Band-aid realism

In my non-anonymous-blog life, I’ve been obsessively following the Democratic National Convention these past few days. Although I generally detest electoral politics and didn’t bother to vote in the last general election, I have been following this election due to the grassroots energy that’s been gathering for months. I’m encouraged and excited by the protests and rallies that are going on right now. On Sunday I joined the local Bernie march/DNC protest along with my husband. For me, it’s not about Bernie Sanders (although I would rather have him as president than HRC or the Donald). It’s about the movement, the voice of the people breaking out. The DNC can’t control it. Bernie can’t control it. That’s the beauty of it.

But it also scares the shit out of a lot of people, not least the centrist liberals who can’t understand why we won’t just “accept that our candidate lost,” “get in line” and “unify the party.” Sorry to tell you, but 1) I’m not actually a Democrat even though I temporarily registered as one so I could vote in the primary; 2) it’s not about a candidate at all, it’s about the democratic process, corruption, and the two-party, first past the post voting system itself. I’m an anarchist. I couldn’t care less about party unity or endorsements.

Those who tell us to be quiet about the anti-democratic process, the corruption and possibly illegal activity, because we need to be afraid of a Trump dictatorship, are using exactly the same logic that was used to erode civil liberties after 911. The logic of “We must submit to government surveillance, because terrorists!” and the logic of “We must pretend everything is cool with the DNC and not hold anyone accountable, because Trump!” is the same. You can actually be worried about terrorism/Trump AND feel that eroding civil liberties/democracy is unacceptable.

Those who bemoan the “inconvenience” caused by protesters, who complain that they’re obnoxious and impolite, are on the wrong side of justice. Those in power don’t give that power away, even in little pieces, because people are polite. The (bloody) American Revolution did not happen because people were polite. The (again, bloody) Civil War and civil rights movement did not happen because people were polite. (I’m not at all advocating bloodshed here, just observing history.) I’m sure there were plenty of people who felt inconvenienced by the Montgomery bus boycott, just as there are now feeling inconvenienced by Black Lives Matter et al. (They’re blocking traffic! Why can’t they just protest nicely where no one will see them?)

Those who say we are (I’m an older millennial, but even boomers are getting this) “sore losers,” “whiny entitled brats,” etc, are condoning the disenfranchisement of my generation via debt, underemployment, increasing corporate power in politics and so-called “free” trade agreements like the TPP and TiSA that threaten to undermine the remnants of democracy, not only in our country but all over the world.

We are not the enemy for speaking out. We want to be part of the solution, but people would rather call us names, insult our intelligence and moral character, and threaten us with dire events than actually listen.

Having these conversations, I’m realizing for the first time just how wide and how deep the gap really is between my politics and the politics of my liberal friends and relatives. It is sad and sobering for me to realize this. It’s not that I’m farther down some imaginary linear spectrum of political belief. I’m on a different plane. And sometimes, on that plane, I bump into people with whom I vehemently disagree on social and economic issues, but who believe, like me, that our government is corrupt, that tinkering with it is not enough and that we need to radically reorganize society so that people are free.

Imagine that you have a blood-clotting disorder. Now you get a cut that’s bleeding heavily and you put a band-aid on it. Within minutes, the band-aid is soaked through, so you take it off and put on another one. You keep changing your band-aid, you try some that are larger, different shapes, etc, but the wound keeps bleeding and bleeding …

One response is to say, “Well, we just haven’t found the right band-aid yet. We’ll try a different drugstore to see if they have bigger ones.”

Another response is to say, “Hold that band-aid in place while I drive you to the hospital for a transfusion.”

But after repeated emergency blood transfusions, maybe, just maybe, it would be a good idea to treat the underlying clotting disorder. And this is all that so-called “radicals” are saying. Most of us are not going to say no to a band-aid if it’s the only thing staunching the flow of blood, nor will we refuse an emergency transfusion; but because we accept desperate measures, don’t think we are happy to live the rest of our lives in a continual state of emergency. We are asking that the underlying disease be recognized, named, and – if possible – treated.

Not everyone agrees how to treat the disease, of course; but that is the conversation we should be having. It’s hard to talk with people who don’t think the disease is a problem; who refuse to see beyond symptoms; who dismiss as “unrealistic” any suggestion that leaving the cause untreated will eventually result in death; who call us “childish” and “ridiculous” when we demand to have a real conversation about this. It’s hard to problem-solve with people who refuse to make any kind of diagnosis beyond “Oh, I see you’re bleeding. Here’s a band-aid.”

