Disability Day of Mourning, 2017

Content Warning: Murder of People with Disabilities

disability-day-of-mourning

To mark Disability Day of Mourning, I published a blog on my Blog Spot account last March 1st. I thought I’d continue this tradition on my Word Press account. It would be nice to say things have drastically improved in the year since the last Day of Mourning. It seems unlikely anyone will be able to say strides have been made anytime soon.
2017 saw Hollywood release Me Before You. This is a movie based on a book by an author who’d never met a paralyzed person, but was prepared to write a whole book based on her speculations about how they must feel about their quality of life. She was taking care of someone in her life who was disabled, and found herself wondering if they’d prefer not to be a burden. She turned this train of thought into a romance novel that ends with the disabled main character choosing to end his life so his love interest can have his money, and Live Boldly without being burdened by his care needs.
The majority of the reading and viewing public chose to see the movie/book as an examination on personal choice concerning end of life care. Disabled people saw it as romanticizing our deaths and sending the message that we are better off dead than disabled. While I don’t want to see terminally ill people suffer needlessly, the abuses of assisted suicide are a direct threat to one of society’s most vulnerable sectors. Where assisted suicide is sanctioned by government, disabled people are being pressured by family and society to end their lives. I am not prepared to support something which is such a threat to disabled people.
2017 also saw one of the worst attacks on disabled people since the days of Eugenics. A man named Uematsu entered a care facility for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Japan and began to slit the throats of the residents. He murdered 19 people and injured another 26. He made explicit threats about his intentions well in advance of the attacks. He wanted to inspire the world to see his point of view: That the world would be better if people with disabilities were euthanized.
I can also say that there hasn’t been a single week in 2017 where I haven’t read a new story about the murder of a person with a disability. Equally horrendous is the fact that these deaths are rarely referred to as murders in the media. The victim is often blamed for their own death; they were a burden on the person who killed them.
Last year I published a comprehensive list that included the explicit cause of death. My reasoning was to push aside any inclination to see a murder as mercy. This year I’m only posting the known names for 2016 and 2017 (up to this point). I am not giving any explicit details of the deaths.
Name Cause of Death Age Date
Harmony Carsey Abuse 2 January 8, 2016
Holly Lozon Murder-suicide 57 January 13, 2016
Phillip Maynard Neglect 71 January 14, 2016
Bertha Coombes Murder-suicide 83 January 19, 2016
Eunice Phiri Murder 53 January 28, 2016
Daniel Joost Multiple murder-suicide 18 February 8, 2016
Holli Jeffcoat Murder 18 February 10, 2016
Carolyn Taurino Murder 57 February 10, 2016
Desmond Hudson Jr. Abuse 6 months February 16, 2016
James Hill Murder 33 February 18, 2016
Priscilla Edwards Murder 78 February 21, 2016
Maddox Lawrence Murder 22 months February 23, 2016
Henry Mokoshoni Murder 9 February 26, 2016
Dawn Green Murder-suicide 69 March 2, 2016
Tamra Turpin Murder 36 March 2, 2016
Unknown Girl Murder 11 March 3, 2016
Michael Furst Neglect 24 March 6, 2016
Mirelle Guth Murder 64 March 7, 2016
Ronald McCabe Murder 56 March 7, 2016
Cynthia Busch Murder-suicide 24 March 10, 2016
Mary Palley Murder-suicide 73 March 11, 2016
Kobe Shaw Murder 9 months March 11, 2016
Bethannie Johnson Abuse 3 March 17, 2016
Kazue Kawazura Fatal abuse 53 March 21, 2016
Luciana Torcello Murder 82 March 29, 2016
Cathy Evans Murder-suicide 65 April 5, 2016
Yusei Ikeda Murder 11 April 5, 2016
Unknown Male Murder 40 April 6, 2016
Masano Yao Murder 79 April 6, 2016
Yutaka Nagao Murder 61 April 9, 2016
Emily Perrin Murder 4 April 10, 2016
