Friday, June 15, 2012

"I See A Cripple! Arrest Someone!" Up on Cripple Creek
Forest Thomer walked up to a small group of people at a May 23 Party in the Park event, pointed to a slight, wheelchair-bound woman next to him and asked, “Do you want to laugh at the crippled girl?”
So begins a news report on, wherein the point is young Mr. Thomer was attempting a little guerrilla marketing for his friend Ally Bruener, a wheelchair user who wants to be—wait for it!—a stand-up comedian. I know. Easy joke on my part.

What isn't a joke is that some folks may have got their politically correct knickers in a knot. In any event, Mr. Thomer ended up arrested for disorderly conduct.

Now here is where the story rolls down hill toward confusion. There were accusations about Thomer's behavior. He was asked to leave by the event organizers. He didn't. The police came, and he was arrested.

Should I be outraged? No, the better question is "Should you be outraged?" 

I use some form of the word cripple regularly. In fact, my parents might have said, "My son was crippled by polio." The word itself carries does not carry the full scope of the ugly connotations of the n-word or other demeaning terminology for those often discriminated against.

That means if Thomer was booted from the park for saying "cripple," there are people who need a tutorial on free speech.

And yes, I know that is an overly libertarian point of view. If he'd been using n*gg*r or f*g, we would be having a different conversation.

But reading deeper into the story there is this:
... police accused Thomer of “walking into people and shouting obscenities at them” and when told to stop “persisted in yelling and shouting causing annoyance and alarm to others.”  
“We don’t allow anyone to hand out promotional materials at our events,” Chris Kemper, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber spokesman, said. Kemper was told Thomer “disrupted the event because he was videotaping our guests without their approval” in the public park.
That is disorderly conducted. If true and even if part of the guerrilla marketing, it means the argument over the word as within the spectrum of free speech is moot.

I'll use "cripple" in its various forms in public. Of course, since I am crippled I can get away with it, and so I'll limp away from the controversy over the word and come to the part of the story that doesn't have me straddling the fence, the concluding comment from the woman in the wheelchair:
“I will not sit back and allow anyone trample over my right to show and tell the world that I am proud to be crippled,” Bruener said.
Why should anyone be proud to be crippled? It is a circumstance, a roll of the mystical dice. I am not proud to be crippled.  

I understand her desire to put a positive spin on a negative circumstance, but I can take no pride in something personal, something immutable. And if you push me to say so, I will tell you it sounds as if she is saying, "I know I'm an inspiration."

And that's wrong. To see people with disabilities as inspirations, as heroic is to suggest we are not worthy of being included in, being an accepted part of, mainstream society.


Anonymous said...

Well said. I agree with you....there is something a little unsavory about using your disability to promote your craft, whatever it may be. Maybe for comedy being handicapped (another potentially offensive word)is fair game to try and differentiate yourself, but take a step back and it seems obsequious to me.

4tires said...

What always gets me is the way that many disabled people react to the word "cripple." I have observed that the various reactions seem to be based largely on age.

Those of us who are middle-aged (40-55) don't seem to get very bent out of shape by the word, whereas most younger disabled people seem to get either indignant, angry, or defensive.

I guess most of us who are older than the shared experience of remembering when the word, crippled (or its other forms) was a commonly used and accepted way of referring to us.

When I was a child, disabled children were usually always referred to as "crippled" children. Back then, it wasn't considered to be either insulting or degrading.

I have always wondered whether maybe we should have been insulted, or just accept it, like most of did? If we had gotten insulted, would we have had the sufficient pride and anger to have started the independent living movement sooner?