“But it’s not stopping the bleeding …”

“Now now. Don’t whine.”

Potties

“The whole experience had been so bewildering to him that he put it out of mind as soon as possible, but he had dreams about it for months afterwards, nightmares. Saemtenevia Prospect was two miles long, and it was a solid mass of people, traffic, and things: things to buy, things for sale. Coats, dresses, gowns, robes, trousers, breeches, shirts, blouses, hats, shoes, stockings, scarves, shawls, vests, capes, umbrellas, clothes to wear while sleeping, while swimming, while playing games, while at an afternoon party, while at an evening party, while at a party in the country, while traveling, while at the theater […]. […] figurines and souvenirs and mementos and gewgaws and bric-a-bac, everything either useless to begin with or ornamented so as to disguise its use.”

– Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

I recently went to buy a potty for Monkey. Not because we’re seriously starting potty training, but to introduce it, teach him what it is, etc. I just wanted a basic potty. You know: it’s basically a plastic bucket you can sit on. Your child pees and poops in it. You dump the contents and wash it.

I did eventually find such an artifact, but first I had to sort through a bunch of potties that were shaped like animals, that lit up and made noises or really flushed (because it’s not like they make seats for kids that go on the actual flushing toilet – right?) and so on. And of course they were all expensive because of their extra features. I kept thinking, with a kind of low-level rage: “I just need a container for him to sit on and poop in. How freaking hard is that?”

After I went home with my basic, boring potty (which Monkey thinks is awesome), I kept wondering where the demand for these toilets was coming from. Were American parents actually sitting around thinking, “Man, if only somebody out there made a frog-shaped potty that would sing Old Macdonald every time my child peed, with an attached Pez dispenser that dispensed candy when his poop triggered the motion sensor”? (No, I haven’t actually seen that feature yet, but I’m sure they’re working on it. Or will be after they read this blog post.) Were parents writing in droves to corporate headquarters to request that such a potty be sold? I doubt it.

People say that market competition fosters innovation, and in some ways that certainly is true. But face it, a lot of the innovation it fosters is stupid.

Because companies are competing for you to buy their product, there’s an incentive to distinguish their product – somehow, anyhow – from everyone else’s. Even if the product is a potty. Now, one way of distinguishing a product is to make it genuinely brilliant – but brilliant people are hard to come by and notoriously difficult, demanding, etc. That might work in computers, but not in designing potties. Another way is to make the product very good quality – but most companies don’t want to do that, because it’s easier and more lucrative to use cheap overseas labor and flashy features to catch your eye. Plus, if it breaks after a month, you’ll have to go buy another one. Especially since the kid is now unable to pee except into a singing Pez-dispensing frog. Win!

Americans are literally flooded with useless, often poor quality items that we neither need nor even particularly want. And the irony is that, for many individuals and families, this surplus coexists with an actual need for basics. I tried once to write a letter to relatives tactfully explaining that what we really need for Monkey is not more toys, which we don’t even have space for, but clothing, food, and formula. (It turned out not to be possible to be tactful, and I never sent the letter.)

What if the resources and energies that go into designing and making these hollow innovations went, instead, towards meeting real human needs? This doesn’t have to make life boring – the need for beauty, for art, for entertainment, are real needs too. Given a bit of free time and space, there will always be brilliant (and even ordinary) people sitting around coming up with ideas just because they’re bored.

What if instead of working frenetic jobs to put food on the table, we had time to sit around playing board games, go hiking, talk, read, tell stories, cook big meals together, take a siesta? What if innovation was allowed to be the genuine expression of human imagination, creativity, and play, instead of a marketing tactic?

I’d trade a singing light-up frog potty for that world.

Should kids (and adults) be forced to share? An anarchist perspective

If you have a young child, you know that sharing is currently controversial in the parenting world. Well, not so much sharing itself, but how much parents should encourage (or force) children to share. My opinion is that the controversy comes from an odd idea many parents have about what sharing is.

When Monkey was around one year old, he would go around and take toys from other children. When I tried to get him to give the toy back, the other child’s parent would say, “No! She needs to learn how to share” and would refuse to let my son return the toy. These other children were also about a year old. Not only was this form of “sharing” developmentally inappropriate, but it didn’t make any sense. Letting someone grab something you’re using isn’t sharing, nor is it a behavior adults expect from each other. My son was in the wrong (although of course he didn’t know any better), not the child who was upset at having his toy taken away, yet his behavior was being reinforced by the other parent.

