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Normal and the enforcing of dehumanization

amweiner's picture

The Disability Reader gave unprecedented context for understanding the word 'normal'. Historically, as the ideas of the average and the ideal converge, the creation of a hierarchical structure of normal is born. Normal and desired become relaitvely synonymous. We strive to be smart, looks beautiful, and conform to the gender identity society places upon us. Ironically, we have merged the ideal with the normal. Somehow, as time progressed, we expected ourselves to achieve the ideal becuase we perceived that to be possible. So who, yoiu may ask, lies at the bottom of this hierarchy? The 'deviants', 'undesireable', 'poor', and 'disabled'-- the Other. We have 'othered' all who deviate from the already unrealistic expectations of society. In doing so, we have dehumanized those poeple.

A laundry list of dehumanizing questions seem to appear in tandem with the creation of the hierachy of society: If the IQ-- an already problematic measure of intelligence--is low, then what makes that individual human? If they are not deisreable physically, cannot communicate, and seem to not be aware of thier surroundings or others, why should they be a part of the human race? Won't these people fall victim to natural selection anyways? 

These disturbing questions have created an appauling idea; people with disabilities are not people. In fact, they are only a manifestation of their disease. They cannot possible posses the emotional or intellectual complexities of a 'normal' human. 'That' is cerebral palsy, autism, or schizophrenia--not a real person. We have reduced people with disabilites to being a statistic, a deviation. In hopes to maintain our positions as 'normal' or close to 'ideal' we must preserve the 'other's' status as well. In fact, the creation of the word disability is simply to perpetuate the hierarchical structure of status so the 'normal' can keep their top place on that ladder.

How, then, can we combat this? Is it even possible? I, like you, at times feel doubtful that there can be lasting changes to society's understanding of normal, ideal, and human. However, just as I began to give up hope, I read A life beyond reason by Chris Gabbard. It was within this piece that I once again found hope. Gabbard describes a life where his son, August, is identified by his name, not his inhibitions. He laughs, smiles, and has 'quirks' like any other member of his family. He is not the representations of disability that appear in the media. He can live outside of social construct of disability when people recognize him as August. Gabbard's daughter makes pipecleaner wheelchairs and ramps for her dolls, because, to her, wheelchairs are 'normal' and she wants her dolls to have accesible ways to get in their house. In small anecdotes such as these, Gabbard peels away social norms and the idea of 'disabled' as the reader gets to know August. When he was born, Gabbard saw  himself in August. This moment of recognition changed everything. This seems to be the secret. Scholarship and academia can provide tons of support to reimagining to ideas of normal and ideal. But, I think the real change will come when we, as a society, see ourselves in others. Not unlike the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement, we are all human. The second we strip away prejudice and our own insecurites, we will see ourselves in the people that have been othered. We will recognize humanity. Maybe, there won't be such a scientific push to 'purify' and 'perfect' becuase there is perfection in simply being. I don't know how many stories must be told, but I believe that one anecdote or relaitonship at a time, change to our standards of beauty, intelligence, and worth will come. 

I have found this in my own life in working with CCW. At first, I was nervous to even go there. I didn't want to be awkward, say the wrong thing, or step on anyone's toes. However, as I have seen Mary, Ken, and Tim Quinn for a few weeks now, I am beggining to develop legitimate relationships. Sure, I may ask Mary to repeat what she says a few times, and people in the DC may look at us oddly, but I consider her to be my friend. She makes me laugh and is considerate. Ken asked me how lacrosse practice went--something I told him about last week. Through building these relationships, I have been able to begin reimagine social standards myself. I can't wait to continue to learn from them as I embark on my own journey to further enlightment and understanding.