Kanye West is not exactly known for his humility, but his actions at a recent concert in Sydney have further tarnished his reputation. According to CNN, West noticed that two of the concert-goers were not standing up to dance to the music. He allegedly stopped the show to find out why. The raucous crowd goaded the two fans to stand. One fan showed her prosthetic leg, prompting West to say “You’re fine.” West then verified via his bouncer that the other fan was in a wheelchair and thus also “fine.”
I’ll admit that I find the whole situation somewhat ridiculous, and I think it has been taken out of context by many who want to claim that Kanye West hates people with disabilities. I don’t think he bears any special malice toward us; I simply think he acted arrogantly. By making the fans disclose why they couldn’t stand before he let them off the hook, West highlighted an even bigger social problem: that which CNN’s David M. Perry calls “proving your disabilities.” Perry’s analysis is spot-on. Most people have a very fixed notion of how a person with a disability should look and act, and the consequences for anyone outside that perceived norm can be extremely harsh.
This is a well-known problem for people with invisible disabilities, who often get accused of lying or faking, particularly if they only use a mobility aid like a wheelchair part of the time. The assumption of many non-disabled people is that all wheelchair users cannot walk at all, and this is simply false.
However, not even people with visible disabilities are immune to being questioned. Take the example of the Florida police officer who dumped a man out of his wheelchair and beat him, believing that he was faking his paralysis and would stand up if under enough distress. While this example is extreme, it highlights the lengths to which people will go to make people with disabilities prove our limitations.
As a person with a disability, I can recall many instances where people said they thought I was faking not being able to walk just so I could leave class early. One classmate accused me of faking my uncontrollable tics out of a need for attention, never mind that any “attention” I received was confused at best and hostile at worst. People have assumed that my sensory processing disorder “can’t be that bad,” not knowing that I ate in my high school’s hallway every day because even 10 minutes in the cafeteria was too overwhelming.
My experiences are far from an isolated case. I would venture to say that nearly every person with a disability can think of at least one instance where a non-disabled person dismissed their experiences or did not take them at their word when it came to limitations. That’s why it’s not surprising to me that Kanye West asked his sitting fans to prove that they couldn’t stand. He merely paralleled society’s demand that people with disabilities prove our limits before getting a pass.
Perry, David M. “Kanye West and Proving Your Disabilities.” CNN. Cable News Network, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014