A lot of parents who oppose this type of “sharing” make the argument, “If you’re at a coffee shop and someone comes up and takes your laptop, or asks to use your laptop, you shouldn’t have to comply with that.” I agree. But this is a very capitalist way to frame the issue. You own the laptop. You’re at a private business. I’d like to demonstrate that the same conclusion can be reached using a socialist setting.

Libraries: a model for sharing

Say you’re at a public library, reading a book you just took off a shelf. You haven’t actually checked the book out. The only sense in which the book is yours is that you’re currently holding it and looking at it. Now a stranger comes up to you and takes the book out of your hands, sits down and starts reading it.

The stranger’s actions are not illegal, as they would be if you had bought the book and she drove off with it. In this case, neither of you owns the book – the library does. But the book was currently in your possession. You were using it. That gave you a certain right to the book. Taking the book away from you is both incredibly rude, and a violation of your right to continue using the book at that time.

(I think this is a misconception many people have about socialism and its anarchist variants. They hear “no private property” and think that means no possessions and no claim to anything you are using. But even if you’re living in communally owned housing with no mortgage, that doesn’t mean you have no rights over your home, or that someone can move into your spare bedroom without your permission with no repercussions from the community. Most people would not want that to happen to them and will not look kindly on someone who behaves that way.)

I’ve spent a good portion of my life in public libraries, and this scenario has never happened to me. People in public libraries don’t go around grabbing books from each other, even though they legally could. If we adults don’t behave this way even with communally shared items such as library books, why would we teach our children to behave that way? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a perversion of the concept of sharing.

Now say this person comes up to you and politely says, “I’m interested in that book you’re reading, may I look at it?” You still have the right to say, “No, I’m reading it.” You could also respond in various other ways:

“Sure, I’m not that interested in it, actually. Here you go.”

“Sure, just give it back when you’re done. I think I’m going to check it out.”

“I think there’s another copy on the shelf over there. Hey, maybe we could both read it and then meet here next week to discuss it?”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making young children aware of these different options or encouraging them to play together. Of course, if a child really wants to play on his own with a toy, he should be allowed to do that. (Solitary activities are healthy, and maybe the kid is an introvert. Nothing wrong with that.) Some children are temperamentally more possessive than others. I’ve seen children Monkey’s age be very possessive regardless of their parents’ sharing philosophy. Monkey is not very possessive, because he has a pretty easygoing temperament. He will often spontaneously give things to other children; sometimes he’ll take a toy and then give it right back. Sometimes I encourage him to do this and he does so happily. If he snatches another child’s toy or cup and the child is crying and Monkey won’t voluntarily give the item back, I will take it from him and return it to the child, but this doesn’t happen very often.

Library books vs laptops

Back to my library example. Unlike using the laptop in the coffee shop, borrowing the book is not the end of the story. You take the book home and hang onto it for a couple months, try to renew it – but oh, you can’t renew it because someone else has a hold on it. Now the book is overdue. Suddenly, you no longer have the same rights over this book.

At this point, libraries handle the situation different ways. Some impose fines, an arbitrary capitalist approach that discourages low-income people from using libraries. Others simply don’t let you check out any more books until you return the one that’s overdue. You can keep the book as long as you want without fear of police or bill collectors coming after you; but in exchange, you lose your borrowing privileges, your right to use all the other books in the library. As soon as you return or replace the book, you are welcomed back into the community of borrowers.

The socialist playdate

Applying this scenario to a playdate, let’s say Monkey and his friends George and Lulu are playing in the nursery. Lulu’s playing with blocks, and when Monkey tries to take some of the blocks she gets upset. I make Monkey give the blocks back and he plays with something else.

Now Lulu has moved on and is playing with a puzzle. Monkey starts playing with the blocks, and Lulu gets upset because she still considers the blocks hers. But since Lulu isn’t actually using the blocks right now, she no longer has the right to prevent Monkey from using them. Lulu’s mom reminds her that Monkey is also allowed to play with the toys and she is playing with the puzzle right now. Lulu has a tantrum and has to be removed from the nursery play-room, losing her access to all of the toys. She comes back calmer and agrees to play with her puzzle and let Monkey play with blocks.

