A Higher Standard
In a small city north of Springfield, there is a somewhat prominent family that owns the city’s larger mom and pop stores. They have a liquor store, a grocery, a real estate firm, law offices. They have been a pretty big part of the scene in that city since it was just a town.
I was driving in the region, listening to one of Western Mass’s better stations when this add came on for the liquor store. The message was that the store takes bottle returns for items they don’t carry in store. For example, you could return your supermarket brand soda cans there without trouble–not a common thing around here. The way that message was given could have used some work.
“I’s a’scared. I’s a’scared.” The man speaks in a timid, garbled way.
“What are you a’scared of?” A gentle, female voice, bordering on baby-talk.
So, they take the recyclables. All of them that you can return for a deposit. The male character is that of the yokel–the uneducated woods person. Clearly of lower intelligence, lacking in worldliness. Gullible. Stupid.
So? Why does this matter? People use the yokel all the time. Why do I have a bug up my ass about this particular use of that imagery?
The liquor store owning section of the family has 3 brothers, one of whom has an intellectual disability with whom I worked when I started in direct care. The brothers are older, and it is likely that one of the next generation has taken over things like media management for the liquor store (this generation is my age). The ad makes fun of people of lower intelligence and there isn’t a way around that.
However, it does bring up an issue that allies and advocates sometimes forget: no one is perfect. As an outsider, it is easy to look at the way families interact and pass judgement about it. One of the people I worked with had a father who was very involved politically with the doings of agency, but I never met him in the year I worked in the house. Another family, I saw without fail every week and they treated all of the house staff like servants and were not very kind to their relative–not abusive, but in a way that shows 65 years of never being the most important child, never being the one that gets the attention because you need it the least. The whole family was weary of dealing with multiple people who had problems that required different types of services.
The point here isn’t to put these families, who arguably love and care about their children and siblings with ID in a more thorough and complex way than care workers could understand, on blast for being insensitive. It is to remind everyone that no one can be a perfect advocate, and we can’t expect families, friends, or people in the group for whom we are advocating and allying to be flawless.
Just because one of the nephews designed this kind of silly and insensitive ad campaign doesn’t negate the love they all have for their uncle, it just shows lack of consideration about the implications. And, to be honest, if I didn’t know the uncle, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.