I have two little boys; they are very bright, good boys. They have never had a babysitter and maybe I have been a little over protective. But their innocence is refreshing. They do not understand that when a bigot sees that our car is dated, and that our address is in the flats, and they are snubbed for a play date, that it is not about them. It’s about the crappy soul of that person.
Their elementary school has had dialogues about racism and bigotry. As a white father, disabled, I feel it is more than just racism, although there is plenty of racism too.
My sons feel bad that kids’ parents never return their calls, and that their invitation are met with blank looks and silence. Personally I am happy my kids are not playing with kids raised by such creeps. But I know it hurts the boys, and hence it hurts me.
I hate going to school events to sit next to such awful people. I relate more to the people of color that get the same snub as the man in the chair.
I have to wonder about
these snobs. “What is it about your fantasy land of a life, where you consume so much more than you are worth, that makes you so full of yourself? Spare me your airs. They are a lot smellier than you might ever imagine.”
The school asked us parents not to look at the class list and point out children for them to invite to play. Let them pick their own friends, the school suggests. We have always been this way, but it is not without pain. One kid who my youngest liked in his class lived right around the corner. We called a couple times, but they never even returned our calls. Not being pushy people, we just gave up.
A few days back, one of these kids asked my son if wanted to play and then stopped embarrassed. “Oh, yeah, my mom does not like your mom,” he blurted out. “How could she not like my Mom? They have never even talked,” my little boy asked. My son also asked him what they did after school. The poor little guy answered, “Nothing, it’s so boring.” I felt bad for both boys.
It’s painful to see someone you love being rejected because of you. Because you are disabled, and because you don’t have much money. Because you live off a main street with a lot of traffic, and because you let the plants (and yes some weeds) grow to ward off the pollution that assails my sons every day from the highway. You live in a place where you are constantly in a fight for their well-being.
The next day at the bus stop, I asked the boy’s mother about what her son said. At first she denied it. Then she went on to say, “I’m sorry you had to hear that.” I’m not sorry I heard it. It’s not like we haven’t been feeling it for a long time now. Here we are, fourth generation Berkeleyans being snubbed by the Newbie-better-thans who bought up their house in a foreclosure sale.
See, now I’m doing it. It’s very easy to get into the “better-than” mindset. But it is not reality.
Reality is that our kids deserve to be able to play together in a place where the model of the car your dad drives doesn’t determine whether you get a party invitation.
Reality is that we are all just people.
Dan McMullan is the director of the Disabled People Outside Project in Berkeley. He organized “Arnieville,” a tent city to protest cuts to the disabled and elderly in California, which has been called the longest continuous protest by a disabled group in U.S. history.