Why I Can’t Forgive John Lennon

Only Bread, Only light

When the Beatles were new John Lennon made fun of the cripples seated down front of whatever theater—he’d do a retard act. I’ve never forgotten this nor can I find it in myself to forgive him. I was a disabled kid and now I’m a disabled man. I have to enact patience and forgiveness daily. Ableist behavior is legion. I make it through by means of small dispensations, little pardons, absolving the bus driver who resents me, willing beneficence, handing out invisible coins of absolution to the cab driver who refuses me a ride. Lovingkindness is the Christian word for this. I try to love my oppressors.

Ableism, taken nominally, is insufficient to highlight real circumstances. Those who think themselves superior to a woman in a wheelchair or a man who walks with a stick are exceptionalists and if they’re not educable they become tacit eugenicists for social Darwinism lurks behind most disability discrimination. The fascist wants to make the world clean, wishes for a sanitized sameness in the population, argues passionately against expenditures for the care and rehabilitation of those who require assistance. Meantime the disabled muster some forbearance and get on with it. The taxi that refused you will likely be followed by one that accepts you. Yet the message is clear: disabled, you’re a problem on the street, in the airport, in the classroom, the supermarket, the hotel, health club, doctor’s office, college campus, the theater, symphony hall, and all workplaces.

“Problem” is not the right word of course—problems are solvable or at least they’re invitations to find a solution, or what I like to call “solvation” much as Jamaican people say “no problem mon!” True ableism requires an antipathy to finding disability solutions and it depends on a willful lack of irony individually and collectively. The singular ableist is someone like the junior high school principal who says “no” when a 12 year old girl with cerebral palsy wants to bring her authentic service dog to school. Collective ableism is the school board behind the principal. They say: “of course we cannot have a service dog in the classroom! Think of the children who will somehow be ruined by this!”

In order to think this you must be an inherent exceptionalist who despises intellectual and bodily difference. Such people believe not in solvation but in segregation, deportation, and even annihilation.

Lovingkindness is the hardest thing in my life. I know I’m working daily with college faculty and administrators who resent the disabled. I try thinking of how damaged they are—that they’ve been made to accept compulsory normalcy by means of many cruelties. They were always racing to get one step ahead. For them disability represents the thing they fear most: the loss of distinction, both intellectually and performatively. At the big conference cocktail party where faculty are first anointed they must “present” as having just arrived from the gym.

I find I can’t forgive John Lennon. Later he wrote a song called “Crippled Inside” which is just as offensive as his youthful face pulling. And I can’t forgive the social Darwinists around me. I’m a little worn out from all the forgiving I have to do in the customary street to forgive those whose educations and talents should prevent them from outrageous bigotry.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

One thought on “Why I Can’t Forgive John Lennon”

  1. I am deeply sorry you feel like this and for what he did I can never defend his actions back then. But as a huge Lennon fan, I have read all I can read about him and found some interesting facts I would just like you to know. After you know this, it is up to you what you might think of him still. Obviously all of the beatles were born to a society where these things of sensitivity are not given importance yet, and while I personally would not accept nor ignore this kind of action if done nowadays, I find myself thinking not to compare what was the norm before to the norm today since we had long improved what is right and wrong today. I could not disregard what you felt about what John did but I can tell you that he probably regretted and did not mean all those ableist actions he did back then. His first wife, Cynthia mentioned that he was actually not actually against nor he thought differently about disabled people but rather he was uncomfortable with them because of the experiences he had. It was said before that some parents who had disabled children treat the Beatles as kind of a god who if their respective children would meet them, they kind of acted The Beatles would heal their kids or something and they keep pushing the children to meet them every chance they got. Though it was completely understandable because of the idolization they had of the Beatles at that time and also the boys were not against meeting them, I think John was just really uncomfortable of the fact that these people (not the disabled, it’s more like the parents and stuff) treat them as gods for people with disabilities. And as I said, people were not very sensitive back then so I think atleast, John thought it was okay to joke about it. Anyway, I actually noticed he stopped doing that by 1965 and was actually more serious in the concerts and just made word jokes that aren’t really offensive to anyone anymore but just rather funny. Also, I have read his best friend’s book, Pete Shotton, that there is this one time where John was talking to him about how he felt sorry for the way society treats the disabled and autistic children and felt compassion for them. He allegedly said based from Pete’s book that “What a living hell that must be, when you can’t communicate with the rest of the world and everybody treats you like an imbecile, even though you know you’re as smart as they are.” He then immediately instructed 1000 pounds to be donated to the Autistic Fund, which actually is quite a sum today. Now, it is still completely understandable if you still will not be in favor of him and I, too, do not condemn his actions before. But I did think he actually thought himself that what he did was wrong and stopped doing it together all at once and became more open minded about what he does and says.

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