W. Kamau Bell Shades the Disabled
Over the weekend America was treated to an in depth look at the lives of persons with disabilities courtesy of W. Kamau Bell and CNN's United Shades of America. So, first, let me open with a genuine thank you for shedding light on an often overlooked segment of the minority 'team.' Standing beside #GimpNation is essential in a country where a racist, ableist, and, in all other ways, bigoted president encourages dredging up the murkiest portions of our past for reliving. How is it, then, we are capable of seeing the logic of equality prevail over racism, homophobia, sexism, and jingoism but not ableism? Even now, as I write this the spell check regards each -ism above with respect, while underlying my struggle in red. Is spell check my only real ally, in its own grace, pointing out to the world we're still not including everyone? In its own way, the world still underscores my disabled, gimp, existence with a red squiggle disguised as the word normal.
What is normal? If we're to be literal, it's the mean, the average, the absolute middle in every possible categorical evaluation of a human. Is anyone normal under such a criterion? Maybe, but it would be such a waste of the human condition to explore only the ways in which it could be expressed as most average. Each of us does something differently, better, or with a special affinity that sets us apart from average in that one category.
Some of us are exceptional at athletics, and even if an average athlete prototype existed, within that group there would be exceptional skills. Gymnasts and water polo players apply their athleticism differently. Mike Trout is on pace to outshine every player in the history of baseball. None of this stops or starts with athletics. Someone excels at cutting and placing tile enough to be regarded as better than the rest. There's a person out there right now better than all of us at using a hot glue gun.
From the most magical to the absolute mundane there is a best, a worst, and an average. Throughout that range, at each data point, we find a common denominator: a single human. Is there a prototypical human? A normal one of us? To quote Soren, as played by Malcolm McDowell in Star Trek: Generations, "normal is what everyone else is, and you are not."When we see normal for what it truly is, we can start to put its use, to refer to the disabled, up against the logic of equality.
In the past couple weeks, NYC attorney Aaron Schlossberg was doxxed and subject to the long arm of karma at the hands of humans who rightly called him out for being a racist. Schlossberg was upset at having to hear Spanish spoken around him at a restaurant by employees and customers. His racist outburst was, at its core, a response to his desire for everyone to be whitewashed--to be normal.
Imagine my surprise when woke, minority team member, and all around civil rights champion, W. Kamau Bell, reports on #GimpNation in ways that purport we don't have to be proud, gimp, gimpified, gimptastic, gimpstantatious, gimparific, gimperinos. No, we can be normal. We can be like you.
Substitute any other minority teammate for a gimp and it plays out as obvious bigotry. Tell W. Kamau Bell to straighten his hair, stop using his particular slang, or express his culture, and just be normal, and normal becomes a euphemism for white. Tell a woman to toughen up or grow thicker skin, and normal becomes man. Pick a minority, plug them in, and boom: Donald Trump MadLibs. Yet, somehow, we're the lone remainder in the normal conversation. Are we like so much farts to the infantile mind of the average MadLibs player? Maybe.
One of my gimps he reported on was Justin Gallegos, a track athlete with Cerebral Palsey. Gallegos is celebrated in an accompanying article, by Allen Kim, for being, "one of the few able-bodied people with cerebral palsy to complete a half marathon." No, he absolutely is not. Gallegos is a gimp, and he's one of the gimpinest gimps going if he's running marathons. To strip him of that is the same mentality that induces rage when Kanye West says slavery was a choice. Reread Kim's quote as "Wayne Brady is the whitest black man in America," and tell me it's still okay to write.
Justin Gallegos is a proud gimp; we are a proud people. We take the worst circumstances and find ways to bounce back. That's what gimp means. That's gimpness, that ability to be beaten down, time and again, and still shine bright with the tiniest spark of willpower left. When W. Kamau Bell spoke out about discrimination in his personal past, we didn't ask him to separate the black experience from it, but he asks every gimp out there to do just that with theirs.
Until we are accepted as we are, for who we are, every member of #GimpNation will always just be some shade shy of normal. When we talk about Ray Charles, we don't speak of him as if normal folks needed to get on his level. No, we speak of a blind man who can do something normal people do and, as such, ascend into the ranks of the whole and complete. On some level, at some point in our history, this disabled-can-be-normal narrative was invented and thrust upon us gimps.
Let's not tread lightly or on foot. Let's blaze through on my electrically powered rubber tires. The actual able-bodied of the world invented it, this narrative used to ease themselves from the fear that at any moment they could become one of us. At any given moment, an able-bodied human is one accident away from naturalization into #GimpNation. It's a lot easier to digest that reality when there's a constant stream of recovery, road-to-normal, and bounce back stories about the disabled.
By promoting this narrative, the disabled have been more than marginalized. We've been rendered invisible in civil rights discussions. Everyone assumes every disabled person is just one doctor's visit, one surgery, one rehab session away from normal. When people list the 'team' members in the civil rights game, no one forgets the races, no one forgets the women, no one forgets the LGBQT, but almost everyone forgets #GimpNation. Among the civil rights teammates who do remember, Talib Kweli is often the lone voice who consistently includes us in the conversation. It's easy to forget something you assume can be fixed or will go away.
We are not your savior stories. We are not your feel-good stories. We are not your means to feeling better about your existence. We are not your inspiration. We are not normal. We are gimps. We are #GimpNation
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