I added some comments yesterday to a Tumblr post by Crazy Crip Girl, who wrote about the frustration of friends who say that she's too angry and confrontational when faced with inaccessible facilities and insensitive behavior. The discussion interested me because:
1. As a person with a disability, I know both firsthand and through others with disabilities that a lot of anger at inaccessible businesses, ham-fisted bureaucracies, and insensitive people is fully justified. Suppressing it all the time just to "get along" isn't healthy. Plus, processing and expressing justified anger is often the indispensable first step towards needed change.
2. I, personally, really dislike confrontation and anger in other people. Intellectually, I don't think it's very effective, at least on a personal level, and emotionally, it makes me want to hide.
I struggle all the time to reconcile these feelings.
So, here are some semi-random thoughts about the meaning of anger for people with disabilities, and how non-disabled people react to it. (Warning: generalizations ahead):
Non-disabled people tend to exaggerate situations after the fact in a way that casts us as the bad guy. Our anger seems much more hasty and irrational to them in their memory than it was at the time.
Maybe people would prefer us to be sad than angry. If we're sad at being kicked out or excluded, they feel bad for a little while, then forget about it. If we get angry, it ruins their whole day. Anyway, sadness allows them to feel pity for us, which is a sort of pleasurable feeling to have, while anger just makes them feel threatened and defensive.
When things aren't going right ... poor accessibility, botched accommodations ... I try not to get angry at low-level, low-paid workers, who are usually the ones I am dealing with directly. I try, but don't always succeed. If the situation is deteriorating, I try to save my anger for management.
Sometimes when non disabled people get mad at us for getting mad, it's their emotional reaction to a combination of powerlessness (they can't fix the situation), and embarrassment (Oh God, don't call attention to yourself!) They're getting a taste of what it's like to be us, they don't like it, and they get mad at us for it. Or, maybe they mistakenly think we're mad at them.
I think some non-disabled people really do think, deep down, that we aren't very smart or rational. They really do think that maybe we haven't thought of being polite, haven't researched our own problems backwards and forwards, and that their rather pedestrian brainstorms will be shatteringly new to us and somehow change our lives. Not that we all practice it, but I think most people who have had disabilities for longer than a year or two are familiar with the wisdom of education, civility, an negotiation with businesses and facilities that aren't accessible … or with people who are discriminatory. Really, it's not a new idea to us.
A lot of non-disabled people see inaccessible facilities and insensitive people as merely inconveniences, and don't understand how significant they can be for us both practically and emotionally.
I think that some of us who have disabilities really do need to work on being calmer and more strategic in how we advocate for ourselves. By the same token, many of us really need to get angry more often, throw caution to the wind, and stop being doormats.
On the other hand, there are lots of non-disabled people who are awesome and just instinctively share our anger, support us, stick up for us, and maybe get a bit angry themselves. Or, even when they disagree with our approach, they give us the benefit of the doubt.
Disability life, ideas, identity, culture, commentary, and politics.