Ableism in the Human Rights Community: Part X

“Ethel” response comes through the list while I was responding to “Mildred.” What follows are a series of emails to the HRC list from “Ethel,” “Mildred” and myself.
To remind readers: Right after the retreat “Ethel” and I had an email exchange, off list, which I posted on this blog, (giving her the fictitious name “Ethel.”)

I also posted the exchange to the HRC list right after my initial statement to the list. When I posted this exchange to the list, I identified “Ethel” as “W.” Here she refers to “W” in one part of this email, but at another point, quotes “W’s” words as her own. I don’t know if she wanted to keep that exchange anonymous, or was actually outing herself as “W.”__Emma
“Ethel’s” Post to the list:
——– Original Message ——–_Subject: Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2006 02:00:36 EDT
I feel the need to respond to these email exchanges about what happened. And while exchanges can be helpful, they can also lead to separation. It depends on us.
Also I want to remind us of how difficult it is to have a full picture and good dialogue by email, which is itself flawed. But for those who were not at the event, 20% of communication is by words with 80% being body language and facial expressions. So for those not at the event, while it’s fine for you to express your thoughts from previous meetings), you are missing a large part of what took place by just reading the emails. And it especially does not come off well if you are giving advice, without being there.
There were TWO issues going on. Emma, Andy, and Michael addressed the disability and access issue. I totally agree that in everything we do, we need to look at it with the lenses of inclusion and accessibility for everyone. It is surprising to me that this is not already an established policy. It was how the Third World Coalition of AFSC always operated, which also went the extra of making sure the committee itself was inclusive and diverse.
I do not think anyone would be opposed to this. For those of us who do not have a disability, we need to grow in these issues along with other discriminations._When I said in a previous email that I posted “I don’t know or understand, but feel comfortable with not knowing. I just need to be OPEN”- my point is that we will never know at a heart level what people experience, it’s just not possible. But to me, it’s listening, learning and being open to accepting people’s experience that’s important.
“Mildred” and “w” brought out the second issue. Emma no one disagrees with your right to demand being treated with respect, and you have a right to be angry. No one is disputing you on that.
Bear in mind that is Not the issue, I feel that the issue is that we did not support you and therefore you see us as equally abusive and insensitive to disability needs. Your words to me were “what is even more outrageous is that you sat next to me for most of “Clarence’s” insults that no one supported me or followed me the two times I left the room…”
You had a specific response in mind by “support” and that was to join you in verbal outrage and anger. But remember not everyone took his interaction with you as “, taunting, abusive, humiliating” (as Andy describes). I questioned “Clarence” about his saying “No” to your request for ice and he told me he was joking. It was not funny and looking back, it would have been good for me to tell him that right then. But to use violent and abusive language back at him is not acceptable in the situation for me. And believe me, I can use violent and harsh words (sometimes very inappropriately and I am not proud of it). You can say whatever you want, however you want, but you also don’t have the right to put others down for not joining you in how you took his comments. As you know I did speak with him afterwards about where he was coming from, and how your illness is day to day. But apparently that wasn’t what you were looking for. And I feel that unless a person comes to Your side as you word it, we are being “privileged.”_Lastly, the way we address this can be divisive or positive, which I took “Mildred’s” comment to mean “I don’t feel this event merits all this deep political attention. “It can be a distraction, or we can be more conscious of others, of treating people humanely and being open to different points of view. But let’s not let it polarize us. “Ethel”
And another word from “Mildred: “
——– Original Message ——–_Subject: Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date: Sun, 13 Aug 2006 23:23:53 -0700 (PDT)
<>”Ethel”- I appreciate your last email. I just got through writing a response to Andy’s, but I’m beginning to feel as you expressed.- It is better to talk together face to face.respectfully and treat each other as comrades. No one has a monopoly on suffering or militancy. None of us disagrees with becoming more sensitive and ending of all descrimination, but we have yet to arrive at a process of respect and humanity and not pidgeonhole each other in ways that show we really do not know each other at all.

<>In responding to “Ethel” (see below) I failed to make two points: 1. that by privilege I of course never meant that people respond by yelling at “Clarence.” In fact in two previous emails to the group I take responsibility for the outburst, apologize and recognize that it was not a healthy response to a very unhealthy and abusive situation. I believe that I did explain, as well in previous emails, that a more appropriate response by the group would have been one of inquiry at first, finding out what I was upset about, an opportunity provided the two times I left the patio. And I would have liked the other members of the Committee to have had the wisdom and courage to stand up to the “host” and support me in my meager request for ice. But first of all, there should be the recognition that no official Committee event should ever have been held in an inaccessible venue, hosted by a someone, who by all admissions has, at the very least, an inappropriate sense of humor.

