While the House of Representatives debates over whether or not to impeach a U.S. president who incited, encouraged, and condoned a violent attempted coup at the Capitol last week, I'm sitting here thinking about something.
Here's what's on my mind today: when you get right down to the core of pretty much everything that's happening right now – all the protesting, the counterprotesting, the domestic terrorism, the rise of Anti-Semitism, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter (1), and all the rest – the way I see it, it comes down to one thing:
Stay the Same, or Change?
If this country had stayed the same in the late 1700s, we'd still be British (2).
If this country had stayed the same in the 1800s, we'd still have slavery (3).
In this country had stayed the same in the 1900s, we'd still have segregation (4).
Hell, if this country had stayed the same in the 1400s, First Nations people wouldn't be forced to live on reservations today, and wouldn't have been slaughtered by the millions by white, European "settlers" (5) then.
I mean, let's get even simpler: if nothing had changed since the dawn of America: no phones, no cars, no plumbing, no — you get the point.
Life. Is. Change.
You're born, and instantly you change.
Every single second of your life from then on, you change.
Each time you eat, drink, sweat, pee, sit, stand, breathe... you change!
And yet, there are those who are so terrified of change that they will STORM THE U.S. CAPITOL AND REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE LEGITIMACY OF THE RESULT OF A FREE AND FAIR, DEMOCRATIC ELECTION BECAUSE THEY DON'T WANT TO CHANGE *THEIR MINDS.*
These people have murdered civilians in the streets (Charlottesville).
These people have murdered cops at the Capitol (January 6th).
These people have literally attempted to murder the democratic process by which we peacefully transition power every four-to-eight years (by attempting to reject and overturn the election results, even AFTER a violent coup attempt).
They're so afraid of change, they will go to any length to keep things "the same."
Particularly their *minds.*
Because in order to accept these external changes, they'd have to accept internal, mental, moral, philosophical, religious, and social changes, and they refuse to do it.
They're too afraid of that change to even consider doing it.
That is to say: they're so afraid of external change, because it would require an internal change that they fear even more.
They afraid of change... because they're afraid TO change.
And listen: I can understand that.
Change. IS. SCARY.
When you're a tween and you start to stink and hair starts growing in places and the teacher calls on you to come up to the front of the class while you've got a spontaneous boner situation, it's fucking terrifying!
But we get used to it. We grow to accept it. We learn to change our thinking to adapt to the external change that's happening around us. (And we penis-having-people also learn to wear oversized sweatshirts with front pockets so we can secretly adjust what needs to be... adjusted.)
When we travel to a place that's cold, we don't keep wearing shorts and flip-flops. We put on a jacket and pants! We literally. CHANGE.
What do you call it when you go to your room and put on a different outfit?
But the disheartening thing is: I have no idea how to get anyone on their "side" (6) to see that.
How do you get someone who won't even acknowledge the need for change, to change their mind... About change?
The primary chant in Nichiren Buddhism is one I really like:
"Nam Myoho Renge Kyo"
It essentially means, "I devote myself to the mystic law of the Lotus Sutra."
Or, more simply, "I devote myself to the universal law of change."
At first, I really struggled with chanting it. It was in a foreign language, I didn't innately understand what I was saying, and chanting felt way too much like Catholic prayer for this lil' Atheist (7).
But then it dawned on me.
I was resisting making an internal change... in my perspective on a chant... about devoting myself... to the law of the universe... that everything changes.
I was literally resisting changing my mind... about a chant... about change.
Now? It's one of my favorite things to take two or three minutes to just stop, take a breath, and chant, recommitting myself to accepting change.
Hell, even within my industry, there are sort of two archetypal actors:
The "Well, I Already Learned It This Way" Actor,
and The "Okay, Yeah, I Can Try It That Way" Actor.
Guess who directors prefer to work with?
Everything changes, y'all.
Volcanoes erupt; clouds form, and rain falls; coastlines erode; people grow old and die; the body metabolizes food, turns it into energy, and removes the excess; people learn.
But what we're seeing is a refusal to learn.
A refusal to change.
I don't know what the answer here is, or even if there is one. But I believe it's necessary that we really examine ourselves right now.
Which actor are you going to be? What are you going to wear in the snow? Whose side are you going to choose?
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. (8)
(1) Which isn't a thing. You can't have a blue life. That would be a Smurf. Are you Smurfs? No? then you don't have a "blue life." You have a "blue job." Which you chose. And get paid for.
(2) Though not European. Hashtag Brexit.
