied human rights…..

This one isn’t even close to being true. Muslim people, LGBTQIA, People with Disabilities, First Nations (Native Americans), and many others are having their civil and human rights violated daily in Trump’s America. Disabled students are among those under attack. Betsy DeVos insisted she misspoke at her Senate confirmation hearing, when she suggested states could opt out of the federally mandated obligation to provide ALL children in America an education, including those with disabilities. She went on to remove a website for disabled children after taking office: Website for disabled students disappears as DeVos takes office

betsy-devos-is-a-tool

She isn’t the only person Trump has appointed who thinks disabled children shouldn’t be provided an education. Jeff Sessions has given speeches about how disabled children are ruining the American school system. Jeff Sessions Slammed a Law Protecting Schoolchildren with Disabilities

jeff-sessions-is-a-tool

As a British citizen, Piers Morgan might be familiar with the vicious scapegoating of people with disabilities occurring in his homeland. To be a disabled person in Britain is to be told on a daily basis that you are a drain on the social net. News outlets in Britain run articles on a regular basis that detail the cost to taxpayers to provide supports to people with disabilities. The average disabled British citizen can easily see the parallels between this:

life-unworthy-of-life

And This:

Named and Shamed: Five of Britain’s Biggest Benefits Cheats Who Stole 4.5 Million Pounds from Taxpayers

You might be thinking the comparisons are slim. You might be thinking these people DID cheat the system, and deserve to be shamed.

Here’s the thing: British news outlets are working hard to convince citizens there thousands of fraudsters milking the taxpayers of hard earned money. In the meantime, disabled people are being spied upon by neighbors. If they feel well enough to go for a bike ride for the first time in a month, they get reported. If they save money frugally for years to take a little trip, they get reported. If they make having internet access so their voice can be heard on social media a priority, they are reported for misusing public funds. God forbid they be allowed to speak for themselves. British newspapers are emboldening British citizens into acting like the soviet secret police, with a solemn duty to find all the fraudsters costing them millions.

Let me be clear: Britain isn’t the only place this is happening. I am focusing on it specifically because Piers Morgan is British.

My dad calls it the middle-class coveting the poor man’s Mac and Cheese. What he means is that propaganda conditions us to resent even the little bit poor people have. We are convinced that providing them the mercy of enough to stay alive costs us a bump up the financial ladder.

What it comes down to is this: We are monetizing the value of a person’s life. We are setting up columns for Contribution to Society and Cost to Society. If a person has more written in Cost than Contributions, does their life become untenable? Considering historical treatment of disabled people that includes Aktion T4, inspired by the American Eugenics movement that systematically sterilized people with disabilities, it isn’t unreasonable for people with disabilities to be terrified in this climate of scapegoating.

Both DeVos and Trump belong to sects that believe the value of a person’s life is directly related to what they are worth financially. It’s a fairly common idea among many Christian sects, even if they don’t take it to the extremes these two do. Most people have heard the expression: Idle hands are the devil’s plaything. Isn’t idleness essentially the crime disabled people are being accused of? They aren’t only being accused of being a drain to society because of an inability to contribute to a free market system.There’s an implicit accusation that they are evil; a tool of the Devil.

So as the patterns repeat, people like Piers Morgan aren’t filled with fear. They aren’t a problem to me, so they aren’t a problem.  Disabled people have been terrified for a long time now. It gets worse daily. But as usual, their assessment of the situation doesn’t count until the majority of non-disabled people agree.

And Still She Persisted

elizabeth-warren

This was originally posted during Trump’s campaign, on my Blogspot.

Keep in mind: I know more about treaty status and band affiliation in Canada than I know about tribal enrollment in the USA. If something I say doesn’t jive with what you know to be true with the USA, don’t feel afraid to set me straight. 

My daughters have Dëne heritage. They are registered under Treaty 8, and are members of a northern Saskatchewan First Nation.

But only half of their ancestry is First Nations. Thanks to the Indian Act in Canada, the half of their heritage that isn’t First Nations plays a big role in what they are legally allowed to claim.

The Blood Quantum rules set by the Indian Act say that my children can have treaty status, but their children will lose status, if they have a parent who does not have treaty status.

The reason: those children would no longer be First Nations Enough.

Think about that.

Family, culture, language, and land are all being reduced to a process you’d use to figure out the pure-bred status of a dog.

Why is this on my mind right now?