Adrian Parmana Neglect 16 April 12, 2016
Maria Branco Neglect 78 April 13, 2016
Whitney Chilumpha Murder 23 months April 13, 2016
Enelesi Nkhata Murder 21 April 14, 2016
Lynda Cestone Murder 56 April 16, 2016
Jack May Murder 89 April 16, 2016
Barbara Kavanaugh Murder-suicide 88 April 19, 2016
Patricia Myers Murder 69 April 23, 2016
Laraine Rayner Murder 52 April 24, 2016
Melissa Couture Medical neglect 38 April 26, 2016
Marie Stempinski Murder-suicide 72 April 29, 2016
Unknown Female Neglect 16 May 2016
Gertrud Sigman Murder 92 May 7, 2016
Sara Medical neglect 16 May 9, 2016
Carolyn Hager Murder 78 May 16, 2016
Ruby Knox Murder 20 May 16, 2016
Henry Sochalski Murder 64 May 19, 2016
Venkatesh Murder 45 May 22, 2016
Jose Castillo-Cisnero Murder 3 May 23, 2016
Leonard Isequias Abuse 52 May 26, 2016
Jazmine Walker Neglect 6 months May 26, 2016
Unknown Male Abuse 37 May 31, 2016
Kira Friedman Murder 2 June 5, 2016
Billie Jo Quintier Neglect 52 June 8, 2016
Noemi Villarreal Murder 45 June 8, 2016
Rietje Willms Neglect 80 June 12, 2016
Jean Irwin Murder-suicide 83 June 20, 2016
Tammara Killam Neglect 25 June 21, 2016
Peggy Sinclair Murder 85 June 21, 2016
Kathryn Ashe Neglect 66 June 24, 2016
Yuki Kawashima Murder 85 June 25, 2016
Cedric Page Murder 53 June 25, 2016
Unknown Male Murder 12 June 28, 2016
Ty Lee Neglect 11 June 29, 2016
Janelle Johnson Negligence 5 July 2, 2016
William Lamar Murder-suicide 74 July 5, 2016
Kaushal Pawar Murder-suicide 14 July 8, 2016
Nadia Schaible Murder 91 July 12, 2016
Nancy Wright Murder-suicide 85 July 27, 2016
Margaret Meyer Murder-suicide 85 July 28, 2016
Angel Alicea-Estrada Murder-suicide 58 August 1, 2016
Theron Leonard Murder 24 August 5, 2016
Princeton Holloway Murder 3 August 6, 2016
Margaret Sanford Murder-suicide 73 August 12, 2016
Adam Petzack Murder 28 August 18, 2016
Yonatan Aguilar Neglect 11 August 22, 2016
Jean Constant Murder 87 August 22, 2016
Maddalena Pavesi Murder 83 August 22, 2016
Mindy Speck Murder 21 August 22, 2016
Austin Anderson Murder 19 August 29, 2016
Leslie Ramirez Neglect 3 August 29, 2016
Margaret Shelton Murder 85 August 31, 2016
Unknown Female Murder-suicide 68 September 2, 2016
Earl Coleman Murder 81 September 12, 2016
Shobhana Neglect 55 September 26, 2015
Erica Parsons Abuse 13 September 27, 2016
Muhammad Wahab Multiple murder 26 October 2, 2016
Sirajubai Murder 35 October 8, 2016
Masako Hirahara Murder-suicide 84 October 8, 2016
Unknown Boy Abuse 9 October 17, 2016
Elisa Lutz Multiple murder 11 October 17, 2016
Maria Lutz Multiple murder 43 October 17, 2016
Martin Lutz Multiple murder 10 October 17, 2016
Mohamad Abdullah Abuse 11 October 19, 2016
Andreas Headland Multiple murder 3 October 20, 2016
Natalie Finn Neglect 16 October 24, 2016
Grace Packer Murder 14 October 31, 2016
Patricia Swink Murder 66 November 2, 2016
Janice Frescura Multiple murder-suicide 68 November 3, 2016
Robyn Frescura Multiple murder-suicide 50 November 3, 2016
Andrea Spina Murder 22 November 7, 2016
Rebecka Pearce Murder-suicide 30 November 11, 2016
Tyler Caudill Abuse 6 November 13, 2016
Sue Liner Murder-suicide 84 November 13, 2016
Devendra Prasad Misra Murder 27 November 18, 2016
John Owings Murder 65 November 19, 2016
Brayden Otto Multiple murder 7 November 20, 2016
Carol Simon Multiple murder 48 November 20, 2016
Chance Vanderpool Abuse 4 November 22, 2016
Riba Dewilde Murder 51 November 26, 2016
Danny Fernandez Abuse 66 December 11, 2016
Phyllis Mansfield Murder 72 December 14, 2016
Theresa Smothers Neglect 87 December 31, 2016
Name Cause of Death Age Date
Yoko Kubota Murder-suicide 37 January 4, 2017
Barbara Martone Murder-suicide 81 January 9, 2017
Marilyn Miller Murder-suicide 83 January 14, 2017
Alex Santiago Murder 21 January 17, 2017
Erin Leinweber Murder 58 January 30, 2017
James Smith Murder-suicide 68 February 1, 2017
Samuel Murrell Murder 87 February 2, 2017
Joseph Bishop Neglect 18 February 11, 2017
Matthew Tirado Neglect 17 February 14, 2017
Fung Shuk-ying Murder-suicide 56 February 15, 2017
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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.

