Youth for Human Rights and the Politics of Exclusion.
Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that roughly translates to “nerve” as in “She’s got a lot of nerve.” The classic definition is that of someone who has killed both his parents and then pleads to the judge for mercy because he is an orphan.
The first ad from “Youth for Human Rights” was probably brought to my attention via facebook. It shows images of children from many ethnic backgrounds, and asks, “Can you tell which of these children was not born free ? Can you tell which of these children was not born equal? Can you tell which of these childre does not deserve to be treated with dignity? We can’t either?” Missing from the ad, are any children with visible physical dis-abilities, children with and non-conforming appearances and weight.
Quite a statement, no? There’s always more information in what is excluded than what is included.
These are the children most likely to endure the daily humiliation and rights violations in the most “normal” of situations– the school yard, the playground, summer camp, assuming that these children can even get their “wheels in the door!”
So I wrote a letter to the organization, and I include the email exchange below. I also revisited the web page and found that there were several ads. I don’t know if they were new, or if I simply hadn’t seen them the first time. On reviewing all of them, in this human rights vision, I noted other oversights as well– gay rights, Palestinian rights, women’ rights that were either excluded or undermined by this campaign.
Here is that exchange:
There were no children with visible disabilities, outside of normative weight categories. in your commercial. These students remain the segregated in all communities and often are the most ostracized. What is your vision and work regarding the human rights of children with disabilities?
Sent: Nov 10, 2009 12:29 AM
To: Emma Rosenthal
Subject: Re: youth for human rights, and children with disabilities.
Thank you for your comment. Of course we’re interested in rights for all, that’s the purpose of the whole activity. I hope you can use these materials to forward your purpose in this area.
I personally find it outrageous that you would have the chutzpah to even respond so patronizingly to my suggestion, stating “Of course we’re interested in rights for all” without also stating that you were working to address these oversights nor the acknowledgment that an entire segment of the population was excluded in your otherwise diverse image of humanity. –making the marginalization of this demographic even more marked in their absence!
The exclusion of pwds (people with dis-abilities) as well as of people whose appearance doesn’t conform to narrow constraints of acceptability (the children most likely to be excluded from public school, programs, etc and most likely to be bullied, harassed and ostracized by their peers) is more than a minor editorial decision, but is part of an overall and rather comprehensive segregation of pwds from most areas of public life.
When I first wrote to you I had only seen the first ad. Having now viewed the entire series I am even more appalled. You show several classroom and playground scenes, yet there are no pwds, even quietly, in the background. In your human rights schoolroom, everyone is model beautiful and below average weight (for developed countries– malnutrition worldwide aside.) Most of the people with a voice in your videos are male, and the few spoken roles by women are not positive (the school teacher who doesn’t know about modern slavery and the young white woman who accuses a Black student of stealing from her). In the segment on nationality you have students from several countries, each stating “I am”, and the name of their country, including Israeli, but NOT Palestinian– a rather glaring oversight in the contemporary dialogue on human rights, and that ad ends by saying “We are Mankind” instead of humankind, or humanity– an obviously more inclusive term. In your segment on the right to marriage all of your couples are heterosexual, thin, young, attractive, and definitely NOT displaying ANY dis-abilities. One of the couples, the man says “She’s my queen…. of course I’m The King.” –not exactly a human rights model of sexual equality. In “The Right to Democracy” a public forum, a city council meeting perhaps, is being conducted, and as the men scream back and forth, a small boy, gets on a chair and says into the mike “I have something to say.” There are no women in the room at all, How does that advance a human rights agenda? Judging by the exclusion of pwds in your ads, pwds don’t have a right to access to education or to play (schools and playgrounds being the areas of highest exclusion, marginalization and discrimination for children with dis-abilities), we don’t work, go to court, (in a recent small claims case, the judge refused to let me present my own case!!!), We aren’t included in your social security ad, except perhaps the boy with the cast on his arm. Despite the incredibly limited housing stock that is wheelchair accessible, you don’t include us in the ad granting everyone else a right to housing, (In the U.S. families with small children and pwds comprise the largest sector of the population experiencing housing discrimination). I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. In the entire series, there is ONE example of a pwd, a brief image of an athlete in a wheelchair– an image pwods (people wiithout dis-abilities) find comforting, (referred to in dis-ability studies, as the hero gimp) but an image of dis-ability most pwds find difficult to live up to.
Finally, your last ad, states that these are “your human rights.” “You don’t need to buy them or ask permission to have them.” “No one can take away your human rights.”
So, no, I don’t think I can use this material. it would be in contradiction to the basic principles of full inclusion and the vision of universal human rights that I adhere to. Human rights isn’t about nice pretty people, in expensive, well executed ads, with nice ideas. Human rights ARE denied, they ARE taken away, they HAVE to be fought for. People DIE defending them. And, most importantly, they have to apply to everyone, even those whose image isn’t pretty enough for you slick campaign. The only use of your material in my work would be as an example of the incredible unwillingness to recognize and include the issue of dis-ability rights, as well as Palestinian, gay and women’s rights, in the dialogue on human rights.