Saturday, December 5, 2015

It's still offensive

How do you tell someone that what they do is offensive to you? That they hurt your feelings even if that wasn't their intention? Even if they don't know any better? Even if in their own mind they're doing something good. And, no doubt-- are themselves good people. How do you not kill that enthusiasm, that spark to help people, however misguided? And how do you not feel bad about yourself for saying something, because everything you say always comes out wrong?

There's a middle woman that I see walking her large dog around my apartment complex often. I think she lives in the the area. We cross paths when I get yo my bus stop and I wait for her to pass me in the sidewalk because dogs an wheelchairs don't mix. We often nod and smile as we go about our own ways. She seems like a nice lady. Last Sunday she chased me across the street where I was waiting for my bus and she insisted I take a dollar she was holding in her hand. When I declined, she made that gesture with her hand, the "c'mon, take it" encouragement. Here's what upsets me the most. When you do that, you instantly assume a number of things about me. It's not simply that you are better off than me economically, which would be bad enough. Yes - you assume that I'm homeless, that I'm in trouble, that you are in a position to help me without even asking if I need any help, that I'm some kind of nuisance, you can throw money at,that giving me money can make you feel better about yourself not being charitable or kind or understanding or giving enough. I didn't go to law schools around the world for then years just so I can panhandle in Florida. The most upsetting part is that you think you're better than me. That you don't think I had value. And then that I'm something you had to deal with.

The problem with that lady was that she hardly spoke any English. She seemed Latin. And it got me thinking as a Spanish speaking construction worker at the Reitz Union attempted the same thing a few weeks prior- maybe it's a cultural thing. Maybe this is how they were raised,  maybe this is how they react to people in wheelchairs in their part of the world. Doesn't mean that it was the right thing to do and that wasn't still offended. Because I can be a lot of things to reach higher and be bolder. I can be more educated and I work harder. But I can never not be in a wheelchair.

Last night, the same thing happened - only with Americans. I was out to throw some papers for a client into a mailbox. Instead of getting upset I told them I was a lawyer, and they were really surprised, because it was probably the last thing they expected to hear. He explained, he likes to help who he believes to be "less fortunate", but didn't mean to "offend". And I said calmly that it was still pretty hurtful whether it was his intention or not. I was out of my business cards, which he was eager to get, so I sent him to visit my blog. And I told him that the nonprofit I founded, Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation was created precisely to deal with these kinds of attitudes. If he feels bad - he should donate to it. We talked a bit and laughed a little. "Maybe I should make you feel worse about it so you gives us more money" I joked as we parted. But I know on some level at some point I'll need to come to terms with the idea that this is what people think, deep down. . And I don't think I ever should.


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