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

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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.

Stone Of Power – Kimberly A. Riley

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There was a time the concept of Earth as a sentient spirit or entity was part of every culture on the planet. Now we leave it up to activists to amplify the voice of Earth we’ve forgotten as a society how to hear.

In the Prologue of her premier novel, Stone of Power, Kimberly A. Riley presents Earth as a character in its own right. Her bold, indomitable version of Earth contradicts the image in my mind of a long-suffering planet that’s lost the will to fight. Memories of Sunday school at church came to my mind. Earth’s voice on these early pages struck me as more closely aligned with my concept of God the Father than Earth the Mother; a parent willing to sacrifice children to a struggle they could not understand. It forced me to set aside my original belief the Prologue was unnecessary exposition. Reader expectations rooted in cultural beliefs would need to be adjusted from the outset in order to appreciate Riley’s portrayal of Earth as something other than a helpless victim of the whims of humanity.

The first chapter of Stone of Power presents a challenge lightly reminiscent of Tolkien. Tolkien created journeys rooted in folklore and legend. Riley builds her world upon string theory and a view of the laws of the universe informed by science. Riley’s tale replaces the one ring to rule them all with a Stone of Power that hates Keepers—the beings who need it to create stalemates when no other solution to interdimensional strife can be found—and requires non-Keepers to wield its power.

In addition to protecting the interests of Earth on a cosmic scale, Keepers are tasked with carrying out its will. Earth selected one Keeper to be its herald. After reading the Prologue, I anticipated the voice of Earth to boom from a thundercloud or burning bush. Earth’s subtle insinuation of will is underwhelming by comparison. It’s nice to have early reassurances the agency of characters will not be overpowered every time the plot needs to move forward.

The Stone of Power has dominion over Quester Stones. Before they were named and described, I believed they’d be connected to aspects of the natural world. The array turned out to be surprising: Past, Future, Fire, Ice, Malice, Daring, Life, Fear, Earth and Friendship.

As a person on the autism spectrum, I relate to Raptor’s description of the Stone of Friendship as the Stone of Manipulation. Questers who possess this Stone tend to sway people to follow them without regard to their safety. They ultimately betray the loyalty of these followers. While stereotypes of autistic people that include lack of empathy deserve whole-hearted rejection, I’ll admit to finding the responsibilities of friendship a struggle. They occasionally strike me as a form of manipulation, the way they appear to Raptor.

** Brief Side Note: I won’t apologize for referring to myself as autistic rather than person with autism **

The abilities and jurisdictions of the original four Keepers—Fire, Earth, Air, Plants—were connected to the natural world. The dominion of Keepers who followed expanded to include: Dimensions, Computers, Technology/Invention, Chemistry, Animals

If Young Adult novels have taught me anything, it’s that supernatural beings will inevitably end up paired with regular teenagers. The human need to belong tends to be the most urgent need of adolescence. Teenagers want to believe there’s more to our world than meets the eye. They also want to feel special enough to be let in on the secrets.

In the vein of The Mortal Instruments and the Twilight Saga, one of the two regular teens the Keepers encounter at a local carnival turns out to be less mundane than they appear. By virtue of the antagonism the Stone of Power holds towards Keepers, the second teen also turns out to be integral to the success of the mission at hand. It turns out even if she isn’t a Keeper, she could be what they call a Quester. These are people with some latent abilities, able to handle the stones without pain. Occasionally one of Earth’s many Questers rise in power and prominence—leading people in both good and bad—until one character decides take an active role in deciding and grooming who rises.

Conflation of mental illness with bigotry on social media has made the issue of language surrounding mental illness more important than ever. One of the key characters in Stone of Power has spent years isolated in a mental health facility. Words including insane asylum and loony bin are used to describe this situation. At least one character exhibits disapproval and corrects peers when this language is used, which is vital for authors to do. Problematic portrayals brought to the page must be addressed and deconstructed on the page. However, language around mental illness tends to be among the most bigoted to make it onto the page and screen. Deconstruction needs to be more aggressive than a nudge, frown, and apology. My fear is that leaving it there gives the impression it’s only a matter of political correctness; a word people invented to dismiss basic human empathy.

The cast of characters in Stone of Power can definitely be described as diverse. In the matter of cultural diversity, there is more ambiguity. If these characters are from such diverse cultures, shouldn’t that show up more? Keepers join young, live long lives, and have their own language and culture. One might argue their original cultures have blended with Keeper culture over time. The debate around culture in science fiction/fantasy has been heated on social media. Some people believe authors should be free to use creative licence to develop their fantasy worlds. Others argue any fantasy world inspired by real cultures have a responsibility to represent those cultures accurately. It’s something to at least consider while reading.

This Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy novel will appeal to any reader who enjoys Quest stories. If you’re an online gamer or role player, you’ll likely appreciate the dynamic and substantial cast of characters kept in constant interaction with each other during intricately choreographed action scenes. If you enjoy books intended to be part of a series, you will appreciate digging into Riley’s world with this first novel.

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Our world is alive and often in trouble.

When Earth faces a serious threat from collapsing alternate dimensions, it handpicks individuals, called Keepers, to locate and obtain special Stones that have the power to restore balance to the universe.

Andrew is trying to impress his new girlfriend Christine at the carnival when he meets the Keepers. Drawn to them by an unidentifiable familiarity, Andrew follows them. Thrust into a world of harrowing adventure, he journeys through various dimensions and encounters Venom, a man who holds the one thing the Keepers desperately need to save Earth—the Stone of Power.

But Venom has other ideas about what Earth needs and threatens the Keepers’ plans at every phase of their mission. In these new realms of danger and even horror, Andrew must find his own power in order to make the sacrifices necessary to save Earth. As Andrew begins to fight back, he realizes he and Venom have a lot more in common than he thought.

Get it now for Kindle!

Stone Of Power – Kindle

Stone Of Power – Link To Giveaway, USA Only

Appropriation- The Problem with Damned If You Do, Damned if You Don’t

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Many writers claim they feel under attack; damned if they write characters outside of their culture, and damned if they don’t include a diverse and realistic cast reflective of our world. I haven’t had a book published as of this point in time. Once I’m published, there might be moments when I feel the same way. Thoughts like this might pop into our heads, but we don’t have to let them take root. We don’t have to fertilize them with negativity all around us.

Here’s my perspective: I would rather an author not write anything outside their own cultural experience, if the alternative is doing it poorly.

There are writers fighting to have the stories of their hearts published. Do you want to steal their opportunity to put something special into the world, publishing something you know doesn’t represent an experience authentically? If marketing is the main reason you want to write a book with a First Nations (Native American) or autistic character (for example), you need to adjust your priorities. You need to step aside and let First Nations and autistic writers tell these stories.

This sentiment gets turned back on marginalized writers in a really ugly way. They get further marginalized, through their writing, because they dared to insist on OWN voice opportunities and fair representation in books. Not everything a marginalized writer creates is going to be biographical. Not everything they write is going to be about their marginalization. This doesn’t stop bitter writers from telling them that’s all they are allowed to write, because of their stance on OWN voice literature.

Then there’s the publishing industry saying the reading public just don’t care enough to buy OWN voice literature. This reminds me of the local McDonald’s in my town. They brought Deli sandwiches to the store because they were required to by corporate regulations. However, they’d say their sandwich artist wasn’t in that day every time anyone I knew tried to order one. Then they got rid of the sandwiches after a few months, claiming the sales proved lack of interest. It also reminds me of the local theater in my town only scheduling Hidden Figures to play for two days, in the middle of the week. They don’t want to be accused of being racist by not playing the film. On the other hand, they don’t want actual seat sales to prove them wrong on their assumption people in our town don’t want to see it.

Why do we need OWN literature? Let me use the example of autism in writing, since it’s close to my heart and experiences.

There are people who say they can write a good character who is autistic simply by researching. Alright. Name the sources you are going to use.

Tick tock, tick tock.

You say you’re going to use material from Autism Speaks? Maybe you aren’t aware that most Actually Autistic people despise the organization. Maybe you aren’t aware they’ve made life much harder for actually autistic people through their fear mongering. Maybe you aren’t aware most of their funds come from anti-Vaxxers like Donald Trump. Do some research on THAT and reconsider any material produced by them.

You have a friend with a child who is autistic, and you’re going to use that as inspiration? Does this mean you’ll be primarily talking to/spending time with the CHILD? Even if that were the case, do you think you’ll be better able to express what their experience of life is than they’d be? You might be thinking I’m showing my ignorance, because there are many autistic people who can’t speak or write. This is true. However, there are many non-verbal and verbal people with autism who can write. I guarantee you they can write their experiences of life better than you can.

You are going to use professional psychiatric books and articles? First of all, are you sure you can tell the difference between the professional writing and hate mongering? This blogger has two separate hate speech pages done up to look very much like psychiatric self-help pages; one on mental illness in general and one devoted to autism. Heartless Aspergers (Trigger Warning: Avoid her website if you don’t want your head to explode from rage)

Are you so sure you have the experience and empathy to recognize the difference between a person with a vendetta for people with autism, because one person with autism abused her, and legitimate psychiatric material?

