FuckAbility™ Research Council’s The DisHon. Hilaria Mirth-Sitwell on Crippling Whilst Posh in Breathe
Noblesse cripplege, not suicide, is the duty of the upper classes
(Never-on-Thames, England) Mr Serkus’s Breathe is, throughout much of its duration, stoutly British. The central lovers are married to one another and the story refrains from any Lawrencian tendency to evoke the natural world in a throbbing manner, with its gamekeepers and their delicate ways with the lady pigeons. Nor does the film make sickness or injury itself a manifestation of character. Which is not to say that Mr Cavendish’s external journey of affliction is disconnected from his internal moral development. No, it is clear that there can be no overcoming without the hurdle, and our hero finds his way forward by not only embracing Mrs Cavendish but also his sense of duty. I do admire resolve in the face of adversity and in this respect I say to the film, Well done.
Now, about this business of inspiration: The film is inspirational because it is about the development of inspiring equipment, which is to say, a breathing apparatus. But then there is the ending. One has just seen Mr Cavendish not only triumph over his respiratory insufficiency but help his fellows in suffering. At this moment, he chooses to commit suicide because he wishes to die on his own terms. Ordinarily one must read the lesser ancients, or the wholly American, to find a more blatant have-it-your-way message than the phrase, on one’s own terms. Is there a more more plaintive call for Nanny than this proud proclamation that one shall have one’s cake and eat it, too?
One might understand a young man, in the throes of a new invalidism, chucking it all. But a mature husband and father, one who is living a useful life? Such a person should not be such a wet about the dying aspect of it. It’s only death, for God’s sake. It will happen when it happens, like a beating from a prefect, so best get over it and move on.
I have now been witness to The Mistake by RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi; the unpleased reactions by disabled women of color; some thoughtful initial responses; a cringe-worthy apology-type product; the official statement; and now (I’m guessing), The Great Moving On from uncomfortable conversations about ableism, racism and disabled people of color within the disability rights community.
Part of me — the part that’s still polite to boundary-busting missionaries — initially wanted to say, “I’ve done this kind of racist shit myself. Sadly.” Then I remembered that much of that shit was when I was near the start of my career 25 years ago. When I would have lost my job — and Bi-Pap-providing health insurance — if I kept that shit up in our very progressive free clinic for gyn care. And how I had no safety net if I lost that job.
Everyone makes mistakes but the erring field is far from equal.
Depending on your class, Repercussions, Consequences, & Accountability are either the Three Furies that dog you even when you haven’t screwed up, or they’re the crisis PR firm you consider for damage control.
When you’re poor, unemployed, a woman, a person of color, a disabled person, or all or most of the above, making mistakes is far more likely to lead to words like “unqualified.” You are threatened with unemployment, fired, and/or are cut off from public benefits. In the worst case scenario, you haven’t made a mistake at all but are questioned, blamed, violated, beaten, shot, killed for being the person you are in public, in school, on the road, and at home.
When you’re affluent or “comfortable,” employed, a man, white, not disabled, or all or most of the above, making mistakes is more likely to lead to words like “executive coaching,” and “Let’s bring our communications person in to help.” In the worst case scenario, you “transition out” to what is often a better-paid job, aka “failing up.” If you are in a position to be a volunteer who has significant authority, the usual checks and balances on your behavior can be even weaker.
That’s when I first realized how integral money, class privilege, and power are to this recent incident. I haven’t seen any real repercussions, consequences, or accountability for Mizrahi — except for a bump to her prestige — and that’s just one infuriating aspect of how race and class insulate those with power.