This is an illustration of reasonable, appropriate sharing being taught. The blocks are a community possession. As long as Lulu was playing with the blocks, she had the right to say “no” to other children who wanted to use them. But once Lulu moved on to a different toy, she did not have the right to prevent other children playing with them.

Taxation = enforced sharing?

Capitalism is different. Under capitalism, even if an individual isn’t making any use of a resource, like a house or a piece of farmland, he has the right to prevent other people from using it. Capitalism allows a few individuals to possess more resources, more money than they could possibly spend in a lifetime (unless maybe they buy a government), while many more individuals lack necessities of survival such as food, housing, and healthcare.

Since many of us have a problem with that, we have a system of taxation which redistributes some (a small portion) of that wealth in order to meet people’s basic needs (via so-called welfare programs). Tax-funded welfare programs are not socialism; they’re just an attempt to make capitalism slightly more humane. European countries with high taxes and social programs are not socialist countries, not even democratic socialist; they are capitalist countries with elements of social democracy.

Redistribution of wealth via taxes or other means is only necessary when the original distribution is unworkable and unjust. Anarchists want a society in which taxes are unnecessary.

I’m talking about taxes now because on articles and blog posts that I read online about the sharing controversy, a number of commenters brought up taxes. (So remember, I didn’t start this comparison – they did. They invited what follows.) The argument went, “Children shouldn’t be forced to share, and adults shouldn’t either, and taxing income in order to give it to poor people for food and healthcare is enforced sharing and is bad.”

The capitalist playdate

OK. Let’s apply this to the playdate. Monkey, Lulu and George go over to Susan’s house to play. Susan has rooms full of toys, including toys she hasn’t seen for at least a year and doesn’t even know she has. When Monkey, Lulu and George try to play with Susan’s toys, she says “No!” and her mother enforces it, spanking the other three children if they touch any of Susan’s toys. Monkey, Lulu and George give up on the toys but are getting quite hungry and thirsty. Susan is having a snack. When Lulu asks for a snack, Susan’s mom tells her that she needs to earn it herself by cleaning all of the bathrooms.

At this point, the three toddlers would really like to go home, but they are locked in the house and no one knows what happened to their mothers. If they ever want to eat or drink again, they have no choice but to clean the bathrooms and do whatever other forms of labor Susan’s mom imposes on them. Unfortunately, George is disabled and can’t clean the bathroom, so he can’t earn his own snack. Lulu shares her snacks with him for a while, but she finally gets so hungry she can’t keep it up, and George dies. Meanwhile Susan sits on the couch watching Daniel Tiger, surrounded by untouched toys, eating whatever she wants.

That’s what a playdate equivalent to unregulated capitalism looks like.

Now if we add in redistribution of wealth via taxation and welfare, it would look mostly the same, with this difference. Susan’s mom still won’t let Monkey, Lulu and George touch Susan’s toys, but she only makes them clean one bathroom (instead of all the bathrooms) before giving them an occasional snack and a drink. Although George is disabled and can’t clean the bathroom, he also gets a (slightly smaller) snack and drink from Susan’s mom. It’s still not a very fun playdate, but at least none of the toddlers will die in the immediate future.

Conclusion

In case you didn’t catch on, Susan’s mom is the government. Susan is the capitalist. If Susan’s mom leaves all the kids to their own devices, do you think Susan (who is rather entitled due to always getting her own way) will freely share her snacks with the other children? She might give them one or two on a whim. But do you think she will give them a majority of her snacks, since there are three of them and only one of her? Do you think she will give them enough to live on for year after year as they continue to live in her house (seriously, what happened to their mothers???)?

People who resent their taxes going to social welfare programs often make the argument that everyone should be free to give to charity voluntarily instead of having money taken from them by the government and passed along to people in need. There are a number of problems with this argument (one of which is that welfare programs aren’t actually charity, but I could write a whole separate post about that), but the most glaring is that most people, left to their own devices, will not consistently give enough of their income to charity to actually support all of the people who are left struggling by our capitalist economy.

(On a side note, I find it interesting that the people who make this argument are often the same ones that believe in the religious doctrine of total depravity. So … humans are totally depraved, but large numbers of them will freely and voluntarily support strangers in need – whom they view as lazy because that’s our cultural narrative – with no incentives or pressure to do so? Hmm.)

Since others are arguing that enforced sharing among toddlers is somehow connected to progressive taxation, I argue that living in a capitalist economy has made parents confused about what sharing is even supposed to be, resulting in counterproductive sharing practices.

