Friday, March 1, 2019
Disabililty Day of Mourning 2019 and the Presumption of Caregiver Benevolence
In our society, we like to think of caregivers, especially parents, as always loving, benevolent, and well meaning. We want to believe that even when they may not always do the right thing, they fundamentally want what is best for those in their care. And of course this is often the case. No one denies that many parents and caregivers for disabled and non-disabled people alike love those they care for a great deal and sacrifice a lot to try to do what is right for them. However, what we don't talk about is the reality that there are those who don't have the right attitude towards those in their care and yet wield authority over them all the same. The automatic presumption of caregiver benevolence is dangerous and deadly, particularly as its invisible and uncontested influence makes its presence felt in law, policy, and common social practices.
According to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), in the past five years six hundred and fifty disabled people have been murdered by their parents. According to ASAN's website, "We see the same pattern repeating over and over again. A parent kills their disabled child. The media portrays these murders as justifiable and inevitable due to the 'burden' of having a disabled person in the family. If the parent stands trial, they are given sympathy and comparatively lighter sentences, if they are sentenced at all. The victims are disregarded, blamed for their own murder at the hands of the person they should have been able to trust the most, and ultimately forgotten. And then the cycle repeats."
Two major societal assumptions are at work in terms of how the media and the culture at large reacts to these events. Ableism is a major part of the equation. So is the presumption of parental and caregiver benevolence that ultimately harms disabled people of all ages as well as youth with and without disabilities. Disability and youth liberation and oppression are intimately intertwined with one another. The Disability Day of Mourning is a day that youth and disability rights advocates should take time to reflect deeply on these connections, mourn for the victims of violence justified in the name of ableism and paternalism, and recommit ourselves to working for a more just world for both disabled people of all ages and for youth with and without disabilities. This is what understanding intersectionality is truly all about.