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Why I Won't Be Silent in the Face of Hatred Towards Disabled People

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I’m angry. Infuriated, really. I’m sad to the depths of my soul. I’m confused. So lost that I don’t even know how to begin or where to start. Except here.

Silence and apathy in the face of hate makes us just as guilty.

I’m writing this for many reasons. Obviously it’s in the wake of America electing Mr. Trump as president. It’s a response to the violence, prejudice and hatred openly popping up all over this country. It’s my way of standing up, speaking out. It’s my way of saying, America, this isn’t OK. I want to do more. I will do more. For now, I write.

This is for all the people who think we should just get on with our lives. This is for all the people who stay silent in the face of hatred. Let’s be honest, hate existed well before Donald Trump came to light. Discriminatory rhetoric is a daily beast howling, growling and biting us all. But before Mr. Trump won this election, there were some checks and balances. Now I feel like the culture of hate seems to believe it’s OK to threaten people with lynchings, slurs, and other acts openly and without hesitation. It’s re-emerging from the closet. It’s a fire ignited.

Hate is hate. Violence is violence. But the idea that it’s somehow OK to act on hate, to perpetuate it as the new American norm, well… That’s not OK.

People may say I’m biased because I have disabled children. My children have a number of conditions, ranging from autism, ADHD, asthma, anaphylactic food allergies and the list goes on. Does that make me biased? Sure, I guess so. But before I had children I was just as passionate. I’m a trained folklorist, so my entire ethos is centered around this idea of diversity.  But is this now personal? Absolutely.

I worry that my kids could have allergens thrown at them. I worry that my children with autism may be the target of elimination/genocide/survival of the fittest-type theories and discrimination. I worry that their health care will be stripped from them, because in my area, developmentally disabled children and adults need Medicaid to access a number of services. How many budget cuts will there be to social service nonprofits who help disabled people? If the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is repealed, will they keep the pre-existing condition (and other) clause(s)?

How do I explain to my disabled children the election of a president who openly, on camera, mocks disabled people? They know it’s not acceptable, and they are 9 and 11 years old. What do I say when my son asks if laws will change and it will be OK to hurt a disabled person, GLBT person, woman, person of color, etc.? I feel like I can only say “I hope not.” My son is pretty slick. He thinks about these things. He worries.  He shouldn’t have to at age 11.

Autistic people and other disabled adults already have an impossible time having their voices heard. What happens now? With all these supposed cuts to Medicaid and social services, what happens to the most vulnerable? What happens to disabled people who can’t speak up for themselves? Look at all the abortions of babies who have just a “chance” at a disability. Will populations without a voice be considered expendable?

If people knew that my husband and I are also autistic, would their opinions of us change?  We’ve never “come out” before. Does it somehow make us less academic? Does it erase our Master’s level educations? Do we now seem like superheroes for achieving anything at all? Do we open ourselves up to new ridicule?

Will we be stared at differently walking our children down the hallway at school? In this new culture of exposed and direct hate, do we need to fear for ourselves, as well as our children? Maybe. But our first priority is to help educate those who misunderstand. To “go high when they go low,” in the echoes of Michelle Obama. To bring awareness about all our “issues.” That is why we are coming out now. We’ve been planning to, but now it is essential to do so. Staying silent and apathetic in the face of hatred makes us just as guilty.

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Originally published: November 15, 2016
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