Monday, September 26, 2016

The Rape of Lucretia: How Trigger Warnings Work

I am teaching of version of Western civilization which my students meet in person about 75% of the time and about 25% of the time online. I love it. I use that online time and space to build connections among the students that in fact it might not happen in class and also to find different ways for students to engage with and process the readings actively. They do a little work in which they read, they do some online discussion, they listen to me give them kind of mini podcast lectures – just 3 to 8 minutes each – on topics to help them with the reading, then they do some primary sources and they come back to class ready to do more active kinds of engagement.

Last week, I was preparing my podcast lecture for Rome. It's not a standalone thing that I can put on the Internet in any open kind of way, but is is the kind of material I would give them if we are meeting face-to-face when they engage with the textbook chapter. Part of the story of Rome is the story of the rape and suicide of Lucretia.

This is a post about content warning, so let me give you a content warning. In the the next paragraph I'm going to describe a story of rape and suicide, but you can just skip ahead and get to the point if that's not something you want to read.

Lucretia was noblewoman in the city of Rome who died around 510 BCE, or at least so the story goes as preserved in Roman memory. She was raped by Sextus Tarquinus, the son of the king of Rome, an event that led to the fall of the kingdom and the establishment of the republic. Lucretia told her husband or father, depending on which legend we're discussing, then killed herself to preserve her honor. The nobles rose up overthrew the Kings, and established an oligarchical republican system.

On the recording, I said: So I'm gonna tell a story now about rape and suicide, it's also in your textbook. You don't have to read it there and if you want to just skip ahead 30 seconds or so in the recording that's no problem. I'm going to tell you that this story, which quite possibly did happen, led to an uprising, the early establishment of their Republic and the general Roman loathing of kings. Then I told the story more or less as I did above.

I don't know if any of my students are going to skipped that 30 seconds. I do know that in a class of 25 students, some of them have almost certainly experienced sexual assault. I'm sad to say that some may have even experienced it on my campus, because I know the statistics about sexual assault on college campuses. It feels to me like a pretty basic best practice to put this in my recording.

At no time did I feel my speech was any less free. At no time did I feel like I am betraying my students by not exposing every one of them to this story. They do need to know there is a myth involving sexual assault that shapes mythography of the Roman Republic. They do not really need to know any details.

There are a lot of problems on a college campus these days. The greatest of them emerge from corporatization and the control the state legislators and governors seem to want to exert over curriculum and employment. But yeah, sometimes students make speech demands that I think might be counterproductive. I'm concerned about the tendency to try to stop controversial speakers from appearing on campuses, for example, even as I sympathize with not wanting to use student fees to pay for hatemongers.

But it strikes me that people who are angry about trigger warnings in the classroom have little idea how they are actually used to create an environment in which we can have the conversation matters – myths about the origins of Rome and their hatred of kings in my example – without needlessly traumatizing someone.

That's not a violation of free speech. It's just, I think, I hope, good teaching.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Disability and Race: Black Pain/White Pain

I've been meaning to blog this for awhile - the way that black pain and white pain get treated differently. Whites, who get more pain killers, get addicted. African-Americans, on the other hand, get fewer pain killers and so don't have the same addiction rates, but have more pain.
The experience of African-Americans, like Ms. Lewis, and other minorities illustrates a problem as persistent as it is complex: Minorities tend to receive less treatment for pain than whites, and suffer more disability as a result.
While an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse has swept across the United States, African-Americans and Hispanics have been affected at much lower rates than whites. Researchers say minority patients use fewer opioids, and they offer a thicket of possible explanations, including a lack of insurance coverage and a greater reluctance among minorities to take opioid painkillers even if they are prescribed. But the researchers have also found evidence of racial bias and stereotyping in recognizing and treating pain among minorities, particularly black patients.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

