Observations From Below: A History Lesson

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Maya Angelo

I have been putting off this blog for a long time. I thought that enough people had spoken out against the Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville; I didn’t want to enflame tensions anymore than they already are. That is until a couple of days ago when I watched Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, (who was killed by the car attack). She gave a powerful eulogy, where she encouraged people to use her daughter’s death to start a movement for change. "They wanted to shut her up,” said Bro. “They just magnified her."

Along with the vast majority of the United States, I was horrified by the events in Charlottesville. I never thought I’d see a large-scale Nazi Uprising in 2017. People know that Nazis hated Jews,African Americans, and everyone else who didn’t fit into their vision of the master race. What’s less known is before they started exterminating Jews, they perfected their techniques on people like me.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, it started in 1939. The Nazis had a program called T4. The parents were led to believe it was a rehabilitation program for their children, but in reality, it was six facilities used to gas the disabled children. A few years later, the program expanded to include disabled adults living in institutions. After an outcry from German church leaders, the T4 program for adults was ended, at least on paper. Unsurprisingly, the program continued unofficially until the end of the war. According to estimates, a total of 200,000 individuals were euthanized. What bugs me as an American is that they learned the techniques from American, British, and French doctors.

A lot of people considered to be progressive, like HG Wells, Margaret Sanger (Founder of Planned Parenthood), Alexander Graham Bell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, just to name a few, were passionate supporters. They got the idea from ancient philosophers. Hitler got the idea from us. Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

In other words, even the United States is not immune from this sick ideology which lead to program T4. In fact, the Supreme Court for a time made eugenics legal in a famous case called Buck vs Bell. Until last weekend, I didn’t see a way that this ideology would ever come back with the laws that we have, like the ADA and IDEA, and lots of protections. But if there are people willing to walk down the street with Tiki torches, wearing no face coverings, there are people I’m sure who believe in everything that the Nazis did, including euthanasia.

That’s a very sobering thought for a disabilities rights advocate. I thought we were much further along with the understanding of disability. The sad thing for me is that I don’t see a real solution that will totally eradicate all forms of hate, including of disabilities.

One long term treatment is education. Facebook recently reminded me of an article I actually wrote two years ago in which I advocated for the enforcement of a law that’s already on the books in my home state of North Carolina. North Carolina General Statute 115c-81(j), proclaims October as Disability Awareness Month. In theory, every public school is supposed to provide disability history education at all levels during the month of October.

I have tried everything, including working with help from a college professor on a curriculum for the schools to use. All they have to do is have a teacher teach it. The problem with the law that passed is there is no enforcement clause. So, I can’t force them to do anything. You would think that since I provided the curriculum, that some well-meaning teacher or administrator would do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do. But I’ve talked to every administrator in my county, and I didn’t get one response.

I had given up for a while, because I had tried everything, but the events in Charlottesville provided me with a very clear wake up call. We need to discuss both the bright spots and dark spots of disability history in schools, so that the majority of students might learn something and develop an inclusion mindset. We can’t get rid of history, but we can learn from it and move forward.

That’s how I roll.

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