Anyway, I know which playdate I would rather go to.

Gender nonconformity and the social model of disability

I just finished reading the book Raising My Rainbow, which I found to be a quick and enjoyable diversion from preparing for Monkey’s latest surgery/sclerotherapy. The author, Lori Duron, has a very popular blog. Her younger son, C.J., is gender nonconforming: from an early age (before 3 years old) he has shown preferences for toys, clothing, and activities that our society generally considers to be “for girls.”

At one point in the book, a friend asks Duron if she ever feels like she’s parenting a special needs child, and she says that she does but she “feels bad saying it” (p. 128).

As the parent of a “special needs child”, I had a mixed response to this. On the one hand, there are many parallels between my experience of parenting Monkey and Duron’s experience parenting C.J. She’s certainly not imagining that; it’s part of why I enjoyed the book so much. On the other hand, her attempt to explain why she feels that way felt – to me – off base:

“Special needs kids are often defined by what they cannot do. My son cannot blend in. He cannot wear boring socks. He cannot resist having his nails painted. He cannot stop dancing when music comes on. He cannot resist the urge to strike a pose for the camera. …” (129)

She goes on in this manner. This part really rubbed me the wrong way. There is no comparison between the things Duron lists here and what my son goes through, or other children I know with medical needs. There’s no comparison between having your nails painted, and being repeatedly injected with caustic chemicals or chemo drugs under general anesthesia; between feeling compelled to dance, and being hospitalized because you can’t breathe. The actual medical aspects of disability – physical pain, medical trauma, frequent or invasive tests, dependency on specialized equipment for survival – are not part of C.J.’s or his mother’s lives.

Duron’s explanation of what C.J. and kids like my son have in common is off, but she’s right that they do have something in common – not what they can or can’t do, but the way they’re viewed and treated by society for falling outside the acceptable norm.

There are two main “models” of disability: medical and social. While some people see these as opposed, I see them as complimentary. The medical aspects of disability are real, important, and undeniable. The social aspects that follow from these medical aspects essentially create what we call disability. Most disabled people experience aspects of both these models and it’s not always easy to sort out which is which.

What Lori Duron is experiencing with C.J. is basically the social model of disability. Like parents of children with medical problems and/or visible anomalies, she has to advocate hard for her child with doctors, teachers and school officials; she has to explain her child to others; she sees people feeling uncomfortable because of her child; she loses friends; she worries (with good reason) about her child being teased and bullied.

When she talked about “superficial friends” asking questions like “Is he still into dolls? […] When do you think he’ll be more ‘boy’?” (126) it made me think of all the times that relatives (who mean well but should know better) ask me, “Will this be his last procedure? When will he be done with all the medical stuff?” In both cases the real, underlying question is: “When is your child going to be normal, according to my idea of what’s normal?” And the answer is: Probably never. C.J. will probably continue to express his gender in atypical ways, although the specifics may shift over time. Monkey will continue to have an atypical anatomy throughout his life, although it may look different than it does now and the treatments should get farther apart. They are not going to wake up one morning and suddenly be acceptable to you; you’re the one that needs to change.

This passage really resonated with me:

“[C.J.]’s taught us that you don’t always get what you expect when you are expecting. You assume that your male child will want to be male, that he’ll like traditionally male things, and that he’ll be physically and emotionally attracted to women when he grows up. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. There is comfort found in expectations, but when they are squashed when your child is three, four, or five years old, you start to question why they exist at all. You attempt to move on without expectations and try not to be jaded when people around you hold tight to the old, comfortable ones.” (251)

This is essentially the same process of expectation, disappointment, grief, and adjustment that parents of children with Down Syndrome or other genetic syndromes go through, or parents of children with autism or cerebral palsy or so many other physical and neurological differences.

The problem begins in those comforting expectations. It begins in social constructs: in the assumption that people are supposed to be a certain way. People are supposed to have a certain number of chromosomes, a certain number of fingers and toes; they are supposed to have genitals that clearly fit one sex or the other; they are supposed to identify with the gender that matches their genitalia and to like certain things based on that gender; they are supposed to get around with their legs, not with crutches or a walker or wheelchair; they are supposed to speak with their lips and vocal cords, not with sign language or an AAC device; their brains are supposed to regulate their moods, emotions, sensations, and perceptions of reality in a particular way; they are supposed to reach certain developmental stages at certain times.

