Sometimes, it’s easy to think that if we are a woman, disabled, an ethnic minority, a religious minority, LGBTQ or otherwise part of a group often stereotyped, that we have no biases against ourselves and that nothing we do or say ever perpetuates biases or misconceptions. However, despite being a woman, I have definitely thought horrible shameful sexist thoughts like “Really? My doctor is a woman? Fancy that!” or “Wow, that man is such a good nurse! Look at him throw my bandages in the biohazardous waste receptacle!”
And even though my husband has Cerebral Palsy, I’ve thought despicable things about people with physical disabilities like “Oh that poor person must be so lonely and I hope they get to eat yummy meals like pancakes for dinner.” Or if I see someone pushing someone else in a wheelchair, unless they both have white hair and crinkly skin, I probably think “Wow, look at that caretaker go, and look at that other person being awake and out of bed!” Instead of, “Look at that cute couple!” even though if one day Michael is in a wheelchair and I am pushing him, I want people to think “Look at that cute couple!”
Even Michael has told me that he’s had these terrible, awful thoughts and even about other people with obvious disabilities, and sometimes he has them even though he makes himself sad for having them, and then he feels sad-times-sad, and then he feels extra sad because he doesn’t want other people to have those thoughts about him.
It’s not just about disability or gender or race though, it’s also just about human-being ness. I think thoughts like “Oh that person is crying they are having a bad day 😦 maybe their dog died or maybe they lost all their homework… One day they’ll know what it’s like when their baby is screaming his lungs off in his crib and they are afraid of scary possibilities of strangers sneaking into our house. One day that sad person will be sad about things like that, and then they will be really really sad, I bet they have no idea how sad, but now is probably a good time for them to be sad about things like losing their homework.” I might think this the day after sobbing because I misspelled my title on an essay I needed to turn into class. And I actually really hope I would cry if my dog died. If I had a dog. (I really really want a dog.)
So maybe all I’m saying is that I don’t know if the people who are hurting never perpetuate negative mindsets about themselves. But that doesn’t have to be paralyzing, I hope, and it doesn’t mitigate my responsibility as someone who is fairly privileged, either. For instance, as someone who doesn’t have any sort of obvious physical disability, I am in a position to better communicate with other people who might be inclined to dismiss someone with an obvious disability.
In which case it might not be so helpful to make myself or others feel shame for having bad thoughts. Instead it might be better to simply brush those thoughts to the side and to keep getting to know more people who seem different than me or who seem similar to me but actually have deep differences and reminding myself, often, that I can be a spokesperson for so many who don’t have a voice, and that not only are people like icebergs with way more beneath the surface but that my vision isn’t very good and that I probably can’t even see all the goodness and 3-D-ness and density on the surface.