|Lahmejun - Armenian Pizza|
"Ugh" was my first thought as I swallowed more pizza. This was not the scenario I had signed up for. I wanted babies in China! Now I was going to a place I couldn't even locate on a map to work with older kids with special needs?! We were we were told we could opt out of the trip if we weren't comfortable with this new plan. Honestly, I was not comfortable. I had never been at ease around kids who were "different". We weren't supposed to be, right? They were kept away from us in school and when I was growing up some of my friends parents threatened to move when they found out a group home for disabled adults was moving into their neighborhood. But I couldn't back out based on prejudice. At the very least, I was developed enough to know that was not the type of person I wanted to be. So, I planned on going even though ever fiber of my being was not looking forward to it on any level.
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Lacks brought Elsie to Crownsville Hospital Center when she was just 10 years old. She was the only one to visit her. After her passing, Elsie was forgotten by the rest of her family until her death in 1955 at just 15 years old. It was as if she had never existed.
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|Rosie Pope and Margaret Cho on WWHL|
Who LOVES Watch What Happens Live! with Andy Cohen? I do! I do! It’s just silly fun and not too serious. Andy has on all the “Bravolebities” (Bravo’s reality show cast members) and his personal friends like Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Dan Rather. Normally, nothing of substance comes out of the half hour program. It is meant to be a time waster; a wind down before bed. However, last night, Margaret Cho and Rosie Pope were on and something very uncomfortable to say the least, and rage inducing to say the most occurred.
Pope is a maternity concierge in NYC and has a show on Bravo that follows her business as they help expecting couples learn how to become parents and take care of their babies. So natch (naturally for the breve (abbreviation) challenged) there was talk about motherhood and pregnancy. When Cho was asked about her own aspirations to become a parent, she joked about her age, 43, and how her fertile days were numbered. To quote her…
"My eggs are jumping ship. Seriously, they're like, 'last one out is a retard.'"Oof. Pope and Cohen cringed as the audience uncomfortably laughed at her. She sort of paused and looked puzzled about the controversy. She continued on and tried to explain herself a bit more...
"I get worried about that. As an older woman, I don't necessarily want to have a retard."This time, Andy just looked straight up annoyed. When she asked if she can't say that, he said, no, you can't say that. The show continued on.*
Personally, I’ve been trying really hard to eliminate the “R-word” from my vocabulary. “Retard” has become the derogatory slang word du jour. It is widely considered to be highly insensitive. I’m doing better but have had an embarrassing slip up here and there. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand why we shouldn’t use certain words if we don’t mean to be offensive to the particular group they label. In my world, “retard” could have been interchanged with “dumb” or “stupid”; hollow fillers used to express irritation with a situation. Much like the way I used to use to the word “gay” until I realized how insensitive it is to use a word reserved for a specific community as a frivolous insult. As I have become more enlightened, I have eliminated using hurtful language regardless of my intent which is why you’ll never hear me describe something annoying or negative as “gay” and/or ”retarded”. For me, this is growth.
"Being anti-PC is not sticking it to the Man. It's sticking it to all the people whom the Man routinely stomps on."There is no harm in removing archaic insults when the result leads to sensitivity and understanding. And, BONUS!, you will sound a bit more intelligent when thoughtfully selecting your words.
Cho’s word choice goes beyond slang and into the actual problem with the way we view those with intellectual disabilities, however. She is saying she doesn’t want to have a child who needs extra care. While her personal fears could be validated, or at least better understood with thoughtful conversation, she eliminates this possibility by using a harmful label that describes special needs children as undesirable. She is falling in line with an abusive precedent which is disappointing given her outspoken history against misogyny, homophobia, and gender roles. This incident certainly doesn’t erase her credibility as an activist, but her words do highlight why “kyriarchy” as an all encompassing oppressive concept needs to be embraced by progressives.
Feminists cannot simply be anti-patriarchy because women themselves experience many facets of privilege leading to different forms of oppression when left unacknowledged. Choosing to be anti-kyriarchy evolves traditional feminism beyond sexism to include any type of institutionalized discrimination or favoritism oppressing one group over another. In order to be truly forward thinking, we must take responsibility for our own role in the subordination of others especially when these groups call for change and action against our own behavior.Read this portion of this entry on HelloGiggles!!!
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|Crownsville Hospital Center|
It seems many are guilty of this "out of sight, out of mind" attitude regarding those with differences we don't know how to fix or understand. This is why I was so fearful before my Armenia trip. A "home" for hundreds of kids with mental disorders!!? My able bodied, able minded privilege had led me to assume it would be an awful, miserable place; better left unvisited. Luckily, I went to Armenia anyway and was proven wrong.
|Teen's playing Super Nintendo!|
The Children's Home of Kharberd was housed in an old Soviet concrete block, and while not the most pleasant physical dwelling, the inhabitants seemed to be happy. The friendly and excited staff (Americans don't visit often) showed us all around the facility and introduced us to all of the kids. Ignorance does not always equal bliss because I know this experience has opened my eyes to the goodness and happiness I didn't allow myself to consider before. Most of the children were not orphans in the sense that their parents had died, but were abandoned due to the immense stigma a disabled child stains a family with in their culture. All had mental or physical disabilities and many were afflicted with both. Most were bilingual and some multilingual, communicating with English, Russian, and Armenia. There were not enough resources for all of the kids to attend school, but the ones who were able to were being given the skills to not only learn reading and writing but to become more independent. This was a vibrant, lively place.
|Therapy with staff|
Most of the employees were women who were providing physical therapy, craft time, music lessons, and most importantly love and attention to all of the kids. We didn't spend all of our time in Armenia at the orphanage because we weren't qualified with the skills or education needed for the specialized care the kids required. But the time that we did get to spend there was very precious. Our project for the trip was to redo a community room for story time. We scrubbed off the powder paint (typical for Soviet buildings) and repainted the walls peach with one dedicated to a Mount Ararat/Noah's Ark mural. The Bible says that Mount Ararat is where Noah's Ark rests and you can see it's peaks from the children's home so the story has special meaning to Armenians. I was really proud of the finished results and hopefully it remains a cheerful room for the kids to read.
|Noah's Ark Mural|
|Our team with the staff who took us to see the sites of Armenia|
|The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks |
is a beautiful account of a woman who would have
otherwise been forgotten.
This is certainly not a simple problem to solve but maybe seeing it as a problem that needs solving is a giant first step. We have made improvements by closing such places as Crownsville Hospital Center and have a better understanding about the different abilities existing in those who are afflicted with intellectual challenges. But we can do more. As we break down barriers of discrimination regarding sexuality and gender, let's not forget oppression exists in varied and pervasive ways. We have a responsibility not only to recognize our own roll as oppressors but substantially contribute to resolve the burden we impose on those we oppress.
* Just so everyone is aware, Cho has apologized profusely for what she said. She explains herself more on her own website!!!
|Architect Cornelia Oberlander's wheel chair ramp incorporated within a staircase.|