Dear Meryl Streep: We Don’t Want Pity, We Want Progress
I didn’t watch the Golden Globes, but saw Meryl Streep’s speech the next day. As she blatantly called out the president-elect on his bullying of Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter, I wondered why that specific incident “sank its hooks in [her] heart,” specifically when I have otherwise not heard anything from Streep about disability justice. This mockery of Kovaleski affected many folks in a similar way; attacking a man with a disability was the last straw or the moment when their opinion toward the president-elect changed. As a society, why do we believe bullying a disabled person is more severe, more worthy of our moral objection, than other types of bullying?
Why do many ignore racist, sexist remarks, but suddenly pause when it comes to disability? And where are all these concerned citizens when, more than ever, we need support in our fight for disability rights?
It starts with how society views disabled people in general – as powerless, pitiable humans here to act as either inspiration or a target for hatred. We are either brave for daring to go out in public, or scorned for receiving the government support we need to live. And often, we are infantilized. As a woman in my thirties, I must still assert my adulthood to well-meaning individuals who think I still use a kid’s cup in restaurants.
Besides a few fringe elements, our society looks down upon those who bully children, and rightfully so – we should denounce all bullying. Then it follows, as we infantilize disabled people, we also view our bullies as taking it too far. People view us as defenseless, of needing more protection, much like children.
But disabled people have been fighting all along, lending our voices, our words, and our existence toward advocacy and justice. We live and fight against the tide of ableism, whether we want to or not, because this is our reality.
Pity is a dangerous weapon, even if there are positive intentions behind it – it strips us of our dignity and personhood. Pity prevents folks from seeing me as capable of finding love, having friends, working, or living in the community; this view of disabled people directly affects government policy and the services we receive (or could receive) to live our best lives.
So when Meryl Streep talked about the reporter, a speech now seen by millions, I wonder if it will mobilize abled people to fight alongside us and learn more about the disability-rights movement, or if it just further perpetuates a damaging stereotype of disabled people. We’ve been here, listening to comments similar to those made by the president-elect all the time; while it may be a new heartbreak for Streep, Trump’s comments are our rallying call.
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