“I’m uncomfortable.”

“I’m not comfortable with those people,” she said.

All I could get out of my mouth was, “Excuse me?”

Her discomfort was terribly obvious. She refused to make eye contact with me, barely glancing in my direction once or twice, but that was all. She stood there looking rather pathetic, pleading with my co-worker to help her instead.

When my eyes started to burn, I knew it was time for me to make my exit.

People have said some stupid crap to me. Retail and restaurant employees often choose to speak to whoever is accompanying me rather than me when I’m out and about. I’ve even had complete strangers get on their knees in the middle of a mall to pray for my healing, but I’ve never had someone outright refuse to speak to me because I’m sitting in a wheelchair. I was shocked.

In the moment, I couldn’t decide what I was feeling. I knew it was some strange combination of indignant, livid, and hurt, but all I could say to my boss through my tears was, “I know I shouldn’t take it personally. It’s her problem, not mine. It just hurts my heart.” She told me to take whatever time I needed to get composed, so I found a private spot and called Bryan.

“I’m so sorry, Al.” Bryan’s always good for an apology, even when it’s not his fault. After I blubbered my way through the whole story and received plenty of coddling, he switched into cheerleader mode.

“You need to go back inside and talk to your boss. Someone needs to set that lady straight. If she’d refused help from someone based on skin color, gender, or anything else, she’d have gotten an earful. This is no different.”

There he goes, being practical like usual.

I have no problem putting my finger on discrimination and prejudice when they’re directed at someone else; it’s harder to see it for what it is, though, when it’s me. But he was right. This was the big, ugly face of discrimination. I know that I face passive forms of discrimination almost every day – the checkout counter is too high, there’s no accessible entrance, there’s no accessible restroom, the view from the accessible seating is terrible and limited…the list goes on, but it’s rarely blatant.

Blatant is exactly the right word for what happened here. Someone had looked right at me and said, “You’re different, and therefore, I don’t like you. Stay away from me.”

I was eventually able to compose myself, and by the end of the day, I was joking with co-workers about who would wring her neck first, but it’s really no laughing matter. When we allow passive discrimination of any kind, whether it’s based on skin color, sexual orientation, gender, or disability, we send the message that hate is ok, as long as it’s quiet.

It’s not.

If I’d had my wits about me when this woman, who must not have had a single flaw to be so picky, showed such obvious hate to me, I would have told her that people like her keep the world divided. People like her are responsible for exclusion, closed mindedness, and for the fact that the recent progress in marriage equality even has to be news!

The next time you think to yourself, “We’re past all that discrimination stuff. What are people whining about?” please, remember this story.

24 thoughts on ““I’m uncomfortable.”

  1. Alex, this made me cry, I’m so sorry you have to deal with stupid STUPID people like that. How disgusting! I absolutely love and appreciate the fact that you’re such a strong person and open to sharing your LIFE with us through your blogs. Thank u for this.

  2. You’re the best Alex!! Don’t let a horrible excuse for a human being upset you because in the end you know you will have us with pitchforks behind you to defend the amazingness that we know is you :)

  3. Can I wring her neck? cause I sure as hell wouldn’t have stood for it. At the very least, as a co-worker of yours, had I been there, I would have escorted her from the building for saying something so vile. Thank you for writing about stuff like this…

  4. I agree 100% with your man that discrimination is discrimination and you are protected under the law by that. It’s too bad that some people can’t take the type to step out of their comfort zone to learn how awesome of a person you are.

    • I think that no matter who you are, there will always be those “some people” who refuse to leave their comfort zones to get to know you. I’m definitely not alone.

  5. i think that what this person was exhibiting more than anything was how uncomfortable she was that you were in a wheelchair…where should I look? how should I act? does she understand what i’m trying to say/do? she needs exposure…if she’s in your work place, if you’re up to the challenge (snicker), position yourself in her area and allow her to get to know you…we all know about first impressions (some are NOT wrong!!) but this will show her that you are all the same…you’ve a great support team in bryan and bright…another speed bump in life…you know we’re all behind you and that anyone of us would fight for you but instead we’ll fight WITH you…yeah….I guess we love you, too!!!!!

  6. Oh, Alex, I’m so sorry. I don’t even have the words to express myself about all the emotions this triggers in me.

  7. Alex, You and Bryan are two very strong people. I have a great deal of admiration for the both of you. I know you have put up with discrimination all of your life and will continue to.
    Even I was a little discriminating when I first met you but you quickly won me over.
    Fight through the discrimination with your personality and if that doesn’t work just have Bright bark at them, I can’t see you barking at anyone for anything. :-)

  8. This is horrendous. You are totally right that people like her keep the world divided; her sort of attitude causes great unhappiness and suffering.

  9. Alex, you are one amazing lady and you should be so proud to have a husband like Bryan. There are so many rude people out there – you hang in there – I know it’s not easy – but I know you deal with it. Love ya lots.

    • Thanks Joan. Bryan is wonderful. Things are never so bad that I’m in “hang in there” mode – I just get reminded from time to time that our society isn’t as progressive as it thinks it is.

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  11. In situations like that I am torn between responding in kind (not who I want to be) or attempting dignity. I usually fail at both because of the instant hurt and anger. Thanks for sharing.

  12. And with this begins change…thanks for sharing the hurt in real life, so that we do not fall into the category of ignorant ones, and we can help others from falling short too. Hugs to a great day and for moving forward with your amazing character!

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