Soyer: Misunderstanding breeds prejudice

BY HANNAH SOYER | MAY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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Recently, a family of a 15-year-old girl with autism was escorted off a United Airlines plane after the girl, Juliette, had caused a small disruption. This “disruption” consisted of Juliette becoming upset over being hungry but then calming down after her mother, Donna Beegle, was able to persuade the flight attendant to give her some food.

However, this apparently did not appease the crew, who announced that they would make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City, because they had a passenger on board with a “behavior issue.”

But here’s the truth: People don’t come in boxes. We all are not wired the same, and we all do not function the same. But, as is usually true, those people who generally fit in with the mainstream have a difficult time understanding those who don’t, whether consciously or unconsciously.

And this misunderstanding is usually bred from fear, because, as a rule, humans fear that which they don’t understand. I wasn’t on this flight, but I am having a very difficult time comprehending how Juliette’s outburst, which was quickly taken care of, could be deemed so much of a disruption that it warranted an emergency landing and police to escort the family off of the plane. If that is a “disruption,” then why aren’t families with crying babies or noisy toddlers made to leave flights as well?

As Beegle is quoted as saying in an NBC article, “As a mom, it ripped my heart out. I was shaking.” And understandably, considering that such an event singled out a family that was probably already accustomed to feeling marginalized. I don’t have autism, but as someone with a physical disability, I know that having my disability singled out and capitalized feels incredibly horrible, and to be treated in a negative way because of this disability only adds to the shame.

Do I think this feeling of shame is warranted? Absolutely not, but unfortunately, when we live in a society that treats such stark differences by calling in police to escort the person and their family off a plane, shame is the feeling that we are taught to feel.

Beegle is a distinguished anti-poverty advocate who works with many government agencies to reduce poverty in the nation. In her opinion, the reaction United Airlines had to her daughter is a similar reaction the public has to those living in poverty. “Prejudice, ignorance, and mistreatment are all too common toward people facing poverty,” she also said in the article. “The parallels between special needs and poverty are striking in that both are causes for judgment, misunderstanding, and mistreatment.”

It’s a quiet sort of prejudice, one that is lacking of the outright name-calling and hateful rhetoric, but a cruel and harmful prejudice nonetheless.

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