“I treat everyone the same.”

I’ve been thinking about the way that “treating everyone the same” functions to magnify privilege and reinforce extant power dynamics, rather than promoting equality.

Two examples from divergent worlds. First, Daniel Handler’s statement on Gwenda Bond’s blog. At one point he writes, “As someone who’s been a struggling author, I take seriously the responsibilities of my visibility, and have always thought that treating all of my colleagues the same was the best way to dispel the unease that can come from a competitive or self-conscious environment.” But of course, people aren’t the same, and making dirty jokes at female authors you have just met in professional spaces has a different impact than in more intimate settings.

Then there’s Quinn Norton, recently fired from the New York Times (within hours) when it emerged that she’s a pal of Nazis and uses homophobic and racist slurs frequently. She compared Nazis to Meat Eaters (saying the latter are worse) in her tweets, and you can see my tweets on the vice-signaling going on by giving her a column.

But I’m struck by the safety she feels in treating everyone the same. She writes:

I was called a Nazi because of my friendship with the infamous neo-Nazi known on the internet as weev—his given name is Andrew Auernheimer; he helps run the anti-Semitic website The Daily Stormer. In my pacifism, I can’t reject a friendship, even when a friend has taken such a horrifying path. I am not the judge of who is capable of improving as a person. This philosophy also requires me to confront him about his terrible beliefs and their terrible consequences. I have been doing this since before his brief time as a cause célèbre in 2012—I believe it’d be hypocritical for me to turn away from this obligation. weev is just one of many terrible people I’ve cared for in my life. I don’t support what my terrible friend believes or does. But I strongly advocate for people with a good sense of themselves and their values to engage with their terrible friends, coworkers, and relatives, to lovingly confront them for as long as it takes, and it would be wrong to not do so myself. I had what I now see as the advantage of coming from a family of terrible people. This taught me that not everyone worthy of love is worthy of emulation. It also taught me that being given terrible ideas is not a destiny, and that intervention can change lives.

This is deeply ignorant of, for example, the way that weev is also trying to radicalize her. This is not how de-radicalization works. Moreover, there are people who are harmed by the Daily Stormer, which weev runs (the killer in Parkland had Nazi sympathies, for example. I’d be shocked if his web trail doesn’t include Stormfront).

But it’s the flip side of Handler’s  treat everyone equally rudely and crudely approach. Treat everyone nicely, no matter what harms they do. Treat everyone the same, no matter what harms you do. Only a person who recklessly avoids understanding how human societies work could live by such a code.

And I doubt, if you dig deep enough, that they really do treat everyone the same. Norton finds being friends with Nazis interesting and she would like to tell you about it.

Treating everyone the same is something only a person absolutely convinced of their own safety can do.

Against Incremental Consensus on Firearms

I like incrementalism, but the NRA has made it impossible. Even the massacre of children, churchgoers, country music fans, and teenagers, hasn’t helped. So let’s change the context. I wrote against the Second Amendment for Pacific Standard:

When I say “repeal the Second Amendment,” I am not saying that we should criminalize all private ownership of firearms. The burden of such mass criminalization would mostly fall on non-white and poor people anyway. But we must dethrone firearms as a specially protected class of objects in our most important political documents. They should be treated like all other tools: assessed, regulated, studied, insured, and subject to legal remedy when we need to hold both owners and manufacturers responsible for their use. In fact, these moves to keep better track of firearms and hold appropriate parties liable ought to be a nice incremental consensus position. It isn’t, thanks to the Second Amendment.

Minneapolis and Marjory Stoneman Douglas

My friend Karen Cooper writes about the local history of the Stoneman Douglas family. Marjory, after whom the school in Florida is named, was born here. Cooper is a brilliant scholar of the history of the Cities. She knows more about the area than anyone else I’ve ever met, especially the history of Minnehaha Falls. I’m glad she told these stories.

Ten years on, Frank was in Miami, while Lilias as still at home. Frank had switched careers again, back to his first love: the press. He was the first editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald. Kate and Forrest Rundell moved to Florida with Marjory’s grandmother Althea.

Lillian Trefethen’s struggles with mental illness were well-documented elsewhere. She died in 1912. In 1914, the week of Marjory’s 24th birthday, Frank and Lilias married. Before long, Marjory and Frank were reunited when she moved to Miami…it is worth emphasizing one other small Minnesota connection. Marjory only lived in Minnesota for her first 6 years, yet her earliest memory was listening to her father read “The Song of Hiawatha.”

Ableist Job Ads

I’ve written a lot about ableism in job ads. Here’s one from last year. I’ve never seen this before – I see it as a compromise move. For a disability services associate director at Texas Christian University:

Physical Requirements (With or Without Accommodations):

Visual acuity to read information from computer screens, forms and other printed materials and information.
Able to speak (enunciate) clearly in conversation and general communication.
Hearing ability for verbal communication/conversation/responses via telephone, telephone systems, and face-to-face interactions.
Manual dexterity for typing, writing, standing and reaching, flexibility, body movement for bending, crouching, walking, kneeling and prolonged sitting.
Lifting and moving objects and equipment up to 10 lbs.

