We exist for your consumption because that’s the only way you believe we have value, and our needs are discarded as soon as they become inconvenient.
A Walmart cashier went viral this week for giving a disabled woman a manicure after she was refused service by an independent nail salon located inside the store.
It’s a heartwarming tale, if you ignore the dehumanizing treatment the disabled woman, Angela Peters, received from the nail salon. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what the coverage of this story expects us to do.
According to Peters, she was denied service by the nail salon because she has cerebral palsy; she says the salon said she “moved too much” to have her nails painted. That’s when the Walmart employees stepped in, purchased nail polish and painted Peters’s nails themselves.
Their actions were unquestionably kind. But their kindness didn’t extend to criticizing the nail salon for their discriminatory actions.
“We’re not trying to bash the nail salon. We’re not trying to make them lose customers, make them look bad,” Ebony Harris, the cashier who painted her nails, told WJRT. “But maybe spread awareness that no matter the person, who they are, what color they are, disability, whatever, they’re people too. She’s a girly girl. She’s just like you, me, Tasia, my daughter, anybody. She wants to look pretty, you know, and so why can’t she?”
You might say my criticisms are petty. Harris might not feel like she can speak out against the nail salon without repercussions. And that’s a valid point. She did a good deed, and perhaps that’s the end of her responsibility.
But what about the nearly 5,000 people who shared the original Facebook post about the incident? What about everyone who read the dozens of articles and videos that helped the story go viral? Surely, at least some of them didn’t simply smile at the good deed and keep scrolling. Surely, at least a few of them took action to decry the salon’s dehumanization and discrimination of a disabled patron?
A quick look at the Facebook page for the nail salon in question, Da-Vi Nail Salon, shows not a single negative review; in an age of social media callouts and firestorms on Facebook and Yelp after other acts of discrimination, real or perceived, no one took to social media to call out the business.
No one, that is, except the disabled folks shouting from the rooftops, yet again, that we are not your inspiration porn.
The reason for that is simple. This story exists to be feel-good clickbait, designed to remind you that there are good people in the world. People who do the right thing. And you’re supposed to smile, feel renewed faith in humanity, and keep right on scrolling.
Hell, the Newsweek article about the incident even features a video of another feel-good story about a disabled man. No need to keep scrolling, they’ve got your inspiration porn needs covered.
No one wants to hear about how Peters was denied service for a fucking manicure. No one wants to hear about how disabled people are discriminated against on a daily basis. No one wants to have a nuanced discussion about ableism in a society where production is king. No one even wants to talk about how your pet straw bans are actively harming disabled people while doing little to nothing to save the turtles or the environment.
No one, that is, except disabled people.
And that’s the rub. Disabled people make headlines when we inspire. We make headlines when we make you feel good. We exist for your consumption because that’s the only way you believe we have value, and our needs are discarded as soon as they become inconvenient. Even by the liberals who staunchly fight against other types of discrimination; even by the people who profess to have our backs.
Peters’ story isn’t inspiring to disabled people. It’s fucking infuriating. And the only thing more infuriating than being denied service at a fucking nail salon is watching discrimination go unremarked — except for how warm and fuzzy it makes you feel.
I’ll say it again, for the people in the back: Disabled people aren’t your inspiration. We don’t exist to make you feel good. We have value, and we have worth. And we won’t be your inspiration anymore.