(3) We do. It's in the 13th Amendment. Right after it says "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude" [sic], it says "except as a punishment for crime" [sic]. Don't buy from companies that use prison labor. Download the buycott app (buycott.com) and check your brands. It has a barcode scanner. Fuck Starbucks.
(4) Do I really have to go into this one?
(5) Conquistadors I think is a closer-to-accurate word.
(6) I've said this before. *They* made this all about sides. We didn't. They made it "Us vs. Them." We're just accepting the change in how we approach this conflict and playing with the cards we've been dealt. They're the ones bringing guns to a poker match.
(7) I'm calling dibs on "lil' Atheist" as my rap name.
(8) Do we like the footnotes? I'm kind of enjoying them. But do we like them? Lemme know!
Many of us are making some big decisions about who we keep in our life from here on out.
I've unfriended, blocked, told off, silently walked away from, and purged so many I've lost count.
Work friends, old friends, tangential friends, and some of my closest relatives. Gone. Just like that. (1)
And it's been difficult to maintain faith that I'm doing the right thing.
Aren't we supposed to find common ground? Aren't we supposed to talk it out? Aren't we supposed to not take "political differences" (2) personally?
I shared a little cartoon that was floating around with a synthetization of twentieth century English philosopher Karl Popper's notion of tolerance. To sum it up: if a society tolerates the views and actions of those who are openly intolerant, then the intolerant will inevitably seize control and eliminate all tolerance. Or, even more simply: we must not tolerate intolerance.
What we're living through and working through right now is... a lot.
And what we're witnessing and experiencing and engaging in feels like a tidal wave of, at last, granting ourselves permission to be vocally and loudly intolerant of intolerance.
But, we also all know this isn't "all of a sudden." This isn't "out of the blue." This isn't happening (1) "just like that."
These people have always been like this.
Or, if not always, then at least they've always had the capacity to be like this, and that they made decisions all along the way to close their minds to anything other than their own myopic understanding of the world and their own comfort zone, and only in the last five years has someone so cruel, so selfish, and so intolerant been in such a high position of influence as to give them permission to unabashedly and violently lash out at anything or anyone they consider "other."
Either way, this is on them, not on us. (3)
And as I've continued to wrap my head around this – reminding myself hourly that, no, I'm not the crazy one here, I'm not the one who's wrong, I'm not the one who's being intolerant – a thought occurred to me.
These people we're cutting ties with...
Family or friends or associates or whatever, no matter how tenuous – or enduring – our relationships to them have been...
These people we're unfriending, blocking, muting, telling off, or silently walking away from...
Would any of us have chosen to spend a single second on them if, at our first meeting, they'd just come out and told us what they were really like and what they really believed?
Seriously, though. If they hadn't started by hiding this enormous well of fear and hate and intolerance and violence and cruelty and selfishness that they have within themselves...
If they hadn't kept the truth about themselves from us because, on some level, I have to believe they knew and they know how wrong they have been and are...
If they hadn't lied and lied and lied to us about who they really, actually, truly at their cores are...
Would any of us have still hit "confirm" on that friend request in the first place?
I don't think so.
So – and I'm saying this in large part so that I have to hold my own self accountable to this once I post it...
Though we will have to take time to mourn these losses, though we will have to cry and rage and wallow and meander through every single bit of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages, and though it is jarring and infuriating and depressing and baffling and utterly unfathomable in some cases that this is how it has to be...
This is how it has to be.
We are doing the right thing.
We are not the crazy or intolerant or selfish ones.
And if we'd known who these people were from the start, we'd never have been friends with them in the first place.
(2) These aren't "political differences."
(3) It's also on them that we have to be Us vs. Them. They started it. Period.
I had an essay that I was very excited to post.
I'd even filmed it and planned to start presenting these musings as videos instead of text posts.
I was going to talk about an epiphany I had last week:
That for four years, I've had to deny myself my favorite way of waking –
I like to get up early; I like using an alarm clock;
But I like to wake up to top of the hour NPR news –
I like their soothing voices and the quick one-shot of information –
Puts me in a good headspace;
But for the last four years, that pleasure has been taken from me,
Because the first two sounds I would hear would be the name of, and the voice of, a megalomaniacal, fascist, wannabe-dictator chronically and neurologically incapable of accepting reality, condemning racism, or serving the actual and legitimate will of the American people;
But on January 21st, the US-of-A will slap the "Mute" button on this unhinged, despicable, xenophobic terrorist and I'll be able to wake up the way I like again.
