A few weeks ago I wrote a blog that was pretty widely read and shared (compared to my other posts) on the “Pencil Test” for disability. It focused around a man flung to the ground by Florida police, to see if he was really disabled or just faking it.
There’s actually a lot of discourse on faking disability lately, from Bieber in a wheelchair at Disney to George Takei mocking disability and a desire for liquor. We question disability, wonder who is parking in the wheelchair spots who then gets out and walks, scowling at those folks who pick up their social security checks, and so forth.
To claim disability is to ask for reasonable accommodation, and some folks just seem to hate that idea, or at least regard it with intense suspicion.
Moreover, the privilege of the abled is, under almost any circumstance, to demand a person prove their disability, whether psychiatric or physical.
And now there’s Kanye West.
The setting was the Qantas Credit Union Arena in Sydney, Australia, and Westreportedly announced, “I can’t do this song. I can’t do this show until everybody stand up… Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and shit. ‘Imma see you if you ain’t standing up, believe me, I’m very good at that.” Then came the foot-in-mouth moment. Most of the fans got up and boogied, but soon West spotted a pair of concertgoers who’d remained in their seats, and refused to continue the show until they stood up and danced like the rest. One of those two singled-out fans raised a prosthetic limb, thereby proving that she did in fact “get special parking and shit,” to which West replied, “Okay, you fine.”
West then homed in on Fan No. 2, who was still seated. He stopped performing the tune “The Good Life” and declared, “This is the longest I’ve had to wait to do a song, it’s unbelievable.” The crowd was reportedly trying to clue Kanye in to his epic blunder, with the entire section making wheelchair signals with their arms. But to no avail. West sent his bulky bodyguard Pascal Duvier into the crowd to confirm that the seated fan was, in fact, in a wheelchair. When it was confirmed, West said, “He is in a wheelchair? It’s fine!”
There’s approximately 4 million posts up now on this incident, all of them focused on West being wrong and way out of line.
West is being totally normal. This is what we do. We shame. We examine. We demand to see proof. And then, grudgingly, so grudgingly, first we accommodate, then we shame those who questioned, shame those who were slower than us to react, and elevate the person with the disability onto to the Inspiration Pedestal.
There’s a lot of focus in the posts on fan #2, who had to prove he was in a wheelchair to a bodyguard.
I’m thinking of #1, who had to HOLD UP HER PROSTHETIC LEG to prove herself disabled enough to be “fine.”
That’s the pencil test – intrusive, revealing, demeaning, dehumanizing.