James Baldwin is one of my favourite writers and I have read most of his work.
This weekend, I was reading a review of The Fire Next Time by Baldwin and the following quote was used:
“You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying “You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine- but trust your experience. Know whence you came.”
Baldwin was writing about the black experience in America of his time but the quote – if you replace ‘black’ with ‘differently abled’ struck me as relevant to the societal bias that continues to this day towards people with ‘differences’ in ability whether physical or intellectual.
I suspect those who are abled bodied – and so not exposed to it – would think this ridiculous and, to be clear, I am not suggesting any kind of parity with the institutionalised legal, political and societal racism of Baldwin’s world.
However, I do think there is some relevant overlap in terms of quality of life expectation, education and work opportunities and attitudes, including those of our politicians and public services along with majority public opinion.
We have an infrastructure of equality and opportunity for all, including the dis-abled, but no real commitment or financing to effect it, in reality, for all, condemning so many to underachievement at best and horrendous life quality at worst.
Am I naive in finding the scale of continuing prejudice against a significant minority in our society just incredibly shocking.
As I once heard James Baldwin say about racism: when will it end? Not in my lifetime nor my children’s … how long must I wait?