It's a small thing, but I'm excited about it.
And I was excited to post a video essay all about it.
I shot the thing on the 5th.
Then on the 6th, I listened and watched in horror and disgust, overwhelmed by a sense of "I fucking told you so, you willfully ignorant, selfish garbage people."
And yesterday, I binge-watched Cobra Kai Season 3 to get to the other side of my hangover.
So, today, I'm back at my desk, but the entire world has been rocked by the evil that has been perpetrated on so much of this country, and nothing feels okay anymore.
Like... even LESS okay than it already felt.
I've spent most of my life hoping that true, cinematic-level villains couldn't ACTUALLY exist anymore, no matter how many times I was proven wrong.
It hasn't mattered that I understand the psychology and the neurology of how confirmation bias works. It hasn't mattered that I'm the first one to preach the notion that some people just can't be reached. I still needed to believe that there had to be a way. On some small level, there must be SOME way to trigger an awakening in ANYONE.
As closed-minded and violent and hateful and racist and cruel and selfish and uncaring and apathetic as so many people have always shown themselves - and will always show themselves - to be, there's still a way to get through to them, right? George really can change Mr. Potter's mind. The Jedi really can stop the destruction of Alderaan. Sensei Kreese really can be reasoned with.
Guess it's been the adult child of an alcoholic mind talking.
Because, no. I was wrong.
There are actual villains.
And we need to call them what they are.
There is a lot of gray area in this world. There are a lot of issues up for discussion and disagreement. But what we just witnessed this week, and what we've been witnessing for the last four years, and what we've been warning y'all about since 2015, and what marginalized communities have been screaming and begging and politely asking and lobbying and organizing and protesting for for generations?
There is no gray here.
There are two sides.
We didn't draw the line.
The other side did.
And anyone out there who said, "Give him a chance," anyone out there who said, "It's just locker room talk," and anyone out there who said, "Lock her up," or, "Law and order," or, "There are fine people on both sides," or, "But–," or, "What about–?"...
Y'all are wrong.
You. Are. Wrong.
None of this is new. (Faction-driven hate and investment in solipsistic self-interest is as old as our species.)
None of this is unexpected. (The mob that assaulted the capitol were wearing T-SHIRTS THAT THEY'D PRE-MADE DECLARING "CIVIL WAR JANUARY 6, 2021.")
None of this is normal. (Remember when "hashtag-not-normal" was still relevant until we stopped saying it because this shit got normalized?)
But straight up, none of this is up for debate.
If you haven't picked a side yet, then yes you have.
And you chose poorly.
So, go sit in the corner. You're on indefinite time-out until you learn your lesson.
And you need learn it on your own time and of your own accord.
Class is dismissed. Y'all don't deserve the education any of us over here have been trying to give you.
They say that the wise teacher doesn't force the student to come in out of the rain, they wait until the student chooses to.
Well, keep screaming and whining in the downpour.
The door's been open the whole time.
We're done trying to drag you inside.
In 1934, Hitler had just taken complete power of Germany. Through assassinations, propaganda, and political maneuvering, he'd weaseled his way into the position of Chancellor, then merged that position with that of President, passed a law giving himself dictatorial powers for four years, eliminated civil liberties, banned political parties other than his own, and taken control.
Just the year before, high-ranking member of the government were still sure that he could be managed.
Smack in between that moment and the onset of World War II in 1939, this photograph was taken. There is still debate as to whether or not the lone dissenter is August Landmesser, but most accounts, including his daughter's, seem to agree that it is.
Landmesser was a German who joined the Nazi party early on, hoping that it would mean employment and a steady income. However, in 1935 when he got engaged to Irma Eckler, a Jewish woman, he was expelled from the party. Over the course of the several years that followed, he was imprisoned and subsequently sent to war where he was killed in action. Irma, meanwhile, was sent to several concentration camps, eventually arriving at the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre where she was murdered along with 14,000 others. Their two children survived and were raised by foster parents. In 1951, the Senate of Hamburg retroactively recognized August and Irma's marriage as legitimate.
When this photograph was taken in June of 1936, August and Irma's first child, Irene Eckler, had already been born, however they had been unable to marry due to the passage of the Nuremburg Laws. Landmesser had gotten a taste of what Germany under Hitler was becoming. He'd seen, first-hand, the effects of Hitler's dictatorship, and so he stood, arms crossed, the lone dissenter in a sea of salutes.
I say all of this to make one salient point: listen to those who have been affected.
