Am I a bigot?
I think maybe.
Thing is I can’t trust the opinions of the people I ask, who all assure me that I’m not, because I think maybe that the bigotry against those who have mental illness is deep and pervasive. So, I’ve come to ask you. I’d really like to know what you think.
Some background. The first thing I realized about having a disability and being a wheelchair user was that I was more of a target for social, and even physical, violence than I was before. That fact combined with the next realization: that I was less able to protect myself from either of those two things. These realizations have stayed with me throughout the many years that I’ve been a wheelchair user. I guard my safety and make decisions about my safety in ways that I never had to before the chair.
On Saturday we were out trying to get a few things done before the storm slammed into us. Ice pellets were falling hard and fast but the freezing rain had not yet started. We were almost ready to go, I told Joe that I needed to use the washroom. As I rolled over to the bench where Joe was going to sit and wait, where I could take my coat and hat off, I noticed a man noticing me.
He clearly had mental health issues and it looked as if he had slipped into the place to get some warmth. When he saw me he started mumbling loudly to himself, I couldn’t make out the words, but as he spoke he was looking directly at me. I became increasingly uncomfortable. Then I saw that he was standing right beside the washroom door. I was going to have to roll past him and then turn in through the bathroom door.
Here’s what I did:
I asked Joe to keep an eye on me as I went in and if he followed me in to come in quickly to ensure I was safe. I didn’t want to be alone with him in a room out of sight of the crowd when he’d been looking at me and mumbling.
I rolled by him.
I went into the washroom.
He didn’t follow.
Everything was just fine.
Now I know that people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violence. I know that the stereotypes of people with mental heath concerns breed fear, not understanding. I know all that.
Yet I feared him.
I feared for my safety around him.
I think I may be a bigot.
I think that I have some work to do, in my mind and in my heart, to rid myself of prejudice. I think I do.
What do you think?