But people don’t. Many of them “fail” one or more of these expectations. Based on which expectation(s) they fail, they will be labeled disabled, mentally ill, intersex, and/or a sexual deviant, and will find themselves at a continual disadvantage socially as they try to navigate a world that would really rather not acknowledge their existence. The denial of human variation is so strong that when parents like Duron and myself and others I know both acknowledge and accept our child’s differences, we are accused by others of wanting our child to be gay or transgender, or wanting him to be disabled. No parent wants extra suffering for their child.

Based on her book and blog, I think Duron is an awesome mother to both her sons and an awesome advocate for the youngest members of the LGBTQ community. At their most basic, both disability rights activists and LGBTQ activists are saying: Your idea of what it is to be human is too narrow. Broaden your idea and let us in.

A moment of mourning

I feel very sad right now. Like other Americans, I’m distressed by the shootings in the past week, of both civilians and police officers. I find it depressing and demoralizing to know that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will likely be our next president. I’ve had some arguments on Facebook in the past couple of days that left me feeling very discouraged about the human race. Maybe it’s a pipe dream to think that things will ever improve, that we could ever have a more just society. There’s a lot about other human beings I find it very difficult, or impossible, to understand.

Still, the dream of something not only better but qualitatively different is what keeps me from sinking into nihilism and apathy. That dream – not fear of the latest disaster – is what gets me to the polling booth. A close family member, someone I love, tells me that I’m an extremist. That I’m not pragmatic enough. If opposing physical, economic, and psychological violence against human beings is extremism … then I guess I can’t argue. It seems to me that pragmatism is often used as an excuse for defending these various types of violence.

I want to share a link that a POC friend of mine sent me last night: http://www.joincampaignzero.org/solutions/#solutionsoverview

The one part of their platform I disagree with is their contention that police officers shouldn’t paid while they’re being investigated. False complaints do happen, and even if a complaint is accurate, the loss of income, with no warning, could cause hardship for an officer’s family and create more resentment between police and civilians.

Otherwise, they have lots of excellent, concrete suggestions for addressing police violence: for example, better training on deescalation; sending a special team to address “mental health”/psychiatric crises, which would include a psychologist, counselor, social worker, and officers specially trained in these situations; independent investigations; civilian oversight; and many others. Please do check it out if you’re concerned about these matters.

Stay safe, everyone.

Toy (un)like me

Like many toddlers, Monkey is obsessed in love with the show Daniel Tiger. He has several of the plush character dolls from the show, and his favorite right now is Miss Elaina. He likes to hold her while he watches, take her places, etc. In public, we have been getting some sideways glances from people who – I presume – are wondering why my fair-skinned little boy has a doll that looks like a little black girl in a pink dress.

I don’t know how much of that is gender-based and how much is racial. Regardless, these sideways looks have got me thinking about the way the toy industry underrepresents minorities from every group, and also about parental comfort with buying toys that have minority characteristics different from their own.

If you’re interested in disability rights, you may have heard of the Toy Like Me campaign. I’ve been following this campaign for a while, and as the mother of a child with an anatomical difference, I absolutely agree that it’s important for children with disabilities and/or anatomical differences (as well as those who are non-white) to see their bodies and experiences reflected in toys, books, and other media. What I would hate to see, though, is more disabled dolls that are custom-order/specialty items only – continuing their segregation from the mainstream able-bodied dolls. (I have a similar complaint with television shows that bring on a disabled character only for the purpose of talking about disability.) And this is what will happen if we merely campaign for children to have toys that are “like them.”

I grew up with the historical American Girl dolls, before the custom Truly Me line existed. I used to spend hours looking at the catalog (which was roughly the size of a phone book). When my parents were finally able to afford one, I wanted Josefina. It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that Josefina was Hispanic and I wasn’t, or that I should pick a doll that looked like me. I loved Josefina’s straight black hair and the little gold rings in her ears (my mom wouldn’t let me pierce mine). I brought her along to old missions and Spanish colonial museums so she would feel at home.

I also had a doll who was a white brunette of German descent, like me. She had PTSD. She’d grown up in an orphanage during the war, then was homeless for a while before moving to the Alps, where she met a friendly goat-herd. She’d also been involved in rescuing Jews, although I’m not sure how she managed that while in the orphanage.

Then there was my little doll whose legs were damaged. I made her a wheelchair and wrote a miniature diary for her about the experience of losing her ability to walk and being disabled. Her younger brother later had to have his legs amputated; fortunately, he was very athletic and got around just fine with his arms.