Listen to the people who have been affected, first-hand, by the current administration, by the racism that pervades every facet of this country, and by the economic and social inequalities that have literally been built into our systems of government and society (i.e. if you haven't read up on why the freeways in Los Angeles are where they are, maybe take a look).
August Landmesser was alone in his refusal to salute. And I can only hypothesize, but I would guess that he didn't talk about his plight much with others. Who could he trust? Who could he talk to who wouldn't turn him and his wife and child over to the Gestapo?
But today, there are millions of August Landmessers screaming to be heard.
The more than 20 detainees in ICE custody just this year.
People of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds are being systematically murdered and disenfranchised by law enforcement across this country. The rise of literal Nazis has erupted exponentially, and along with it, all of the racism and bigotry and terrorism that makes it what it is. And the current administration has not only refused to condemn men like those who planned to kidnap Michigan's Governor, who drove trucks into crowds of Black Lives Matter protestors injuring many and killing people like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, and who declare themselves as a "superior race," but rather, the President and his followers have lauded and encouraged them.
"Stand back and stand by..."
So, I want you to think. Really think. Tell that impulsive part of your gut that only read this far in order to disagree with this post to stand down for a moment, put on your critical thinking cap, and really think.
If you were August Landmesser's friend in Germany in 1936, would you want to look back after WWII and say that you were the guy next to him proudly saluting? Or would you want to look back on that day and be able to tell a story about asking your friend why he wasn't saluting, listening to his tale, realizing what Hitler was doing, and opposing that dictatorship from then on?
Those are the stakes today.
There are millions of August Landmessers in the streets, in your social media feeds, and all around you. And they're not just silently crossing their arms anymore. You have the chance to listen to them. I hope you take it.
Real quick before we dive in: 1. Make sure you're registered to vote. 2. Call your reps and get them to pass the Heroes Act. 3. Call all the Louisville lines and demand justice for Breonna Taylor. Okay, now on to today's thought.
On July 26th the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its thirtieth birthday. NPR's Throughline ran a great segment on it and, after listening through it, and in honor of this milestone, I want everyone to stop for a second and really, REALLY think and reflect on their own actions, behaviors, biases, and assumptions.
First, a little history and context:
Nowadays, my rapid-fire list of his diagnoses, which usually gets people to stop with their "Oh, I have a cousin with Autism! What's your brother have?" tone (more on that in a minute), is: "Autism Cerebral Palsy Kabuki Makeup Syndrome Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and Congenital Myopathy of Muscle Fiber One." (Imagine me saying that at the same speed as the legal disclaimer at the end of a radio commercial and you'll get the idea.)
I grew up looking after and caring for my brother; he requires round-the-clock care, and that doesn't just mean his physical needs, it also means that someone has to deal with the world around him and adapt it to be more accessible and less discriminatory for him to live in.
Legally, the ADA was the first big step in moving the country in that direction (it's at least one step in a better direction than the systems of eugenics and forced sterilization that this country got into well before the Nazis started slaughtering people because of their disabilities; California even led the pack on that front from 1907-1970 with over 20,000 forced sterilizations). The ADA put the onus on businesses, establishments, and society at large to adapt, rather than expecting, for example, wheelchair users to either just "figure out how to get up and down the stairs" or simply not come in at all.
We reluctantly accept the thing and she walks away on the verge of tears, just so overwhelmed by the experience of seeing a boy in a wheelchair and his brother beside him eating a corndog.
(Also, quick aside, did y'all know that "overwhelmed" means the exact same thing as "whelmed"? Truly, look up the etymology; the "over" bit is entirely redundant. So, the next time someone makes the "can you ever just be 'whelmed'?" joke, you can tell them, "Well, yes, you can, but it would mean that you're experiencing the state of being that you assume you'd be experiencing if you were feeling, by your definition, 'overwhelmed.' Just 'chill,' bruh.")
Okay, this one's less of an anecdote and more of an account of the fact that I've had the exact same conversation about, oh I don't know, ten thousand times in my life. It goes like this:
THEM: That's retarded.
ME: Come on, man, don't use that word.
THEM: Dude, stop being so overly sensitive about everything.
You get the idea.
Okay. So, here are the issues at work here, and this is where I REALLY need y'all to do some introspection:
Would you walk up to a pair of siblings, one of whom is white, the other of whom is, I don't know, Korean, and tell the white one how beautiful it is that they're out in public together?
Would you still, in this day and age, call something "fruity," or "gay" if you didn't like it?