History: Ableism and Incarceration

Bitch Media Magazine has a good feature on disability and incarceration. Cheryl Green, the author, takes us through some of the history of de-institutionalization, then writes this excellent paragraph [my emphasis]:
As a culture, we never addressed the ableist biases that led us to want to lock up disabled people in the first place. The politics of who gets assigned the label of “disability” ties in to racism, homophobia, and sexism. Until the 1970s, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and for many years, a crime. Many LGBT people were incarcerated in prisons and psych wards. Likewise, 19th century doctors had great confidence that the only reason an enslaved African or African-American might run away was because they were suffering from an alleged mental illness that they called “drapetomania.” And we all know the fabulous diagnosis of hysteria, something that can only happen to someone with a uterus. In early-20th-century thinking, someone’s uterus supposedly detached from its spot in the abdomen, navigated itself to the brain, and destroyed the person’s ability to think rationally.
Today, these biases still all work tragically in tandem. The practice of forced sterilization, once thought to be over, continues into the 21st century for incarcerated women with disabilities who are poor, mostly women of color. And just look at the reality of police violence: In recent years, we’re finally getting national media coverage on how Black and Latinx people are far more likely to be killed by police than white people. What’s hardly ever reported is police brutality against people with disabilities, even though estimates now find that between one-half and one-third of people killed by police have a disability.
That first line is a really good sentence, in particular, as a way to draw the connection between institutionalization and incarceration. Too often, the narrative suggests that in the 70s/80s a lot of people were in mental institutions, then they closed, those people went out into the communities, and over the last 30 years have been locked up. In fact, it's not that Joe and Jane Doe were institutionalized and released. It's that the same forces that pushed Joe and Jane into institutions now push George and Gina into prisons.

As always, read the whole article.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Disability Is Now Partisan - It doesn't have to be though.

Later today, Hillary Clinton will give a new piece about economic opportunity for people with disabilities. It's part of her broader pivot to positive policy speeches, rather than just attacking Trump all the time. Some folks will be live-tweeting under the hashtag #criponomics.

Clinton's campaign just released this ad, narrated in sign language by celebrity model Nyle DiMarco (accessibility is complicated - there's no sound on purpose, but now blind people can't hear the ad). The ad is explicitly cross-disability in focus.

David Graham has a new piece at The Atlantic on "How Disability Turned Partisan," that's worth a read. Graham writes:
You’d think none of that would be all that controversial. Disabilities strike across age groups, racial barriers, and partisan lines. In this election, even this is a polarized issue—though the roots of that split actually date back to before Donald Trump was a major political figure.
Disability politics used to be bipartisan. The Americans with Disabilities Act was primarily authored by Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat. It passed the Senate and House overwhelmingly—91-6 and 377–28, respectively, and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.... Eighteen years later, Bush’s son George W. Bush signed some expansions of the ADA into law.

Since then, however, things have sputtered. In 2012, the Senate failed to ratify a United Nations treaty called the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. Democrats supported the treaty, but Republicans were split. On the pro side were George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, the former Senate GOP leader and presidential candidate who was injured during World War II. On the con side were a bloc who warned on extremely dubious grounds that the treaty would allow the UN to meddle in U.S. courts. In the end, the treaty failed, despite Dole himself appearing on the Senate floor to lobby. It needed two-thirds of votes to pass, but was only able to garner 61.
Graham then turns to Trump's infamous mocking incident, "Crippled America," and more, before writing:
But Clinton’s focus on disability issues isn’t just a matter of electoral jockeying. It’s also in line with the direction of progressive politics as a whole. The Democratic Party has increasingly embraced the language and agenda of social justice. As my colleague Clare Foran noted back in March, Clinton herself has adopted the language of intersectionality, the idea that forms of discrimination, marginalization, and inequality should not be considered singly but as a complex, with different forms compounding one another.
At the presidential level, disability is partisan. It's less clear though at the states, where there are many GOP officials quite dedicated to disability rights, even as they are often limited in what they can do due to their party's insistence on austerity.

Maybe later I'll write a response - "Does disability have to stay partisan?"

My pieces on disability and the presidential race:

Speechless and Improvising Accessibility

Speechless is a new show featuring Micah Fowler, an actor with cerebral palsy, as JJ DiMeo, a character with cerebral palsy who is non-speaking. Instead, he uses a laser attached to his head to indicate letters on a board.

I wrote a review for The Atlantic, focusing on the authenticity of this method.
Silveri told me he was a little stuck in his early drafts, in which the DiMeo family functioned as an exact translation of his own. Initially, the “JJ” character used a typical Adapted and Assistive Communication (AAC) device, which allows a person to select icons and words from a screen and have them spoken aloud in a flat, computer-generated voice. Then Silveri met Eva Sweeney. Sweeney is a woman with cerebral palsy who invented her own method of communication as a teenager rather than rely on typical AAC. “As a kid I used to point with my left hand on my letter board,” she told me. “But that was super slow and tiring. So at 16, I asked my mom to Velcro a laser pointer to a cap, and I’ve been using it since.” Sweeney, now a paid consultant on the show, says she finds it to be much more efficient and interactive than high-tech AAC devices, and it encourages people she’s talking with to stay engaged with the conversation.

