I know something about being “marked” as disability is always a performance. I am on the street in a conditional way: allowed or not allowed, accepted or not accepted according to the prejudices and educational attainments of others. And because I’ve been disabled since childhood I’ve lived with this dance of provisional life ever since I was small. In effect, if you have a disability, every neighborhood is a gated community.
Last week the Rev. Al Sharpton counseled Trayvon’s parents that the engines of disparagement would start soon–that Trayvon’s character would be run through the gutter. He was right. And he was properly forecasting what happens whenever a member of a historically marginalized community speaks up for “blaming the victim” is a handy way of sidestepping issues of cultural responsibility. In a way, isn’t that what “gated communities” are all about? Aren’t they simply the architectural result of cultural exceptionalism? Of course. But as a person who travels everywhere accompanied by a guide dog I know something about the architectures and the cultural languages of “the gate” –doormen, security officers, functionaries of all kinds have sized me up in the new “quasi public” spaces that constitute our contemporary town square. I too have been ovserved, followed, pointed at, and ultimately told I don’t belong by people who are ill informed and marginally empowered. Like Trayvon I am seldom in the right place. Where precisely would that place be? Would it be back in the institution for the blind, circa 1900? Would it be staying at home always?
Now the forces of revision are saying that Trayvon was a violent pot smoker. Forget that pot smokers are generally not violent and that the vast majority of teens in America have tried it–forget that it’s not a gateway drug. Forget that having been suspended from high school for minor marijuana possession isn’t an advertisement for criminal psychosis. (Didn’t we dismiss that stupid idea along with the film “Reefer Madness” some thirty years ago?) The reality here is that Trayvon is being predictably transformed from an ordinary kid into an aggressor. The evidence doesn’t support this. He was stalked and threatened and the efforts in recent days to recaste him as a crazed gangsta are predictible and laughable. But I’m not laughing. I too was an “outsider” teenager. My place in every social and public environment was always conditional. Hell, I even smoked marijuana as a form of self medication. I’m not ashamed of the kid I used to be. I’m not ashamed to count Trayvon Martin as my soul mate.
There’s a war against black men and boys in this country. There’s also a backlash against women and people with disabilities and the elderly. The forces in all these outrages are the same. The aim is to make all of the United States into a gated community. On the one side are the prisons and warehousing institutions; on the other side, the sanitized neighborhood resorts. I hear the voice: “Sorry, Sir, you can’t come in here.” In my case it’s always a security guard who doesn’t know a guide dog from an elephant. In Trayvon’s case it was a souped up self important member of a neighborhood watch who had no idea what a neighborhood really means. I think all people with disabilites know a great deal about this. I grieve for Trayvon’s family. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him and will never forget.
0 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin: A Disability Perspective”
Not to mention the idiotic Geraldo Rivera “hoody” statement. When my husband came down the stairs this morning and saw me sitting on the sofa in my gray hoody, he ran back upstairs, terrified.
Of course, the injustices must be resolved as best they can, but I always feel that we will never find true justice unless our indignation could raise Trayvon from the dead.
Steve, The last week you have been posting outstanding work. You are on a roll no doubt.
Thank you! If Zimmerman had been the young black man and Trayvon Martin had been white, an arrest would surely have been made. Zimmerman, armed with a gun, followed the unarmed Martin, even after being instructed not to do so, confronted him and shot him after an apparent scuffle. He must be arrested and tried for manslaughter. To let him go free with no trial makes us all less safe.
As a woman whose main transportation is walking, I know what it is like to be targeted because of physical appearance. When I was younger, I was followed home one night by a man who called out sexual invitations and then insults when I did not respond but walked faster. When I reported the incident, I was told I should not have been outside at night!
To be female, to be black, to be disabled or to be elderly,is to be a prisoner of your home at night. We must work on making the night safer for everyone. The first step is : Arrest George Zimmerman and try him for manslaughter.
[a] self important member of a neighborhood watch who had no idea what a neighborhood really means. Well said.