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National Empowerment Center - Articles

First, they call us names

By Mary Lee Stocks

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Mouth magazine.

Consumer - I first heard the term when it was applied to me. The people who called me that should have known better.

But I had to admit that being called a consumer brought a gut reaction, not justifiable outrage. It made my skin crawl. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.

Words have power.

According to Ralph Nader, a consumer is a person with the right to make informed choices, to demand quality, and to expect amends for unsatisfactory goods and services. I like that concept but we all know it doesn't apply to treatment for mental illness or any other disability.

If I return a box of weevil-infested cereal to the grocery store, the grocer will refund my money immediately-with an apology. If I want a change of case manager, therapist, or physician, I'll get a different response.

The professional staff assigned to me won't be changed. No refund or apology will be offered. They will describe my complaint as "part of my illness."

In short, the term consumer is a bit of self-serving rhetoric designed to sugarcoat an unequal power dynamic.

First, They Call Us Names Image

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But even this rationale could not explain my nerve-jangling dissonance with the C-word.

And then I made a visit to the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Exhibits in the museum's Holocaust section show how propaganda-words-created a climate where the systematic annihilation of an entire people raised no public outcry.

In Germany during the Great Depression, there were no jobs. One loaf of bread cost a month's salary. Portraying Jews as controllers of the global economy, thieves of Aryan jobs and manipulators of business, the pre-war propagandists heaped blame for Germany's destitution on the Jewish people. The extermination of Europe's Jews came to be seen as the Final Solution.

The initial solution, don't forget, was to rid the world of the imperfect, of people like you and me.

Propagandists for the Third Reich were so persuasive on this subject that many families volunteered their children for death.

The propagandists demonized people with disabilities as useless eaters, people who ate up scarce and nourishing resources.

These useless eaters were, in the Third Reich, nothing but consumers.

For a sample copy of Mouth magazine, the voice of disability rights, write to: Mouth, 61 Brighton Street, Rochester, NY 14607-2656

For a substitute term, try customer as in 'the customer is always right.'