September 22, 2019

Black Like Me and Reality TV

When I watched the first segment of the new TV reality show “Push Girls” last Monday night on the Sundance Channel, I was taken in by the sheer chutzpah of the four young, sexy women profiled in the show, all of whom are paralyzed and use wheelchairs to get around, breaking myths and misconceptions with every roll of their chairs. And there’s a Jewish angle too, with one of the four women a Jewish Day School graduate (read more from The Ticket).

On a deeper personal level, I came away from the first episode feeling that the show would probably do more for disability awareness show than any previous TV show or movie, in the way it unblinkingly chronicles life in a wheelchair. When our son Danny with cerebral palsy first outgrew his kid’s stroller and we started using a larger stroller to get him around in public, I quickly discovered two things: one, getting around in a wheelchair, or pushing someone in a wheelchair is hard work. There’s been disabled signage that leads to nowhere, elevators that don’t work, and ramps that are too steep for starters.Too many street corners don’t have curb cuts, and even a small bump can bounce someone out of the chair. Even more troubling than the physical barriers, however, are the attitudinal barriers from those around us. People staring, trying to figure out “what is wrong with that boy”, or that soul-sapping look of pure pity. Worst of all is that feeling of being judged after the briefest of glances.

As described in the 1959 classic memoir, “Black Like Me” written by John Howard Griffin, a white journalist who had his skin medically darkened, this rush to judgement is unforgiving. Griffin wrote that ” When all the talk, all the propaganda was been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. They judged me by no quality. My skin was dark.”

I encourage everyone to watch “Push Girls” and judge for themselves.