When I was growing up, I didn’t feel a compulsion for all my toys and dolls to be like me – to reflect my whiteness or my able-bodied-ness or the fact that I had living parents, etc. I was interested in other people’s experiences.

In saying this, I don’t mean to criticize children for wanting dolls that are like them. A friend of mine whose son has a G-tube puts old G-buttons on all his stuffed animals, which I think is awesome. On the other hand, there will always be children like my son whose physical differences are rare and/or not easily adapted to a doll, even a custom made one. They may not be able to have a toy exactly like them, but they can still benefit from seeing the variety of human differences reflected and celebrated in toys and media. In fact, all children can benefit from that – and that’s my point.

Although I appeared to be a typical middle class white girl growing up, I was in fact dealing with early childhood trauma and extensive psychiatric illness in my family. I think that’s why I gravitated towards dolls and stories about people who were different, who had characteristics that mainstream society deemed undesirable, as I sensed that my own experience and background and personality were deemed undesirable. For me, I guess, it was less important that a toy or character have my exact characteristics, and more important that it share my experience of difference, discrimination and isolation. That made it relatable and meaningful, but also gave me an opportunity to practice imaginative empathy.

But what about the children from privileged backgrounds who haven’t experienced trauma or discrimination? Will they spontaneously seek out toys and characters from less privileged backgrounds? Will they be exposed to and interested in the diversity of human appearance and experience? Will their parents buy dolls of other races, or disabled dolls, or dolls that display intersectionality? Should they?

Parents are unlikely to buy an Asian doll with hair loss for their non-Asian child who has hair if they find such a doll in the store; for certain they will not go out of their way to custom order such a doll. If a parent did buy that doll for their child, the child would get strange looks in public and people would probably think there was something psychologically wrong with the parent. And yet, it is possible to conceive of a society in which that doll would be just as desirable and accepted as an able-bodied white doll; in which no one would question the motivations of the able-bodied white child hugging that doll, or of the parent who bought it.

Companies like Mattel will claim that the market for black dolls with limb differences or Latina dolls with port wine stains isn’t large enough to justify making them. Ultimately, though, the problem isn’t that the population with such characteristics is small. The problem is parents’ unwillingness to buy dolls with minority characteristics that their own children don’t have; and even if more parents wanted to do that, I believe that society discourages it.

It would help a lot if popular shows like Daniel Tiger would give more time to visibly disabled characters like Chrissie and actually make a Chrissie doll – that would not only be great for children who wear leg braces, but would make it easy for parents whose children don’t have leg braces to buy them a doll that does without being self-conscious about it, as I was able to buy Miss Elaina for my son without a second thought. That would be a start.

I understand that some parents (both those who belong to minority groups, and those who don’t) have concerns about cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and/or dolls being used as objects of ridicule. I think the answer to this concern is to make sure that the dolls are not segregated but integrated into the mainstream. They should not be specialty items intended to be used as teachable moments. And toy companies, if you are going to make these toys, market them to all children, not just to those with disabilities.

Really, TSA?

St Jude Brain Tumor Patient is Injured and Arrested

I’ve had my complaints about the TSA for years, but this is beyond disturbing. Officers misinterpreted the confusion of a girl just operated on for a brain tumor and instead of listening to her mother’s explanation, slammed her head into the ground, causing further injury and trauma to her brain. This was not some muscular, threatening man they were restraining, but a 19 year old girl with vision loss, partially deaf and partially paralyzed, who was simply trying to get away. What on earth did they think she was going to do that necessitated such violence?

Then, her face bleeding, her luggage already on the way home, they threw her in prison.

There is NO excuse for this! I understand that her behavior looked like something else and that these officers are trained to react, but her mother was there trying to explain. It’s not OK to ignore the mother and slam a girl’s head into the ground. It’s not OK to taser innocent people whose behavior seems a little “off” due to autism or Down Syndrome (google – there are MANY stories about this happening, and there have been deaths). This is not an isolated incident; it’s part of a pattern of police and other officials reacting with unnecessary violence to the behavior of people with cognitive differences. It’s discrimination against the disabled and cognitively impaired, and it’s an abuse of power. Police need training on how disabilities can affect behavior and appearance and on dealing with such situations in safe, nonviolent ways.

I hope that the young woman’s family wins their lawsuit against the airport and the TSA and that this story gets plenty of publicity.