[Nfbc-info] FW: [berkeley-disabled] The Politics of Being Nice.

Eric Calhoun eric at pmpmail.com
Fri Jul 13 10:20:32 UTC 2018

I think this could generate discussion on this list (disability-related.)

Original Message: 
From: "Jake Lesner jakeoaktown at gmail.com [berkeley-disabled]"
<berkeley-disabled-noreply at yahoogroups.com>
To: berkeley-disabled <berkeley-disabled at yahoogroups.com>
Subject: [berkeley-disabled] The Politics of Being Nice.
Wed, 11 Jul 2018 19:38:04 -0700

The Politics of Being Nice.

By Jacob Lesner-Buxton

Every afternoon in 11th grade I went to another high school for a
class. Since I would often get to the classroom early I would wait
for the teacher to open the door. The room was next to a class for
education students whom I would often see making their way to the bus.

One day as I was watching the students, I saw a young man who looked like
me walking to the bus. From what I gathered from listening to
conversations, the student's day consisted of watching Disney movies and
going with the school security guard to Burger King every Tuesday. As I
looked at that young man, I began to see myself in him.

I knew that that certain students in the district got pushed into classes
because their parents didn't know how to navigate the system. Furthermore,
students with "study problems" were often dumped in special education
classes. I wondered if the young man truly belonged in a class that
consisted of fast food and Disney movies, and if district administrators
were waiting for me to slip up so they would ship me there as well.

Back then, I had a tremendous amount of support from "professionals", who
were working on getting me ready for college. From computer consultants to
special education teachers who would assist me with college applications,
my education had to be costing the district a pretty penny. It would be
cheaper for the district to have me watch a film about higher education
than it would be to give me the skills needed for college. Seeing that man
walk to the bus was haunting because I realized that the Oakland public
schools had an option for me if I caused trouble.

Knowing that there are places like the classroom next to the chemistry
motivated me to try and stay on the straight and narrow. It wasn't as
though I was a pest to my teachers, but I told myself that I needed to be
extra careful to be nice and patient with them. So, I didn't complain when
I didn't get a worksheet enlarged or my computer fixed in a timely manner.
Fortunately, I had wonderful teachers, so I never felt that I was
suppressing my anger.

About three months after I encountered that teenager outside the
I told my English class about feeling obligated to be nice. We were
discussing what skills a person needed to keep a job when I suggested that
people needed to learn how to kiss ass. I then spoke about my experiences
waiting outside the chemistry lab. "Jake, I think I can take some crap
you," my teacher replied. I shot her a smile while thinking that she
doesn't have a clue about how much pressure I feel to be nice.

Years later when I moved to Santa Barbara I met other people who I
felt pressured to be nice. For example, my first roommate was a person
needed round the clock assistance. Unfortunately, some of his attendants
didn't help with the cleaning of the house although they were supposed to.
When the owner of the agency asked him why he didn't complain about the
performance of his attendant, my roommate said he was afraid that they
would get mad and refuse to help him.

Although the agency wanted my roommate to speak up, they also kept
reminding him about appreciating the staff that he had. It seemed like
every three weeks the director of the agency would contact him with
that he wasn't being grateful enough to his attendants. My roommate would
start crying when he received these reports because he didn't want to be
abandoned by caregivers.

As I was meeting more and more people with disabilities in Santa Barbara,
realized that most of us had felt compelled to act "nice" to maintain our
services. In my work I noticed many of my co-workers fretting about some
individuals with disabilities who weren't nice and what that would mean
our community.

A person who was "not nice" was someone who played the "disability card"
get extra services or cheaper goods. For example, there was someone in
local supermarket who tried to say that the Americans with Disabilities
(ADA) entitled her to get a discount on ham two days before the sale
started. Another man said the fact he had been in special education
50 years ago entitled him to discounted cable service.

While some might say that we shouldn't worry about the above incidents, I
have noticed that they do have an effect on how some people view us.

The ability of people with disabilities to rent an apartment is an area
where actions by an individual have led to consequences for many people.
Landlords have told my co-workers that they will not rent to people on
Section 8 because there are too many problems. Since a fair amount of
people with disabilities are on Section 8 this affects our ability to get
affordable housing.

Some time ago a man who was a hoarder was paid almost $4,000 to move out
his Section 8 apartment. Although he was breaking many of the rules of
lease he would claim that since he was disabled the landlord couldn't
him. The Housing Authority, as well as the landlord, allowed this man
multiple chances to stay in his apartment even though they had grounds to
throw him out. After 18 months the landlord forked over 4 grand in cash to
this man as well paying for him to spend twelve weeks in a motel, and his
moving costs, none of which was required by law.

Other tenants of the landlord might worry that his experience with the
hoarder has caused him to develop a negative perception of people with
disabilities If I was living in his property, I would be nervous about
reporting a leaky faucet or a defective stove. Not only would I feel
compelled to be nice in order to keep the apartment, I imagine that I
resent his other renters with disabilities who might be damaging the
reputation of my community.

While some people with disabilities feel pressure to be "nice" the same
also be true for many disability rights organizations. A few years ago
during a job interview, I was asked how I would mitigate the influence
a few grassroots advocates had on politicians even though both groups had
similar goals. The only difference between them was that the grassroots
activists thought they could achieve social change by being in the street
while the agency believed that change came from sitting behind a keyboard.

Ideally, there should be space for both groups to use their tactics to
what they need, but in this community, like others, there is sometimes a
fear that one segment will damage how the people in power view people with
disabilities. Often others and I wonder how a public official might view
antagonistic e-mail or a doom and gloom rant that a member of our
shares on social media. Furthermore, I know from conversations that some
people feel that I am damaging the community's reputation through my
activism. Yet even though I have assumptions about how the actions of
others affect the community's reputation, I have never asked a public
official or service provider for confirmation of my assumptions. It's
likely that I am worrying over nothing.

Constantly worrying about the actions of others and being nice out of
doesn't seem like a successful game plan in 2018. Unfortunately, we are
in a time of extreme budget cuts that affect people with disabilities
across the board. Now, I could be wrong, but I don't believe that the
government would protect a person's services from being cut because they
are "nice".

Furthermore, it seems hard to imagine that a group of tie-dyed hippies
Berkeley would make an official so mad that he would advocate for more
to spite them. Even though I know that policymakers don't usually factor
"niceness" into drafting budgets, part of me is still that 11th grader
trying to be nice, because I know where I could end up if I'm not. Back in
high school that would mean watching movies, now it would mean being
admitted to a nursing home.

I don't want to give the impression that people with disabilities are
nice because they are scared of losing their services. We are like
everybody else with our good days and bad. However, when a government
indicates that it's willing to cut services, people will try anything to
stop the cuts. Being nice and turning against others is a defense strategy
that I and many people and groups have used.

Instead of trying to be nice we could try being honest. When a government
official or a director of agency accuses a person with a disability of
taking advantage of the system, we could sarcastically say, "and that
affects us how?" Though this response is glib and unkind we shouldn't be
put in a place where we are obliged to answer for anyone else's behavior
but our own. If the government can figure out how to judge every
cis-gendered non-disabled Christian rich white man as their own person,
then shouldn't they also be able to learn how to see us as individuals as

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