This article is troubling on many levels, but most profoundly because it demonstrates a legitimate phenomenon that I encounter every day: Prejudice and bigotry exhibited by member(s) of a protected class of people against member(s) of another class of people. You would think that people who are subjected themselves to unequal treatment because of an invidious characteristic would then be more respectful of other persons who experience the same type of conduct.
All too often, as this instance demonstrates, just the opposite occurs.
In this instance, a gay woman who also talks, as you will see, about race vis a vis her children, exhibits prejudice and bigotry toward persons with disabilities. I write about it here because she also demonstrates revulsion and prejudice toward persons who are overweight.
Weight is not a protected category under the law but it is very common for persons with disabilities to also be overweight, sometimes as a result of the disability. Onlookers don’t understand the legal distinctions and draw all sorts of inappropriate and unfounded conclusions about the individual(s) in question, as this woman did.
She is employed somewhere in downtown Sacramento which is, of course, the Capitol. You can’t walk ten paces in downtown without encountering State employees and parking in the area is completely inadequate.
Those facts do not excuse her attitude:
At work, our building is surrounded by State, Federal, County, and City buildings. With government buildings come government employees. Also, Sacramento has very little downtown parking. Some folks, like me, are lucky that our employer purchased spots for us in convenient locations. Most of the government workers have to find a place to park—and that can be up to a mile away from their office. If you have a handicapped placard, you can park anywhere there is a parking spot—for free. This includes in front of businesses in the downtown area that would, it strangely seems, like to have customers stop by to conveniently shop. And, which usually don’t have any parking near those stores due to the plethora of parking placards.
Ergo, a couple of my observations today while I was walking into the building and watching the goings on of these government folks.
1. The extremely overweight guy with license plates that says, “Luv2Cmp” who has the handicapped placard should either give up the placard or the camping. The walk would do him good anyway. He takes the 15-minute meter in front of the Fedex where people who have 90-lb packages to ship would very much like to park.
. . .
4. I’m thinking Sacramento must have the highest proportion of handicapped parkers in the entire nation–I’d be interested to see what kind of ailments all those folks have. And, hey, Mayor Heather Fargo – that’s part of the reason your revitalization efforts for the downtown thing isn’t working—why would I put my business here if there isn’t any parking?
Here is an excerpt from the comment I left in response:
I could write a treatise in response . . . You’ve also proven why my job as a civil rights attorney is secure. I’m sure you didn’t mean to. But you displayed the kind of prejudice and bigotry toward persons with disabilities that I see every day.
In downtown Sacramento, parking is indeed a nightmare.
However, before you again judge a person by their appearance (overweight), consider that their disability might be real as was mine. Until a few months ago, I had a disabled placard because I could not walk any measurable distance without getting severely out of breath due to asthma and allergies. Yes, I have worked on the situation and improved my health through a combination of eating nutritiously, exercise and the accompanying weight loss.
However, I will never forget the disdainful looks I received from people like you who glared at me when they saw me whip out my disabled placard and place it on my rearview mirror, assuming that I was just fat and too lazy to walk. They had no idea, just as you didn’t, about the pain I felt — in my chest and in my soul — every time I had to use it.
This was, in relevant part, her retort:
. . . I’m sorry you experienced negative backlash for your placard holding.
. . . I have nothing against legitimate users of the handicapped placard. In fact, this is something my mother, who holds a handicapped placard, and I have discussed. She does not have a visible disability, yet most direly needs a close place to park. This fellow, who loves to camp, bops out of his truck as though it were nothing and hauls some serious ass to work. And, he takes a 15-minute spot and stays there all day, disabling the ability for people who need to use quick-stop businesses and cannot. And, I also know there are people parking down there who are using the placards of friends/loved ones who do need them when they don’t, to make parking easier. I have never given anyone a disdainful look for parking using a placard, that would be rude, and I don’t have direct knowledge of whether these particular people are legitimate in their use or not, nor could I. I also give my seat to the elderly, the pregnant, and the frail–do you?
Quit taking yourself so seriously. I am not impugning anyone’s right to use a handicapped placard, . . . by golly, if there isn’t a ton of placard fraud, I’ll give you a shiny new quarter . . .
You can imply or infer all the bias you want, but it doesn’t exist . . .
And, in summation, counselor, I think it’s very interesting that out of all the blogs I’ve written about injustice, inequality, prejudice, bigotry and hate, you picked this blog to go off on. Come talk to my Black and Hispanic kids who experience bias every single day because of the color of their skin, my fabulous and voluptuous gay —, or the fact I don’t share equal rights with you and your asthma sometime. In the words of my handicapable mama, “Kwitcher——-.”2 . . .
Cite the abuse here — there isn’t any. You just got your feelings hurt by someone who looked at you funny when you used a placard — go talk to them. I realize that having a disability puts one in the protected category in California — but that’s not what this is about–it’s about parking abuse and a shortage of parking in a time of fumbling, bumbling attempts to revitalize . . .
It is, unfortunately, very clear that Ms. Hahn does not understand the import of her words and has no desire to learn to be sensitive to other human beings.
. . .You asked for a specific cite. Here it is.This paragraph is extremely abusive, disrespectful and makes all sorts of assumptions about the person in question that are, for all you know, quite unfounded:
The extremely overweight guy with license plates that says, “Luv2Cmp” who has the handicapped placard should either give up the placard or the camping. The walk would do him good anyway. He takes the 15-minute meter in front of the Fedex where people who have 90-lb packages to ship would very much like to park.
First of all, the correct term is disabled, not “handicapped” which is outdated and offensive.
Secondly, you assume that because you have interpreted his personalized license plate in a certain manner, he is not deserving of the disabled placard. Then you make unwarranted, unfounded and uninvited judgments about his lifestyle (“should either give up the placard or the camping”) and presume to know more about his condition than his doctor by suggesting that he is able to walk great distances, even though the possession of a placard implicitly says otherwise. You suggest that he is using a placard when he doesn’t need it.
Your statements are riddled with presumptions and assumptions, and drip with sarcasm, bigotry and prejudice. Exactly the kind of language I see every day. There is a word for it: “Hate speech.” It connotes hatred for a person you know nothing about but, despite your lack of knowledge, draw conclusions about.
Change the facts. This is how I tell people, when I am out teaching, training or speaking, to judge their conduct: Change the protected basis and see if you still find your words so benign.
Then you go on to assume that anyone with a disabled placard who parks near your building is someone scamming the system . . .
As I said, there is so much work still to be done to educate all persons about unequal treatment, stereotypes, stigmatization, and the profoundly simple yet difficult concepts of human dignity and respect for each other.
Update August 14, 2007, at 10:00 p.m.: When I returned to Ms. Hahn’s blog, the post cited above and all related comments appeared to have been deleted.