PHOTO SOURCE: WILHELM HINTZE FROM HIS 1911 PAPER, “UEBER MONGOLOIDE IDIOTIE,” AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF LEIPZIG. IT IS FROM THE JELLIFFE COLLECTION MADE AVAILABLE TO MOUTH BY
DAVID MITCHELL AND SHARON SNYDER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO. THE POINTING
FINGERS DO NOT CALL ATTENTION TO WOUNDS BUT TO ‘DEFECTS OF THE TYPE.’ CREDIT FOR THE
FOCUSING ON HELPING HANDS BELONGS TO MARTIN ELKS, AUTHOR OF A THESIS ON THE SUBJECT.
by Dave Hingsburger
he first time I measured a wound, it was a large bruise on a young boy’s upper arm. I remember its color, its shape: a grotesque bluish-yellow hand print, left by the hand of a monster. While documenting its breadth, I knew I could never calibrate its depth.
Forms filed, report made, policy fulfilled, the child was placed on the human services conveyor belt. What needed to happen next, I was assured, would.
When it didn't, I couldn't shake feelings of despair. I talked with the psychologist attached to my agency. She smiled sympathetically and nodded knowingly. (It's part of their training. She must have been at the top of her class.) Then she explained, in simple terms that even a direct care provider could understand. The young boy had Down Syndrome. He was mentally defective. "They don't," she explained, "feel pain the way we do."
This was the first of many times I heard similar versions of the same sentiment. Crimes against people with develop-mental disabilities just aren't all that serious. "They don't understand, poor dears."
One helping professional explained to me, "They are just like puppies. You can beat them but they still come back for love."
Nothing they said could erase the memory of the bruise and the fear in the eyes of that little boy as I measured it. He knew. He felt. He anticipated that it would happen again. He knew that no one cared.
His face appears in my mind every time I read accounts of the struggle of "Les enfants Duplessis." [Referring here to adults who made recent headlines in Canada.] These are breathless accounts of children being labeled mentally retarded and being placed in institutions. We read of beatings, of abuse, of rape. And it is all made horrible by the fact that these kids were "normal."
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And ‘sorry’ isn’t good enough.
People shake their heads, not at the fact that beatings, abuse and rape were occur-ring in these institutions, but at the idea that it happened to kids who were "normal."
ot once have I read an account sympathetic to those who were "rightfully" confined there. Nowhere has there been a call for apology and retribution to the children who seemingly deserved beatings, abuse and rape on account of their difference.
Never has there been a call to investigate just why institutionalized care seems always to lead to abuses of power and privilege.
In the struggle for apology, a vast amount of hatred towards the class of people who wear the label "develop-mentally disabled" goes unseen.
There seems to be a desire for an official stamp of the word NORMAL on the fore-head of each who had once been labeled RETARDED — as if the state’s having even suspected them of being "subnormal" was itself a crime.
Just how horrible is it to be considered part of the population that struggles to learn? So far, everyone seems to understand the desire to be officially elevated above that particular class of human.
Where in the press cover-
age of the Duplessis orphans mean nothing and trust will
is there an analysis of this be denied.
kind of bigotry? Where is an We cannot, as a society,
acknowledgment that this is accept the government
the precise attitude that built apology unless it comes with
the buildings into which they real action, action that shows
were abandoned, where they the government is serious
were abused. about stopping crimes which
And so the government occur to all individuals in its will say it's sorry. I see it this care. If beatings, abuse and way: Hurting and herding all rape occurred in those nice
the orphans was a crime big buildings thirty years ago, against all of society. We how can we be sure it isn't entrusted the government happening now? Didn't a with the care of the most woman with a disability, fully vulnerable in our midst. That protected in one of those trust was violated. Brutal acts buildings, turn up pregnant were not just perpetrated only months ago? against those children. They Until the last human were perpetrated against warehouse has been closed, society's sense of decency. We until the last captive is freed need to say, "Sorry isn't good into community care, until the enough!" abuse of institutionalization stops, apologies are worthctions have consequences less. that can't be washed "Sorry" isn't good enough away by expressions of regret. for me. I have measured
Most of us, when receiving an wounds.
apology, want more than
words. Show me how sorry Excerpted from the book,
you are! We want a demon-A Little Behind: Articles for
stration that the apology is Challenge, Change and
the beginning of a process of Catching Up, ©2000 Diverse
change. We want some kind City Press, reprinted here
of behavioral indication that with permission. The book
the action will not happen is on sale in our Attitude
again. Without that, apologies Catalog, page 47.
“They are just like puppies,” she said. “You can beat
them, but they still come back for love.”
MARCH -APRIL 2002 MOUTH PAGE 13