Today, I’m grateful for the opportunity of continued learning, and the personal challenges that brings:

My life experience is a salient example of Chapter 2’s claim that “the connection between prejudice and extreme discrimination is closer than you might think”.  Discrimination, described as ranging from “very subtle non-verbal” to “verbal insults and exclusion” and worse, can easily result from stereotype and prejudice.

Prior to having my son, I had only known stereotype and prejudice as an outsider, and had no true understanding of its potential deadly harm.  Viewing acts of segregation, genocide, and deadly discrimination as a thing of history, I had no true worries when my son was born with an appearance that was different than my own or received a diagnosis which told me he would be “different” for the remainder of his life.  I loved my son with all of my heart, and was surrounded by others who loved him.  I thought, as a result, I could teach him to look above acts of stereotype and prejudice, and that I could shield him from discrimination.

As a mother, I met stereotypical and prejudicial acts with a smile.  When a person in the grocery line avoided eye contact, I allowed my son to “reach out” with his smile and show his true self.  When a doctor handed me a diagnosis with his gaze toward the ground, I held my son tight and knew that my perception of him would not change.  When a therapist underestimated his abilities based on that diagnosis, I brought food and toys to show her that my son was not what she anticipated and was defined by so much more than the label on her chart.

I thought that this was enough, and that this would be enough to protect him in the future.  However, I was unaware of how prevalent stereotype and prejudice was, and how easily they could become discrimination.  I never anticipated that a “harmless” word that I could choose to ignore in one setting could become the same “deadly” word when used in a different setting.

The unsuitable word that was used for my son was “uncooperative”.  This, and similar words are widely used as stereotypes for individuals with special needs.  A group that sometimes communicates differently, and that contains some individuals who are uncooperative, is lumped into a perception of the entire group being characterized the same way.  For my son, this stereotype turned into a prejudice, where a doctor made a prejudgment based on a label.  This prejudgment was contrary to the reality of who the individual, my son, was.  Despite my son’s behaviors that were contradictory to this prejudice, his doctor viewed him as uncooperative.  This prejudice, in turn, became an act of discrimination, where the individual in power (the doctor) performed the action of labeling the individual with no power (my son) as “uncooperative”.

This prejudicial label was written on a chart that followed my son through a myriad of individuals in the hospital, landing in the hands of an anesthesiologist.  Unknowingly, this anesthesiologist performed the final act of discrimination based on prejudicial information provided to her about an individual she had no way of knowing.  A simple act of discrimination, through a series of hands, became an unwitting and deadly act of violence.

Rowan is a tragic example of how the difference between stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination can be very a fine line, and how important combatting each stereotypical, prejudicial, and discriminatory act can be to the lives of many.