Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bad for You

While I am innocently loitering outside the library, I start talking to a teacher.

She says to me, "These steps are bad for you."

"Just fine for me, actually. Impossible for me to actually go up or down of course - but as you can see, hanging around out here isn't so tough. I open the door, catch the attention of one of the cute librarians and get them to fetch me my learnings. Which is wonderful, because if you actually let me into a library then we'd all (limpingly) find out first that I don't understand the numbering system for the books, and then second that if they were too high or too low I'd come back crying for help anyway. For me on the outside, things are just dandy."

And that's just the first half: "But what about these steps for you, professor? Isn't it bad for you that one of your students can't use the library? Does that bother you? How come all this accessibility is only my problem? I carry on with my life and if I can't get somewhere then I can't - maybe I ask for help or maybe I just don't try. Surely the people for whom it's bad are the people that know me and who carry on prancing up and down steps all over the place. They are the ones that should be thinking, hang on, I know someone who can't do this. And that should be something bad for them - at least every now and again. If I let all the steps in the world be bad for me, there wouldn't be time left for any good, so I don't."

Obviously I didn't say any of that. I bought into the whole thing, very appreciative she was asking - and I cheekily asked whether the library would be accessible when the renovations are finished. Look how easily I was divided and conquered! The problem is made about one person: who is this 'you' for whom the steps are bad? What about everyone else in the world for whom they're a problem, and for those for whom they will be a problem later in life? Singling me out is a euphemism for what in this case is systematic inaccessibility.

But a problem with being divided and conquered by a tyrannical system is that the system sends nice people to do it. Everything I know about this teacher suggests she's beloved by students and staff alike, and that she was asking me out of a genuine concern. And even if I didn't want her to like me too, I still think the above would be an over-reaction to say to anyone - politics and everyday conversation don't really go well together. If I were to say these things, I'd hope to say them in the way she might help me if I said something dumb about anthropology - sweetly and gently. Sweetly and gently making something a little less my problem and a little bit more our problem.

[In part this is a response to incurable hippie's post on inaccessibility, who as she mentions is in a 'beyond diplomatic' stage that I'm not yet brave enough to adopt.]


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