Silveri was blown away. “I saw [Eva] interacting with her aide. They had this great intense chemistry, anticipating each other and playing off each other.” After the meeting, Scott re-wrote the whole show. People familiar with AAC may find the technique weird, but in the context of comedy it works beautifully to keep the dialogue moving. Better still, Kenneth adds so much to the show: He is, at once, JJ’s voice and his own character.
The disability community improvises. It has to, because the world isn't accessible, and we should do better. But let's also celebrate the creativity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Keith Lamont Harris - Disabled Black Man Killed in Charlotte

Developing story. Ongoing protests. More tomorrow.

Intersectional Justice: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi's Post on White Voters and Disability

One of the hallmarks of this blog, at least as I envisioned, is to be unfailingly critical even when that's uncomfortable. I'm willing to point to problems and disability representation in works of journalism, literature, and art, even from people whose work I admire. I try to be equally critical of my own conduct, and listen when I make mistakes – as I invariably do. That is the only way for our movement to get stronger.

I am writing this post because Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and CEO of RespectAbility, a disability rights and advocacy organization - and someone who was first a source and then an employer of mine - posted a racially biased statement on her private Facebook today. The post was set to public and I was alerted to it by a number of people.

Here are the screenshots.

The post shows a picture of George H. W. Bush and links to a news story of him saying he will vote for Clinton. Mizrahi wrote:

If Hillary wins it will because of white voters who care about people with disabilities. BTW, this is NOT a partisan thing. The same is true of Republican Sen. Richard Burr in NC who is running as the pro-PwDs candidate there.. THE POWER OF VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES WILL DETERMINE THE OUTCOME OF THE 2016 ELECTION! Remember that George H.W. Bush signed the ADA!

In the thread, when reminded that "black voters care about people with disabilities as well," Mizrahi wrote:

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi Of course but they were already voting for Hillary for other reasons.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi In politics there are wedge issues. for communities of color there is a long list of reasons voters will overwhelmingly vote for Hillary. For white voters, polls show that they are leaning for Trump. So what would make sub groups of them do something different than Trump? Bloomberg poll has disability as the top reason. So it's a real difference.


The post is now down. Lauren Appelbaum, communications director of RespectAbility, posted that the comments of any individual do not represent the organization, but that she is more than willing to discuss the views of RespectAbility.

Last May, I worked for RespectAbility in helping to edit a memo that Mizrahi wrote to the White House into a publishable form. I worked for a few days making the early draft, then took a more passive role from the project and changed my byline to "edited by," as the document evolved. Before that, I interviewed Mizrahi as a source last Fall, wrote about the RespectAbility Fellows in January, and was sent by RespectAbility to write and learn about disability at the New Hampshire primary. I believe that their work during the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries was outstanding, including their candidate questionnaires which pushed people to go on the record on disability issues. I stand by my assessment that the organization is filled with people working tirelessly for disability rights and am proud of the reporting I've done on them. 

But I reject this post by Mizrahi. It is racist. It is wrong. And it doesn't matter whether the racism was intentional or unintentional. It is ethically wrong. It is also factually wrong. The Obama Coalition (which proved just fine at electing presidents) depends on motivating large numbers of non-white voters to go to the polls. Yes, there are conservative well-off white voters who do not care about Trump's racism, hatred of Islam, terrible economic plans, lack of experience, history of predatory business practices, sexism, or other flaws...but do care about disability. They may be people who will shift to Clinton. Every vote counts.

But surely if Clinton wins, it will be because both Trump's hatemongering and Clinton's experience and policies motivate the whole Obama coalition - which is led by nonwhite voters - to turn out and even expand. A landslide would be a sign that moderate conservatives reject Trump. A victory will be people of color saving America from a would-be tyrant. To erase them is both wrong and biased.

I am sure that in the coming days, plenty of disabled people of color will be writing about this. As that happens, I will be sharing their work. I do not wish to speak for anyone but me, and be as clear as possible in my rejection of this kind of statement. I have also reached out to RespectAbility, formally, for comment. 

What's next?

RespectAbility has become important. It's connected to many of the movers and shakers in D.C., the corporate world, and the big non-profits. That's even moreso true now that it was named in a letter from the CEO of the Ford Foundation as a reason that they are going to be increasingly focused on disability justice. I have always had great interactions with Mizrahi and her team, which is why it's so important to me to write this post. I've tried to address some related concerns over email, but now it's time to respond to the public Facebook post with this comment of my own.

Our disability rights movement must address intersectional issues of justice - including race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and more - or it will fail. That intersectional frame needs to be built into the foundations of our organizations, our fundraising, our advocacy, our writing, and everything else we do. 