I dunno. I like them saying accommodations, but they still could say communicate instead of speak, and the manual dexterity isn’t really necessary. 

Mental Illness and Guns

In case you missed it, the correlation between mental illness and violence towards others is not in evidence.

The belief that the mentally ill are more likely to take part in a mass shooting appears to be a misleading. There were 198,760 homicides committed by a firearm in the United States between 1999 and 2015, according to the National Center for Health Statistic. Despite the high number, the APA report from 2016 says that fewer than 1 percent of firearm homicides are committed by a person diagnosed with a mental illness.

99% of of homicides on the other hand ….

Gerber and Jobs for Disabled Folk

Last week I wrote a column for Pacific Standard on the Gerber Baby. He has Down syndrome. Yay! Now what?

I wrote:

I contacted Gerber to find out more about their commitment to disability rights. Initially, Business Insider reported on parents who complained that Gerber Life, the baby food company’s sister affiliate, was refusing to provide life insurance to kids with Down syndrome. A spokesperson at Gerber’s parent company, Nestlé, contacted me to say that, in fact, the company does insure some children with Down syndrome. Gerber and Nestlé did not respond to questions about how often children with Down syndrome are rejected for life insurance as opposed to children without the genetic condition. I also asked about the company’s rates of employing adults with disabilities. The spokesperson wouldn’t tell me much about Gerber specifically, but emailed to say that Nestlé employs 2,696 people with disabilities around the world. They would not tell me how many of these people have Down syndrome, or how many receive full wages rather than sub-minimum wages. Nestlé employs around 328,000 people, so the reported number is less than 1 percent. The spokespeople also didn’t respond when I asked for more information about plans to capitalize on the current publicity and take concrete steps for inclusion and accessibility within their company.

If a company is going to slap a cute picture of a child with Down syndrome on a bottle, it’s fair to ask them how they plan to use the publicity and resulting profits to build a more inclusive company. If Down syndrome organizations and celebrities are going to tout this advertisement as a significant first step toward more widespread acceptance, it’s fair to ask them what second step they envision. Advertising is just as important as any other form of representation. Wherever they are images of people, there should be images of all kinds of people from across the beautiful diversity of the human species. If Gerber’s brand identity requires a different phenotype of baby every year, I’m glad Down syndrome is in the mix. But what’s next? When is coasting on a feel-good wave of publicity about a conventionally cute child not enough? I don’t want a revolutionary new corporate move; when it comes to disability and inclusion, I want a revolution.

I have been going back and forth with Nestle’s spokesperson over the past week and have made no progress. I am assuming that the number of employees with Down syndrome employed by Gerber is zero. I am assuming that the number of employees with Down syndrome employed by Nestle is also zero. I am assuming that while Gerber Life sometimes grants insurance policies to kids with Down syndrome, they mostly don’t, or at least at rates VASTLY below their approvals for kids without Down syndrome.

I get why Gerber wants to reap the rewards of feel-good inspirational publicity, but it’s far past time for the formal Down syndrome and broader intellectual disability community to hold their corporations accountable.


When corporations like Gerber do these stunts, I want the NDSS, The Arc, Special Olympics, and whoever else has clout to say – great! What’s your jobs plan? What’s your equal services plan?

Because otherwise these publicity stunts are empty.

Christopher Hardaway and the Cult of Compliance

Don’t miss this story about policing and disability from Chattanooga. It’s a perfectly awful example of the #cultofcompliance. Hardaway, the victim here, is black, disabled, and homeless. 

First encounter:

Weeks before, Hardaway said his wheelchair had died nearby, leaving him stranded on the sidewalk for eight hours, with no one offering help. He eventually fell asleep and was awakened when an officer shined a light on him, asking why he was sitting in the cold, blocking the sidewalk with urine soaking his lap.

Frustrated no passing police cruisers had stopped to help during his ordeal, Hardaway refused to move. He was charged with disorderly conduct, public intoxication and obstruction of the roadway. Hardaway is seen insisting he hadn’t been drinking on the footage from the officer’s body camera.

In the second encounter, he was just sitting charging his chair, when an officer told him to move. From the story:

“This is the second time I’ve been harassed by y’all for nothing,” Hardaway said to McFarland. “The last time, my chair wouldn’t get off that curb and y’all locked me up instead of helping me get to a charger.”
Hardaway is charged with aggravated assault — a Class C felony that carries three to 15 years in prison — because of what happened next.
“All I’m asking is, are you going to take me to jail? That’s all I really want to know,” Hardaway said, “because I’m not getting harassed or put out [when] I need to charge my chair.”
“Not from this [property],” McFarland said.
Hardaway said he was ready to go to jail.
“Would you like another charge?” Hardaway then asked, reaching into his waistband, “because I’m disclosing this knife.”
Hardaway pulled out a 4-inch blade. McFarland stepped back and pulled out a gun.
“Drop it!” McFarland screamed.
“I’m not even doing anything,” Hardaway said, dropping the knife. “I’m disclosing this to you!”
McFarland saw it differently: “I gave you every chance to leave,” he said, “and you want to pull a knife on me!”
The officer called into his mic for backup then told Hardaway, “You’re welcome for saving your life, because I didn’t shoot your —— right here.”