Would you, when introduced to a black person, immediately say to them, "Oh, hi! My neighbor's black, too!"?
I'm'a guess, if you're reading this, the answer to all of the above is, "No." (And if it's "yes," that's something else for you to investigate.)
So, here's the point:
When you treat people with disabilities with pity, and as though it's an achievement to simply be seen outside in public, that's discrimination.
When you lump all people with disabilities together with the "I have a black friend, too!" tone, that's discrimination.
And for fuck's sake, if you are using any variation or permutation of what we call "The R-Word," then in all likelihood, it's goddamn discrimination.
And you'll have to forgive me for getting frustrated here; I've been doing this dance for over 25 years and I truly CANNOT believe that I still have to say this: When you use the R-word as a pejorative expression, you are explicitly stating that anyone with an intellectual disability is undesirable and deserving of ridicule and disparagement (or, gee, I don't know, death or sterilization. See: the bits of American History your AP U.S. class in high school left out). And here's the thing: I know that that's the truth, because all the synonyms that you could replace that word with when you use it in a derogatory way are negative: stupid, shitty, fucked up, worthless, unwanted, disgusting, repulsive, dismissible, etc.
THEM: "But– But– But–"
No. No "buts." That's what you're doing whether you realize it or not. And it's discrimination. Period.
That said, here's where it gets dicey.
Bonus Anecdote 3: Satire.
Satire is a tricky world. When done effectively, it skewers those who are abusing their power like literary or journalistic surgery. And, again, when done effectively, the conscious use of slurs can be extremely effective. Note: the CONSCIOUS use (i.e. Season 1, Episode 21 of the show Speechless).
When done sloppily, however, satire can act like a kid with a sawed-off shotgun in a candy shop; sure, the kid is gonna hit their target, but they're also gonna hit a lot of bystanders who had nothing to do with anything (i.e. Tropic Thunder, Something About Mary, Mean Girls, this list goes on forever).
Why the flying fuck would anyone need to perpetuate its use this way? To what end? Why did the creator of this image NEED to adjacently disparage people with disabilities? Why was it necessary for the satire to include "libtard"? Wouldn't "liberal snowflakes" have worked just as well and NOT used an already marginalized group as cannon fodder? How was it necessary to think, "Well, the r*****s won't get up in arms about this, and even if they do, who cares? It's fine! We can dehumanize them adjacently while trying to satirize the white nationalist right"?
Hang tight, I'm gonna answer the question for you:
No one thought that. Because the creator of this image didn't think for one second about its impact on the disabled community. That's how. That's why. Whoever it was who made this image did not even register the fact that "libtard" is a portmanteau that inherently degrades, dehumanizes, and dismisses the basic human worth of people with disabilities.
This sloppy, inadvertent, ignorant lateral bullying of the disabled community HAS. TO. STOP.
It's as simple as that.
Stop the pitying looks.
Stop the teary admiration for the "bravery to be seen in public."
Stop dismissing someone's needs just because they're different than yours.
Stop using disabled people as a foil for all things you don't like.
And for all the gods' sakes STOP. USING. THE R-WORD.
"Retard," "fucktard," "libtard," "if you're not a freakin' tard" (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog), I don't care what variation on the theme you pick, just stop it.
(And a quick side note: I brought this up to the friend on whose Facebook wall I saw the image. She and I had a really great discussion about it.)
So. To sum up:
The ADA has been around for thirty years now. In that time, a lot of progress has been made. Hell, Obama even signed Rosa's Law in 2010 which states that any federal documentation that has previously used the term "mental retardation" be changed to "intellectual disability," and the same new terminology be used going forward.
But there is SO MUCH more progress that is needed.
And it starts with individual people.
It starts with the way you and your friends think, speak, act, and interact with others.
So, please, truly, take some time and reflect. If you've done any of this stuff in the past, that's innocent ignorance rearing its head. It's okay. Don't beat yourself up. You can't go back and change what's done.
But going forward, there's just no excuse anymore.
Catch yourself in the act. Work to reprogram your vocabulary and assumptions. And if one of your pals blurts out that something's "retarded," call them out. This community needs real allies, now more than ever. And much in the way that communities of color have been screaming, "stop making us do the emotional labor to correct your (white people's) behavior," the disabled community – those with disabilities as well as their parents, children, siblings, care providers, family, and friends – cannot be expected to do all the work.
Happy Birthday, ADA. Here's hoping the next thirty years see these changes continue.