RespectAbility is going to have to prove itself, now. I wish them the best of luck. Start with listening to the people she has just erased. 

ATF Sting Nets Disabled Man; Breaks 1973 Law

Here's a new slice of a familiar story: Disabled individual entrapped by law enforcement, probably illegally. The ATF claims they never noticed the individual was disabled or assumed he was high. 

Notice the Milwaukee case is just one of many (and I recommend looking past the sub-optimal disability language from the reporter):
Chauncey Wright was looking for a job and some friends.
The man, who suffered brain damage as a child, thought he had found both in an odd store on a quiet street in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood in 2012. But he became ensnared in a federal undercover gun-buying sting and ended up being charged and convicted himself.
The same thing happened in Wichita, Kan.; Portland, Ore.; a couple of places in Florida; and possibly elsewhere.
Undercover federal agents — in these cases, with the ATF — argued they didn’t realize the men, some whose IQs were in the mid-50s, had disabilities. Some agents would later tell investigators they just assumed the guys were high on drugs. Others said they detected nothing unusual about the men.
Knowingly or not, it turns out it was not just agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who were not adhering to federal laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination.
The law is the 1973 Rehab act, one of the two or three most important pieces of disability rights legislation in US History, though it required mass protests around the country to get it enforced.

Lots of good reporting, if infuriating, in the piece. Here's Susan Mizner, for example, an ACLU attorney I've interviewed:
“I found it appalling that they had no idea they were working with people who had intellectual disabilities,” said Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the nationalAmerican Civil Liberties Union.
“The fact that our federal government is going into poor neighborhoods of color and not expecting to see disabilities and not trained to know how a disability can manifest itself, is an incredible lack of homework,” she said.
I don't actually have a section on entrapments and interrogations in my book draft, but I'm going to have to engage with this kind of thing as I revise.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Trump Goes (More) Ableist

It strikes me that when Trump needs to criticize white people, he likes to quickly resort on ableism (as opposed to racism, and plus sexism when useful). Here's his comment on Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense and recent critic of Trump:
Donald Trump launched a series of fierce attacks against former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Saturday.
"He's a nasty guy. Probably has a problem that we don't know about," Trump said at a rally in an airplane hangar here.
I see that "problem we don't know about" as suggesting that his "nastiness" is related to some kind of mental condition.

This isn't, in the grand scheme of Trump insultapalooza, a big deal. I just like to track this stuff. And as a friend pointed out, Gates' "beyond repair" could also be read as an ableist attack. Follow the "pathologizing Trump" tag for more on that.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

School to Prison and Disability: Black Hard of Hearing 7 Year Old Was Crying about being Bullied. Cops Handcuffed Him

The story of Kaylb Primm got a lot of attention last week. It's yet another story of a non-white child being handcuffed (I've written about such cases  regularly. See below for links) in school for behavioral reasons. The MO ACLU is suing. Rebecca Klein, from Huffington Post, wrote a widely shared story.
Kaylb Wiley Primm was in second grade in Kansas City when he started crying in class because he was being bullied. Within minutes, the child found himself in handcuffs. Two years later, his life is just getting back to normal.
The incident began when a school-based police officer happened to walk by Kaylb’s classroom and hear him crying and disrupting other students, according to a lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kaylb’s family. When Kaylb continued to cry and yell in the hallway, against the officer’s requests, the officer put the child in handcuffs and brought him to the main office, where he sat until a parent arrived.
Klein didn't mention it, but I thought - we're going to find out he's got a disability.

A lawyer friend, this morning, sent me the complaint, and sure enough:
15. At the time of the incident giving rise to this complaint, Plaintiff was seven years old and was finishing his second-grade year at George Melcher Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri, which is part of the KCPS system.
16. Plaintiff has a hearing impairment in one ear and was bullied and taunted by classmates from time to time. 
In other words, the disability aspect of this incident was directly causal, perhaps in more way than one. First, the bullying emerged from ableism. Second, it's not improbable that the officer shouting at the boy (which caused him to cry more, which then led to more shouting, grabbing painfully, and then the handcuffing) was not an effective means to communicate with a distraught boy who is hard of hearing. 

Not all the media coverage even mentions Primm's disability, which troubles me. I don't see any coverage that actually cites the disability issues and the high rate of such encounters for disabled non-white children  in particular. I don't see any coverage that talks to people from the Deaf/HoH community or other experts in disability discrimination in schools. We can't erase the disability component of Primm's identity from this story, or any story.

My published writing on the abuse of disabled children by law enforcement in schools.
And recent blog posts on this manifestation of the Cult of Compliance