Memes, Culture, and Death of People With Disabilities

by Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

Meme- A thought, idea, or image; a cultural unit. They grow, evolve, mutate, and cause other memes to occur. They are the building blocks of culture. They encompass everything mankind has come in contact with.  They aren’t inherently good or bad, but their influence can have positive or negative effects on how those living in a culture are treated.

In the western culture, people with disabilities live with a number of damaging memes. Memes that convey to those around us that we are a burden, that our needs are impossible to fully meet. Memes that deny us individuality to the point where even when we are murdered, the stories are about our murderers instead of about us.

I’m an Autistic adult. I live surrounded by memes that deny my truth. They say that children are the “real” ones, Or that we will forever be children. They say that my writing to you “proves” I’m not like most Autistics. They say that there are never enough supports, that I’ll need care all my life, that living on my own is a dream- unless I’m a “savant” in which case I’ll still need help, but that there will be that one thing I’ll be perfect at. That my alternatives are to sink, or to soar.

George Hodgins was an Autistic adult. He and his family dreamed of a day when George could be served in a way that integrated him into the community. And when George was murdered, the papers referred to this 22 year old young man as a child. They denied his dreams by talking about him as his mother’s “burden”, they used the images of people like him that we all already knew to justify his death.

They used falsehoods that by virtue of being common memes have cultural power to protect another meme- the meme of maternal instinct. After all, if all the things about the idea of motherhood are false, if a mother can act against her offspring, then a core part of our culture is not as certain as we believed.

My friend Kassiane is another Autistic adult. Her mother was also protected by the meme of maternal instinct. You can read more about Kassiane’s experiences with it in her blog posts, The Happy Family Meme, and Conflicted Emotions.

George’s mom killed him. No, she murdered him. It wasn’t her only option.  She took the ideas about people like him and internalized them. She also took the ideas of a mother needing to do anything for her kids, and internalized them. She then decided to take his life, a combination of twisted logic and negative imagery, to murder him to suit her own ideas of how things should go. She murdered him. The end.

George DID have access to services. The way this has been reported in the media is inaccurate. His mother, however, decided they weren’t “good enough” and pulled him while searching for more community based ones based on an aside from an aide at his school.

The aide mentioned he’d do better in a more community based program. One that integrated him better into the community. Honestly, I agree with the assessment- the lack of community integrated programs is troubling. It’s what we should be pushing for instead of what *is* available most of the time- segregated or limited integration settings.

Instead of keeping George in the adult day program at his school while she looked for such a program, she pulled him. No one knows why she didn’t keep him in while she looked for a better program. It wasn’t a bad place for what it was- the primary flaw was just that we should be integrating people into their communities instead.

When we reiterate the myth in the media about what services are available, we do a disservice to the memory of George. When we focus on his mother’s search- one that was done improperly- we continue to erase or make small George’s part in his own life.

His mother did a horrible, irrational thing. But the reporting out there minimizes her irrationality by acting like it was about a true lack of services. When they report it like it was an act of desperation they are just playing into the images of us as burdens, our mothers as maternal and emotionally anchoring, instead of taking a truth that challenges that image.

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