Now let’s talk about that word legitimate. Simon-Baron Cohen, who the blogger mentioned above loves to quote, is considered legitimate. He also likes to tell people you can’t trust the self-assessment of people with autism, and suggests you ask a third party. He’s just another person lining up to say people with autism are voiceless, even though we’re screaming to be heard.

Your answer might be that you intend to talk to actually autistic people. This is a step in the right direction. I hope you’ll be paying them for their time. You must be aware of the chronic under/unemployment of people with autism, and the poverty that results. I hope you aren’t the kind of person who demands emotional and intellectual labor from people for free. Even after doing all of this, are you sure you can present something that avoids the pitfalls of the tragedy narrative so pervasive in autism related fiction?

If you ignore everything I’ve warned about here (and more I haven’t even thought to mention), don’t come whining to me when your finished product gets challenged. Don’t whimper, “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” and expect me to have an abundance of sympathy.

Whitewashing – The Messy Goop on the Bottom of the Melting Pot

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Why is it so hard to figure out the cultural and ethnic background of so many characters in books? Authors will describe what a character is wearing, right down to their jewelry, but avoid describing their skin color. Worse still, there are authors who only describe skin color when the person is not white. This results in the reader seeing all characters as white, unless explicitly told otherwise.

Suzanne Collins is known for writing The Hunger Games series. Many people have pointed out the way she takes care to describe skin color of characters who are definitely not meant to be read as white, but otherwise avoids these descriptions. A lesser known series written by Collins, Gregor the Overlander, is an even better example. This became clear to me as I discussed the book with my sister, brother, and dad.

The conversation started out simply enough. We were talking about people of color as main characters. After a while, we got more specific by focusing on Young Adult novels. I mentioned how much I like Gregor, in the Overlander series. I was met with blank expressions. In that moment, it hit me that none of them thought of Gregor as a POC. My dad, who doesn’t always have a filter between his mouth and brain, made an offensive comment about Gregor’s dad being a professor, as if that was legitimate evidence to prove my perception incorrect. I love you Dad, but what they hell were you thinking when you let that slip out of your mouth?  Don’t get me wrong: Dad and I had an immediate discussion about why this was such a messed up line of logic.

I decided to go through the first book with a specific eye to why I thought Gregor was a person of color. It turned out to be like an Easter egg hunt. Gregor’s sister, Boots, is referred to at one point as brown. He is called tanned. There is a description of Gregor and his Dad’s hair being different than the people of the Underland, but the way it’s different isn’t specified. Since their hair is generally described as light colored and straight, the impression is that Gregor’s hair is completely opposite.

That’s it. There aren’t any other significant physical descriptions, as opposed to the mountains of descriptions of the way the Underlanders look.

After this discussion, I began a Google search and found a thread on Goodreads.

Gregor The Overlander Discussion – What ethnicity is Gregor and his family?

My dad, brother, and sister appear to not be in the minority when it comes to seeing Gregor and his family as white. Some people were adamant on this point, while others were offended it was even a question anyone would dare to discuss. They said things like:

He’s a great character no matter what ethnicity he is.

Ethnicity is irrelevant. Either he has a story, or he doesn’t. 

Suzanne Collins didn’t mean to offend anyone. 

Why were these people offended by the topic? Is there something wrong with a character’s ethnicity being clearly described?

Their offence made me examine the problem of why authors like Collins, or Rowling with Hermione, go out of their way to be vague with descriptions of certain central characters. Maybe it comes down to knowing that for a segment of our society, a character loses value when revealed to be anything other than white. Tragically, there are authors and publishers who care about keeping this market more than they’ll ever consciously admit.

Ethnicity isn’t irrelevant. People of color aren’t just white people with darker skin. I realize this sounds like a ridiculous statement. My point: People aren’t just a collection of differently shaped and colored features, with varying abilities and gifts. Culture exists.

In both Canada and America, the word melting pot is used too often as a positive term. What is a melting pot? It’s literally a big pot where you throw in metals of different types to put over a fire until they melt together and become indistinguishable from each other.

Why is this seen as a good thing when used as a metaphor for culture? Why is it considered positive to create a default setting for culture that essentially ruins the cultures of everyone involved?

There is no white culture. The thing white nationalists point to is a myth. It came out of a whole bunch of cultures coming together on a stolen piece of land, trying to figure out how to live together, but ultimately destroying their original cultures to do it. They are trying to hold up the messy goop on the bottom of the melting pot as superior, and we’re supposed to help them do it by creating white default in our writing?

I don’t think so.