Harriet McBryde Johnson was a lawyer and disability rights activist who was herself severely disabled. Her wonderful essay, “Unspeakable Conversations,” which she wrote for the New York Times Magazine, is an account of her debate with philosopher Peter Singer. In “Unspeakable Conversations,” she argues persuasively that pity for people with disabilities– an attitude commonly adopted by the non-disabled– is inappropriate, and rooted in prejudice.
I was put in mind of Johnson’s essay when I stumbled on this local news puff piece about Dominic, a two-legged greyhound.
Dominic is so obviously happy, so successfully doggish, that it’s impossible to entertain the notion that pity is the appropriate response. With pity off the table, the reporter seems confused. He actually says, out loud and on mic, “you’d think he’d have a chip on his shoulder, or something.”
It’s an entire case study in disability prejudice in a few seconds of b-roll. And because it’s dog disability the reporter is grappling with, the prejudice that underlies some pity-responses is much easier to see.
Racial Cognition and the Ethics of Implicit Bias
By Daniel Kelly and Erica Roedder (April 2008)