Celebrating Our Diversity

NEW YORK CITYVOICES: March/April 1998

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By Ken Steele, publisher
 

"How do they expect me to relate and communicate with such a low-functioning person?" This statement is said, in one form or another, every single day by one mentally ill person about another. In and out of hospitals. In residential settings. Among roommates about roommates in community-based housing programs. In outpatient clinic waiting rooms. Said far too often by far too many of us about ourselves.

And it is discrimination, pure and simple.

Those of us who have said these words and others like them, and those who have listened silently to such statements, are discriminating against the mentally ill. This is a form of self discrimination which should be talked about openly, instead of ignored, allowing for such statements to continue to be spoken as if it was all right to discriminate against ourselves. It isn't.

Do we need to be reminded of how many others already discriminate against us? They, however, usually share one thing in common: they are misinformed, and they inaccurately stereotype us because they don't know us.

We, on the other hand, know better and far too many of us go around stereotyping ourselves among ourselves anyway, and without anyone challenging us. Can you imagine the following conversation occurring?:

"He isn't high functioning enough to come to come to your party," said one friend recently about another friend's friend. "He drools. He's not like us. If you invite him, I'm not coming. What do you think of that?"

Well, what do you think about that? Have you ever heard anything like it before?  Have you yourself ever said these words, or something like them about someone else?

It's time we begin to celebrate our diversity.

All of us know how it feels to be discriminated against. It happens all too frequently to most of us. So why do we go around doing it to ourselves? Our silence when we hear these types of statements supports them being said. Saying nothing when we hear these statements is discriminating, too! We need to stop fearing confrontations with others, even when they happen to be our closest friends, when these words are uttered. Because if we don't confront them about discriminating against us and themselves, who will?
 


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