I have been thinking about JK Rowling, Elizabeth Warren, and Donald Trump.

Trump says he isn’t being a racist when he replaces Elizabeth Warren’s name with a racial slur, because her claim to First Nations heritage is false. He accuses Warren of being the one who is racist. My original point was that it isn’t up to Trump to make this determination. I stated this call should be made by First Nations people, specifically those of the nation she is claiming ties to.

There are a lot of people who claim Cherokee lineage in the USA, often based on little more than a family myth. Are all those claims legitimate? That is pretty unlikely.

Some of those stories stem from distant family members trying to create a link to people they thought would be gone by now, based on books they were reading. Literature is littered with stories of noble savages; the last of their people, ultimately doomed. First Nations people didn’t fade into the realm of myth, the way colonial story-books suggested they would. The people who created tales of First Nations people in the family died without setting the story straight, leaving generations of people falsely claiming heritage. These people could be said to be mislead, not necessarily malicious.

There is another group of people who claim heritage for more selfish motives. They want to gain an advantage for themselves. This could come in the form of increased chances/consideration during a competition, or some kind of monetary gain. Trump has accused Warren of these motivations. Her defenders have said she would fall in line with the mislead group, if her claims turn out to be false, since she sincerely believes the connections to be true. They feel she hasn’t tried to use her heritage for any type of advantage. My original point was that it isn’t up to Trump, or people outside of the First Nation Warren is claiming connections, to pass judgement.

The issue struck a personal chord with me. Trump is one of a long line of people who feel entitled to decide if a person is Native Enough. In Canada, blood quantum codifies this process of discrimination. The USA probably has similar processes connected to claims for tribal enrollment, or has in the past.

How would Trump feel if his heritage was questioned? I have zero desire to look up his actual heritage, so the following is a hypothetical scenario:

Imagine if Ancestry.com told him 30% of his family were from Ireland. Now imagine some blow-hard (who wasn’t Irish) saying he didn’t have a right to say he was Irish, but only doing this for his/her own political gain. For the scenario to be completely accurate, the person would need to replace Trump’s name with an ethnic slur used to dehumanize the Irish people. It might turn out that Trump really didn’t have Irish heritage. That doesn’t put the blow-hard in the realm of being justified.

This issue struck a personal chord because my grandchildren could be facing the same attack. Someone could tell them they aren’t allowed to claim the Dëne part of their family background. I follow many First Nations people on Twitter. One took a compassionate view of people who make claims to First Nations heritage, who can’t produce specifics of the connections.

This perspective fell more in-line with my original point. While acknowledging frustration, it is forgiving when it comes the the motivation.

Debbie Reese (@debreese) got me thinking about complicity, by connecting the Elizabeth Warren issue to JK Rowling.

Rowling has been repeatedly told, by MANY First Nations people, that her use of Native cultural stories in Magic In North America is inappropriate. She pulled stories from many different cultures, and mashed them together without context. She did this without any significant consultation or contact with the actual cultures the stories came from, resulting in the stories being misrepresented. Rather than listening and responding to critiques, she has pushed onward, into the mass marketing phase of her story-telling (because there always will be this phase with Rowling). Unlike most authors, Rowling has a platform to do incredible harm. Pottermore is already sorting people into North American houses.

Who wants to bet the criteria are a collection of offensively cliche traits concerning First Nations? How many Native children are going to see their cultural art sold in theme parks, while their family members can’t find a market for the items they are creating? How many First Nations children are going to feel like their fantasy escape has been stolen from them, so some English writer can profit? Does Rowling believe it’s too late to acknowledge the mistake, because she has a lot to lose? Does she imagine First Nations people have less at stake? More likely, she knows First Nations people are a minority, and other people won’t speak up.

How does this connect to Warren? Debbie Reese suggests that by not calling out Warren on her unproven claims, demanding she produce evidence before continuing to perpetuate the story, we are being complicit in the idea Warren is entitled to speak for First Nations people. That might not be Warren’s intention, but it is an already widely held belief that pretty much anyone’s words are more important than those of actual First Nations people.

People like Rowling are making it worse. Rowling seems to be disregarding protests of First Nations people, for the sake of profit. When Rowling disregards First Nations voices, she disappears them, the way colonial literature tried to. When we let Warren’s voice be more important than First Nations people with proven heritage, we also disappear First Nations people. Through apathy, we become complicit.