The Nazis were not the only ones
Recently, I started reading a book titled Pride against prejudice: Transforming attitudes to disability, by Jenny Morris (1991 original publication). Jenny is out of the UK and became partialy paralyzed when she was 33. She was tending to work at her home when she heard and saw a very young child standing at the edge of a cliff that was 20 feet above a railway. Jenny went to rescue the child, but she encountered her own troubles and fell off of the cliff; immediately breaking her back and becoming paralyzed from the waist down.
This experience obviously impacted Jenny in many ways. Fortunately, one of them turned into becoming very active in fighting disablism and educating the world on this complex topic, as all topics of oppression, culture and history related to identity are. The book that I am currently reading strongly incorporates the feminist perspective and a lens for viewing disability in general, but also in specific for women. However, the feminist perspective and movement is not just for women. I strongly believe it is a philosophy, a study, a lens and way of life which can and does bring the world under a critical scope that betters the lives of all. Not just women. So for my “brothers” out there, take a chill pill and check this stuff out, for what it really is. Not just what you see on TV or hear in the locker room.
The second chapter of this book, Lives worth living, brings you into learning about the brutal, hateful and violent forms of oppression directed towards the disability community during the early and mid 20th century. Brutal and violent history towards folks with disabilities? This can not be. Well it was, and still is alive today… in much lesser forms, and in some situations, forms just as strong as the Nazi party used.
This chapter informs you about the 1907 legislature that was passed on the state of Indiana to support and carry out eugenic sterilizations. Originally, this was targeted towards criminals and “mentally insane”. However, it was struck down, but was quickly replaced with a new law that simply focused on the “mentally insane”. This law technically stood until 1974. Below is a link with more detailed information:
Apparently, the U.S. passed this law before the Hitler and his campaign did in 1933. In 1939, the sterilization program in Germany was then upgraded to the euthanasia program and turned towards “mercy killings”, or better fit, a “cleanse”. Apparently, doctors and midwives were required to report children who showed signs of any sort of great disability. These children were then brought to 1 of 6 locations, where they were to be treated. Well, their parents were told they were going to be treated, but they were killed. Poison, starvation and even abandonment were techniques that were used to cleanse the population from those with disabilities. The age was then bumped up to 17 and the program then expanded to include adults. This program launched 2 years (technically) before the extermination of the Jews. Many other countries also joined the sterilization of those with disabilities during the 1930s, including Denmark, Turkey and Hungary.
I learned of this history some time ago, so this book was not my first introduction to the violent oppression for folks with disabilities, nor other communities. What hit me even harder this time around was the deep reflection that this point of 50 years was not long ago. It is within reach of my generation and many others; barely being separated by 1 or 2 generations. I included the information about Indiana and briefly mentioning other countries who developed policies to not avoid picking on Germany, but to show that this oppression was and is global. A brother (family is relative in meaning) with choroideremia was told in the late 1960s that he could not have children, as he would pass along the gene for our condition. As it was stated in the early 1900s, during WWII, to my friend in the late 1960s and during many cases that have gone to court for whether or not one with a physical disability can claim euthanization, so much of the world has said that this is wrong, this is less than, it is a hindrance and we must have “mercy” for not only those with disabilities, but really for themselves and how they perceive they are impacted by those with disabilities. This is when and how the medical model has such a profound role in the experiences of those with disabilities; they reflect culture and society by taking claim to what is worth or is not worth life. This questioning of worth is still existent today, overtly and covertly.
Have we come a long way since these terrible policies? My goodness, we definitely have. However, I can not help but feel that so much of what we are still fighting today in any arena, whether it be social, personal or political, is derived from this historical context that is much more recent than it is distant. Think about it, your grand parents or perhaps even your parents were alive during this time. Culture and social evolution move quite slowly. Hell, the Americans with Disabilities Act was not even passed until 1990.
I would like to think that when I run with my guide runners, I am at the gym or I am in the media (now hopefully a documentary), I am one of many who always have and always will show the world that our being is worthy; our lives can be and are rich. When we run in marathons, we show young citizens that folks with and with out disabilities can play together and it’s a blast. This is why crossing the finish line has never been the most important piece. I look very, very forward to crossing the line next year in April, but the most important mission has been accomplished and always will be.
Damn I look forward to going to the gym tomorrow.