I talk and write about discrimination a lot. It’s fair to say that, as a result of my poor mental health, I encounter discrimination on a regular basis. Several times a week I hear comments that lack foundation and logic. For example, a racist, sexist, homophobic neighbour likes to tell our other neighbours that I’m a scrounger and that I’ve had handouts all my life. It appears that the huge amount of taxes and national insurance contributions I’ve paid were forgotten once I claimed state benefits.
Recently I was asked to deliver a training session by my local council to their new intake of front line staff. As one of their customers who also has a health problem that is wide open to the judgement of the ill-informed I’m more aware than most of the problems people face and have been at the other end of poor customer service (though not theirs) more than once this month. I’ve also worked in a call centre and I wanted to show them that everyone is vulnerable to stress and mental health problems. There isn’t a single person alive who is guaranteed never to have a mental health problem.
We talked about the way that discrimination began; a bias towards those in your tribe back in the days when there was fewer people in the world than there is in the part of the city that I live in. In order to survive those early humans had a bias towards those in their tribe and developed a bias against those without it. A bias that became prejudicial and then, for some people, racism. The ability to discriminate negatively is embedded within us but we do not have to obey it; we are beings of free will.
Whenever I blog about discrimination I get unfollowed by people on Twitter and unfriended by people on Facebook. People subtweet the nastiness that they lack the courage to say directly. I don’t make an effort to find out because I won’t give anybody an opportunity to indulge in their prejudices. If they don’t want to see people talking about discrimination and mental health that’s up to them. What does anger me is the public reactions in defence of people who have not been named but assume that I’m writing about them. If you thinking I’m talking about you when I write examples of discrimination then please do something about it other than subtweet/unfollow/unfriend. If you recognise yourself in those descriptions then you are guilty of discrimination whether I’m talking about you or not. If you subtweet/unfollow/unfriend because you recognise the behaviour and/or story of someone you suspect I’m talking about ask yourself why you did that. It may not occur to you that they are guilty as you suspect they are charged. It is easy to say that you do not practise discrimination, that you have people with similar problems in your family, that you’ve had a problem once. This does not free you from discriminating negatively and it does not mean that your friends are incapable of discrimination. Having decided that your friends cannot be in the wrong you are therefore deciding that I (and others like me) are wrong, mistaken or lying. This is discrimination.
The reality of our friendships and relationships is different for each person. A group of us may have one friend in common but the way we know that person, the depth of the relationship, the things that they reveal to us aren’t constant. The attributes we believe our friends and family to have aren’t necessarily the ones they have. We can only make judgements about them based on the way they behave towards us. If they always present us with their positive attributes then that is how we feel they are. If they hide their discriminatory feelings and vileness then we will never know about it but it doesn’t mean that they’re not there. Lack of knowledge about discrimination doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or that those who speak out against it are liars it merely means that perhaps we don’t know someone as well as we think we do.
I know a woman who is a racist and she keeps it well hidden. To the world, and some members of her family, she is an upstanding member of the community. Behind closed doors and with her guard down she has some pretty vile opinions. You may denounce someone who denounces her. It doesn’t make them wrong or a liar but it does make them someone with a different experience. Speak as we find by all means but don’t write off someone who has a different experience.
I found out long ago that if I don’t hide the fact that I have Bipolar Disorder then I’m applauded for my honesty but that for those with prejudices I’m handing them the ammunition they need to attack me. Discrimination comes in all sizes from the little minds of those incapable of seeing beyond their fear to the employers who cannot see talents worth nurturing and the mental health charities who cherry pick those they choose to represent and help. For those of us with mental health problems we’re at the bottom of a crushing pile. We are condemned if we don’t speak up and have our honesty used as a weapon if we do. I’m clever, funny and talented but, because I have Bipolar Disorder I’m also, in the eyes or the narrow sighted and narrow minded, a liar.