Privilege in relation to any discriminated group are the rights and assumptions that those of the dominant group take for granted, that are inaccessible, denied to or difficult to achieve by those in the group that is being marginalized.
——– Original Message ——–_Subject: p.s. Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2006 01:15:27 -0700_From: Emma Rosenthal
i was working on my response to “mildred”, when “ethel’s” post came through.
i think that you are trying sincerely to struggle with the issues that these events present, but that you are blocked by either your need to rationalize your own discomfort or your general and longstanding dislike of me and my expression of my disability.
that “clarence” initially justified his behavior and you and others back up this justification, by stating that my claims to disability were not believable and have been the source of considerable group resentment, then it is ingenuine for you or anyone else to claim that my reaction was not due to his discriminatory behavior in refusing to provide me with ice upon my repeated request, especially when i clearly stated that disability was the reason for my request. that you admit that you confronted him precisely on his “insensitivity” to this issue, further places in doubt that your assertion of his refusal and his “jokes” (directed at my request for the simple accommodation of uncontaminated ice!) is genuine and isn’t jaded by your feelings about me personally.
that you continue to insist that “clarence” was joking when he denied me ice, implying that i should have recognized this as an insensitive joke, amazes me. you don’t allow that 1. i had no reason to think he was joking. and 2. if he were joking, it was in reference to my request for accommodation, and therefore an unacceptable and hostile joke. i didn’t take it as a joke and i don’t believe it was a joke now.
that you continue to assert that my reaction was more problematic than the choice of venue and the actions of the host, stink of the same type of “moral equivalency” imposed on those under attack: to respond to the oppression with greater grace and with greater responsibility and accountability than those committing the initial offense. “clarence”, in your opinion was joking, but i was abusive! amazing!
the argument that those not in attendance don’t have the right or the authority to comment, is a very dangerous argument for all of our human rights work, and disregards the entire discipline of the study of history. human rights activists are always admonished for having opinions about situations we haven’t directly observed.
we base our opinions on our world view and methodologies of analysis, the consistency, reputation and integrity of those who provide first hand accounts of events, and other contributing factors, such as the indisputable facts not in question and previous occurrences and trajectories.
if we have to observe everything we speak out against, then all of our work is equally invalid.
<>finally, the assertion that exchanges lead to separation is the precise attitude that brings us to the current conflict. it is not the exchanges that lead to conflict (the elephant in the living room) but the underlying assumptions, divisions, attitudes, premises and decision. had we had an open dialogue on the resentments regarding my attempt for full participation within this committee, instead of having them fester so that my request for ice, at a meeting place that should never have been selected, we would not find ourselves embroiled in the current controversy. “clarence” would never have had the need or opportunity to deny me my request and ridicule my assertions and i would not have had the opportunity to react the way i did,

the group decided to have an event at an inaccessible venue. (i suppose i could have insisted on a different venue, but considering the resistance to my request for ice, i shudder at the consequences of that assertion!) it was decided by at least three members of this committee (you, “clarence” and “mildred”) that my requests for accommodation over the past few years are the cause of the intolerance of my needs and participation.
that no one has disputed the chronology of events andy and i present, then the only question is if we consider those behaviors to constitute abuse and discrimination, or not. you apparently find “clarence’s” comments to be simply a series of bad jokes, and that i should have understood them as such.
perhaps we will never agree on the significance of the specific events at the retreat. but if we are to move forward and put this behind us as you suggest, then we need to be accountable for the future, we need to be focused on the solutions.
to that end, we must dedicate ourselves to full accessibility, and never again have an event at a venue that does not serve that end. we must assert the rights of disabled people to request accommodations and given that the fuel for this controversy was the lack of acceptance of the veracity of my condition, we must provide leadership in education and self-education in fostering greater understanding of this issue. if we feel that the request is so encumbering that we need proof, we need to establish, at the union level, a confidential protocol. otherwise we should take the request at face value. i don’t see how anything i requested ever would have merited such a test. that these “reactions to emma” “mildred” refers to, occurred even before the retreat, clearly stated by both you and her, in direct response to nothing other than the interpretation of my assertions of need, is serious enough, even if “clarence” and i hadn’t locked horns.


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