Posted on September 13, 2017
“They thought what you knew was nothing but deafness and blindness. They couldn’t imagine that you knew anything else, that you could tell them anything else worth knowing” (Georgina Kleege 191).
In these sentences, Kleege appears to be speaking to Helen Keller and drawing upon assumptions of what Helen Keller may have gone through, based on her own experiences. The pronoun “they” refers to able bodied people, specifically those in Kleege’s life such as her coworkers and her students. In the first sentence, Kleege talks about how society is ignorant towards people with disabilities and are convinced that they are solely defined by their disabilities. Society’s defining of disabled people as their disabilities, their ignorance of them, is what creates a barrier that not only prevents disabled people from being part of the same society as able bodied people, but also, a barrier that isolates disabled people from the opportunities that are open to the able bodied people. The pronoun “you” is clearly referring to Helen Keller as this is a letter written by Kleege to Helen Keller, but it can also be said that it is Kleege talking to herself from a third person perspective. Through this third person perspective, Kleege reveals her pent up frustrations with the world. In the second sentence, Kleege expresses how baffled she is at the extent to which society is ignorant about disabled people, she is baffled at the fact that they are unable to even imagine that disabled people are not solely defined by their disabilities. The use of the word “imagine” implies that able bodied people are not even capable of forming the thought that disabled people are more than their disabilities. In the end, it is not their disabilities that set them apart from the rest of society, but the ignorance, the unwillingness, the denial of disabled people as those who are equals to able bodied people, that creates a wall that separates the disabled from the rest of society. In these sentences, Kleege forces upon these assumptions she makes about the suffering Helen Keller may have gone through, perhaps based on her own experiences as a blind woman, and speaks to Helen Keller in an understanding and all knowing tone. Kleege is convinced, or at least wants to be convinced that Helen Keller has gone through the same struggles that she has gone through, the same rejection from society that she continues to face, because she wants to inform society that the optimistic image that Helen Keller took on, is a mask that hid her struggles, and created a misconception that all disabled people should adopt the same optimistic attitude that Helen Keller did about their disabilities.
“‘Show them your weakness, and they’ll put you away in the blink of an eye. You’re here by sufferance. They’ll tolerate you only as long as you keep up the front. Nobody likes a grumpy cripple”‘ (Kleege 192).
The pronoun “them” refers to those Kleege refers to as the able bodied people. In the first sentence, Kleege talks to Helen Keller about how she (Helen Keller), had to hide the struggles she had to go through because she was blind and death behind a mask of optimism, because otherwise, she would not be acknowledged by society. The “weakness” Kleege mentions refers to the negative, unapproved, unacknowledged, denied emotions of Helen Keller, that she suppresses in order to gain approval from society. Society is disinterested in such emotions, and will shun the disabled people who reveal this “weakness” to them. The pronoun “your” is clearly referring to Helen Keller, but it can also be seen as referring to Kleege herself, and the disabled people who have had similar experiences to what Kleege is talking about. The phrases “put you away”, refers to being denied, and “in the blink of an eye”, refers to how quick society is to reject a disabled person simply for making the mistake of revealing their “weakness”. The second sentence, compared to the previous one, is short and to the point: that Helen Keller is permitted to enter society, to be part of it, because she is able to tolerate, to suppress those negative emotions, her “weakness”. It is as if Helen Keller is being rewarded with the privilege of being a part of society because she is able to mask her “weakness” with optimism. In the third sentence, Kleege uses the word “tolerate” to imply that even if Helen Keller, herself, or other disabled people do what society wants them to do, act as they want them to act, be who society wants them to be, they will never be truly acknowledged or accepted or be one with society, the most society can do for disabled people, the greatest reward they can give them, is tolerance, putting up with them, because the fact that they are disabled makes them eternally a nuisance. The last sentence is another short one, brief and to the point. Society will never accept disabled people for who they are, they will never understand the struggles disabled people have suffered and continue to suffer because they refuse to understand, and with this refusal, acceptance of disabled people coexists with rejection of disabled people, unless society is willing to see what is under the mask of optimism they force upon disabled people, their will never truly be an acceptance.
“When I looked through my mountains of medical records, I saw that the providers who listed my race as black applied diagnoses like major depressive disorder and PTSD. The providers who saw me as white preferred diagnoses of panic disorder and borderline personality disorder” (Twilah Hiari).
Hiari makes the point that the diagnosis she receives from her providers are to some extent, influenced by the race the practitioners assume her to be. Later on in the text, Hiari conjectures that the reason why the diagnoses differ depending on whether she was thought of as being either black or white, was because the providers are subconsciously letting racial biases that exist within society, influence the diagnoses they give. Hiari brings up the stereotype of black women having a reason to be upset, and white women as being “simply crazy”, to explain the different diagnoses she receives according to the assumed race. Because black women are thought of to have a reason for being upset, the diagnoses she receives from providers who assumed that she was black, says that she has a major depressive disorder or PTSD. In contrast, the diagnoses she receives when she is thought of to be white is supportive of and reflects the racial biases that exist within society because in this case, she either has a panic disorder or borderline personality disorder. Hiari expresses in her essay that there exists a conflict in the influence of racial biases on psychiatric diagnoses.
“But if racial bias due to subjective experiences of practitioners can play such a large role in mental health diagnostics, how is this even considered a scientific discipline? If I had such an enormous variance of diagnoses among cardiologists that correlated with my perceived race and ethnicity, cardiology would be called into question. But in psychiatry this kind of bias is the norm, and it is accepted as such” (Hiari).
Hiari attacks the validity and authenticy of psychiatry diagnoses by posing a question, saying that because racial biases formed by the practitioners are an influencing factor in diagnoses, the likelihood of a false diagnosis is extremely high. Hiari questions whether psychiatry is even a scientific discipline when it isn’t and cannot be entirely based off of real and inarguable facts, because from her experiences, the diagnoses she have received have had race be a large factor in why she received different diagnoses consistent with the race she was assumed to be. In the second sentence, Hiari uses the example of cardiology, perhaps as an example of an area that receives a lot of attention and is regarded with importance (and also having a direct relationship with life and death), to point out that if the same thing that happened with the diagnoses she received, if the diagnoses from cardiologists were influenced by a person’s race or ethnicity, then it would have been made into a big issue. But on the topic of psychiatry, such attention is not received because bias is accepted as part of the practice. What Hiari is saying is that by accepting this, by allowing bias to influence a psychiatric diagnosis, allows for misdiagnoses and risks to a person’s mental health. The conflict reflected here is that people are not giving enough attention to, and are denouncing the importance of mental health, and by allowing psychiatry to continue being influenced by biases, are allowing for threats to an individual’s mental health. The ignorance people show towards mental health reflects just how little value they assign to it, and because of this ignorance, people who are dependent on psychiatric diagnoses are at the risk of receiving a false or inaccurate diagnosis.