Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

Those People

August 19, 2009

Some things just **** you off.

Duncan Cross noted this on his blog, and somehow he didn’t go postal. And at first I was thinking that it couldn’t be true; somehow Duncan had misread, misinterpreted, or maybe was just having an officially certified 100% BAD DAY. So I clicked the link and checked it out for myself.

Thank goodness I don’t have any blood pressure problems.

There’s an “advice column” on Boston.com., the online presence of The Boston Globe. Seems fairly harmless; I mean, how many of us glance at Dear Abby while we’re reading the paper in the morning?

But the letter in the August 5th column torked me off – and a lot of other people, I bet. Here’s how it went:

My boyfriend has always had health problems, but a little over a year ago, things really got bad. There’s no need to go into the details, but suffice it to say, it isn’t going to go away, and it has impacted every aspect of our lives. Because it is often difficult for him to move around, we started going out less and less. Our home became less social as he didn’t like having people over as much. His interests narrowed, his mood soured (he’s being treated for depression). Our sex life dried up. I took it upon myself to do whatever I could to make life better for him; I have taken on more and more responsibilities; I physically take care of him; and I have been patient, accommodating and understanding as our lives changed…

…I feel isolated, stuck, and sad, and have been fighting the urge to flee. I think he may suspect my feelings, because he is reminding me more frequently how he loves me and couldn’t go on without me. But I just don’t know. On the one hand, I have all the responsibilities of the relationship, and none of the emotional or physical joy that should come with it. I don’t think he is either willing or capable of living beyond the lifestyle we currently live. I’m 24 and I am terrified at the prospect that this is it, that this is going to be my life. On the other hand, he’s still my best friend, and I love him and deeply care for him. He’s in pain, both physically and emotionally, and he needs me. If I left, it would break his heart, and when I think about the reality of that, it absolutely shakes me.

What should I do? It’s been over a year, and I feel I have tried everything, and things are not getting any better. Am I a horrible person to be thinking about leaving him?

Quite a mess is brewing – sick boyfriend isn’t doing so well and he is withdrawing into himself. In a way it is understandable, we’re all vain to some point. If we get an illness that really decimates us, it’s natural to think “I don’t want anyone to see me like this,” and retreat into ourselves. And that applies just as much to the person who gets blindsided by a bad case of the flu as it does to someone with a Chronic Illness whose health slowly deteriorates.

But this isn’t what irritates me. Our advice columnist answers in a flippant style that completely misses the mark:

You’re allowed to leave. You’re 24. You didn’t sign up for this. I fear the longer you stay, the worse it will be when you bolt.

He’s your friend. You owe it to him to be honest. Tell him you’re not up for this. You can’t commit to this life, at least not as a romantic partner. You can explain that part of your decision is about age and place in life. I truly believe it’s not just his illness. You want to discover more of the world. You want to get to know yourself better. That’s what unmarried people do at your age. You will feel like a jerk — but being a jerk is better than being a martyr.

This “advice” really grates on my nerves – You’re 24, it’s much too early for you to show any character! If the friend wants out, say so. And then she should grab her stuff and go. It will hurt for a little while, but it will be best in the long run… because the guy will know that she’ll cut and run at the first hint of trouble. At least if you’re up front with him he’ll know who isn’t on his side.

Duncan highlights the fact that the advice columnist and the young woman both miss important points: The young man is still working – a part of the letter that I did not highlight mentions the fact that both of them work – and he’s probably hanging on to his job by his fingernails in this terrible economy. He’s working when he really should be at home taking care of himself, and it is taking a lot out of him. Also if he’s taking medication for depression, his libido has probably dried up. He’s not in the mood, he’s exhausted, and although he’s working he knows that because of the economy or his health that job could vanish. It’s little wonder that things aren’t all Champagne and Roses right now.

But the best is yet to come! Our advice maven offers this gem:

Remind him of all of the other people in his life who care for him. Tell him to seek out as much support as possible. Dealing with a chronic is miserable. He needs to learn to cope without alienating everyone he loves.

A chronic. Not a person, but a chronic. A thing. With six words, she strips millions of people of their basic humanity and throws them into a nameless, faceless group. A group that makes you miserable when you have to deal with them.

Drop the word chronic and substitute nearly any word that identifies an ethnic or a social  group, and you’ll have a fight on your hands. Try using the word Italian, Jew, Republican, Democrat, Yankee, or Redneck in that sentence and people will start screaming. If you really want people to hate your guts, throw the N word in there.

But use the sentence as it is written and there is nary a peep. Apparently it’s still OK in certain circles to discriminate against those of us who are living our lives in spite of it all.

I’m not really upset at the female for wanting out of the situation, she’s young and probably doesn’t know any better. But our advice columnist – she has no compassion, no human decency, and I doubt she understands the inner strength that we sometimes have to draw from just to keep going. And she apparently doesn’t care.

After all, those people are just chronics.

“You can’t work here.”

June 17, 2009

Today we shift from one viewpoint to the other: From the “You can do it!” attitude expressed by Eliza to the “You don’t fit in.” attitude of a major corporation that has a problem with those of us who don’t conform to their image.

Riam Dean was hired by Abercrombie & Fitch’s (A&F) main store in London, and presented with a copy of the Employee Handbook. In the Handbook is A&F’s “Look Policy”, which very carefully describes the appearance that they want their employees to present. A&F Staff are to present a “natural, classic American style,” the policy insists. Although all employees dress in Jeans and a Polo shirt, Riam was allowed to wear a cardigan sweater to disguise her artificial arm.

Sweater? Disguise an artificial arm? I smell trouble….

The trouble didn’t start until a few days later when A&F’s “Visual Team” showed up. The Visual Team are the Enforcers – they monitor A&F stores and employees to make sure they all meet the perfect standard. Since Riam’s sweater is not standard issue, they began to demand that it come off. Riam stood firm – after all, she did have permission to wear it – but before the hour was out, she had been reassigned. To the stockroom. Because she was violating the Look Policy.

Riam quit A&F and she’s suing them for disability discrimination. (Good! Go get ’em, Riam!) But take a look at what she says in some of the court documents:

It made me feel as though she (the store manager) had picked up on my most personal, sensitive and deeply buried insecurities about being accepted and included. Her words pierced right through the armour of 20 years of building up personal confidence about me as a person, and that I am much more than a girl with only one arm.

Now, replace the phrase “only one arm” with “a heart defect” and read it again. For a lot of us, it hits close to home.

A Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) is a “hidden disability” – usually the general public can’t tell that we are disabled. I know the physical signs of Cyanosis and what to look for – the blue fingertips, clubbing, slightly bluish tinge to the lips – and even I miss the signs sometimes. And not all of us are Cyanotic, so we are truly hidden. Unless there is a lot of physical activity involved, you may never know there is anything wrong with us. So if we are ever told “You don’t fit in here,” it seems to be more of a shock to the system.

Riam was… withdrawn and sad. I had never known her like this. She has a totally positive ‘can do’ attitude to everything, yet she seemed broken by this.

Although we can’t explain discrimination, CHDers can’t let it shake us. We have to internalize it not as a problem that we have, but as a problem the discriminator has. Our life may seem to be a real roller coaster ride  at times, but it is still our life. Someone who tries to discriminate against you beacuse of the way you look, your color, your gender, or your health is attempting to control your life. This is not acceptable, not even for a moment.

“I don’t want their money,” Riam said after refusing a settlement that would bind her to a non disclosure agreement. “If I accept their money, it means I can’t talk about it. And they will treat somebody else like that in the future again.”