Saturday, March 25, 2017

Inspired by Her Pimp Stick

I groggily came across this video this morning and was struck by this woman’s unabashed approach to parenting as a blind single mother. I’ll reserve a longer conversation about parenting with disabilities for another post; for now, I’d like to highlight the difficulty, and beauty, of confidence in adaptation.

Yesterday, while waiting with my research team to give a high-pressure presentation, a fellow presenter sat next to me. Within seconds, he pointed to my cane, glared into my eyes, and asked, “I’m confused. What’s that? Why do you have that?”

Accustomed to this reaction, I immediately responded, “I’m visually impaired and this is my cane.” He glanced from my eyes to the cane, then resumed eye contact with a questioning scowl.

“I never would have known,” he replied.

I refrain from speaking aloud my automatic thoughts, “I always know. You want to know how I always know? This world was built for the sighted, and I was reminded of my low vision at every visual obstacle on my way here. From finding the building, to pushing the right button in the elevator, and yes, to finding this empty chair. You may not have known, but I always do.”

Navigating with a cane elicits unwanted commentary and uncomfortable conversations.  As an admittedly overly self conscious person, I often question whether to use my cane not only on the basis of what will serve me best in the moment. I consider how those around me will view me, and whether I want to send the signal of my blindness to that particular community.

I share this truth with embarrassment; as an advocate for inclusion, I believe firmly that we all deserve to be authentically and genuinely ourselves in every moment, even when that means displaying an identity less accepted.  It is with this residual shame that I find such inspiration in this video (click here for link; screenshots below). The woman featured here states, “I call it my pimp stick, it’s boring to just say a cane.”

First, although I generally do not promote the use of “pimp” in most social circles, I simply adore the reframing. I immediately head 50 cent cheering “I don't know what you heard about me / But a bitch can't get a dollar out of me / No Cadillac, no perms, you can't see / That I'm a motherfucking P-I-M-P.” Again, not promoting the use of “bitch,” and “pimp,” but at the same time, I respect the association of a long white cane with the definition of pimp meaning to make more showy or impressive.  This word choice suggests that for her, the use of a cane signals how she is a badass. And let’s be honest, this woman exudes badass.

Second, this woman repeatedly displays her shameless acceptance of adaptation. Although I have not experienced the wrath of judgments tied to parenting, I have heard from my parenting friends how intense it can be. The dirty looks and nasty comments that ensue from pregnant women drinking coffee or traveling parents being unable to soothe a crying infant; the judgments can seem endless.  It takes strength and courage for this mom to embrace “feeding time is a mess, and I just accept that it’s going to be a mess.” At least in this clip, this woman non-judgmentally speaks her truth and interacts with the world as it suits her needs. She pulls her stroller behind her, defying norms and not seeming phased by others’ reactions.

As I shared in my experience just yesterday, I find it challenging to maintain confidence and self-assuredness when using adaptations that elicit strong social reactions. Rather than seeing my cane as a signal of how I’m different or less able, I hope to instead frame my cane as a motherfucking P-I-M-P stick.