Ignoring the “others”

In case you’d missed it, PETA apparently has a new ad campaign that attempts to conflate vegetarianism and weight loss. I find it offensive – and I’m not the only one. Kate Harding has a great post about it on ShapelyProse (new window) about how the ad talks both to and around the audience.

There was something familiar to me about some of what Ms. Harding said, and it finally occurred to me that it was the idea in the title: people ignore those they’ve classed as “other.” I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me or my mom questions about Lily, while Lily is sitting right there. Granted, some questions are inappropriate to ask Lily (or of us) or were beyond her ability to articulate when she was very young, but she’s perfectly capable of talking about, say, her age.

Frankly, it shocks me to see people ignore her when they should know better, or even fail to account for her possible intelligence and humanity. For instance, Lily just visited her neurologist this week. This doctor has one of the worst offices in the world, it seems, as my family always has problems when they try to schedule a visit or actually meet with him. Anyways, Lily was restless after being stuck in the waiting room for half an hour (surprise, surprise), and was in and out of her wheelchair in an attempt to be more comfortable. Mom told me that near the end of the actual visit (I’m guessing the kid was DONE with being there), Lily got into her wheelchair by herself. Apparently, the doctor was incredibly impressed by this. (Mom’s comments were that he seemed to treat it as if it were her crowning achievement for the day; I would rank not having a temper tantrum there higher. [/snark]) How could her doctor not understand that Lily is strong, capable, smart, and often motivated to get up and do stuff? (I will admit that he has likely seen very little of her during office visits, and his other exposure to her is when she’s hospitalized, and she’s not exactly bouncing off the walls then.)

It’s a tragic pattern to observe. I caught part of a television show the other day that was partially set in the civil rights era south, and the treatment of non-whites by whites in one vignette was the same: the whites, having other-ized the black woman, talked to each other as if the young woman wasn’t there. It’s a subject treated as a joke in popular culture, too; how often have we all seen or heard about people shouting to communicate with the blind, who then object that they’re blind, not deaf? Or the elderly who decry similar behavior, saying they’re old, not stupid?

Otherness is scary because it’s so often implicitly dehumanizing and denigrating. (Maybe always? I’m not an expert on the academics.) Perhaps it’s rooted in fear – especially in the case of disability, fear that “I could end up like that,” but instead of tackled with understanding, mocked, in an attempt to dispel the fear with minimal effort. (Treating the symptom instead of the disease, in a way.) Hopefully my eventually getting a job as a professor will put me in a position to help educate people away from their fears and into a satisfying life…like the one my gutsy, motivated sister leads!

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