I've been mulling over this one since last Saturday because I'm not sure how to even approach the topics I want to communicate. The woodshop, for me, this week, was more about communicating and relationships. I guess that's not that much different than usual, but I found those things in a different way this time...
But how do I write about these things without offending someone? How do I make sure this is appropriate for my audience? How do I manage this "bull in a china shop" topic? Let's just do it. I'll try to be nimble.
I've been thinking about stereotypes. Perceptions. Breaking stereotypes. Changing perceptions.
So, I'm doing this wood shop thing. I'm hanging out with dudes who build stuff. I'm a 33 year old single girl. I love sports and can talk about the Browns and Cavs and hold my own. I'm now building stuff out of wood. I asked for an electric sander for Christmas. What's the common stereotype here? I know you're thinking it. Or maybe you're not but I had to be sure I made it clear. "So, I like guys." I'm not sure if the woodshop guys were surprised or not. Why did I even feel like I needed to tell them that?
Next, I'm white and have always lived in the suburbs. I went to a private grade school and now work in the district where I lived and attended high school. I never left the 'burbs. My parents paid for my undergrad degree. I wear a NorthFace fleece and own a Coach purse. What's your perception now? If you don't know my whole story or my parents' whole story, you might assume you know me now. You know this stereotype.
How about when I spend my money to go to the Cavs home opener? Browns season ticket holder? Special education teacher? Elementary school teacher? Any common stereotypes here? How about the guy spitting chew into a bottle that sat near me on the bus yesterday?
Now the stereotypes that I often think of when I see other people who...
...wear stilleto heels to a sporting event?
...have dirt under their finger nails?
...don't read with their kids?
...don't show up for parent-teacher conferences?
...don't speak English?
...use poor grammar?
...are stay at home moms or dads?
...ride the bus?
...pay someone to do their yard work?
...don't give 200% at work?
...don't read for fun?
...don't go to college?
...use android devices?
The theme of stereotypes continued through my extended conversations last week at Soulcraft when we ventured into the topic of the use of the "r word." I choose not to use that word because I believe that there's a negative connotation and it's hurtful to both people with special needs and their families. I often believe people who use that word are ignorant, thoughtless, careless, unkind...
The conversation was extensive and Peter and Jim helped me to realize that it's not about the word, it's about the stereotypes and perceptions behind the word; that it appears to me that using the "r word" is synonymous with the de-valuation of life if your IQ is lower than 72 or if you are not considered "neuro -typical." There's the perception that, if you are "retarded," in the DSM IV definition of the word, your life is somehow less meaningful than mine.
Jim was surprised to know that 80% of babies conceived with Down syndrome are aborted. How about the woman who killed her child with autism and the people who justify it?
And who owns the "r word" anyways. People with an IQ below 72? Their family members? Their teachers and aides and tutors? Can anyone actually own a word?
Do the words matter?
If the words don't matter, what's the first step in changing the perception?