This isn’t actually an new poem – it’s from my first poetry book, Live Free or Drive. My friend David Oaks from Mind Freedom, International points out that stigma is discrimination and prejudice. He says, “I guess you already know a lot of us like to slip in word “discrimination” whenever we bring up stigma, or even substitute discrimination for the word stigma in general. Lots of mainstream mental health consumers leaders are catching on about that, too. Main reason… just parallel to African American civil rights movement. They didn’t moan about ‘stigma’ of being black… that’s an internal subjective thing, can’t be legislated… so they became proud of being black. But discrimination is indeed something one can actually LEGISLATE about.”
He also has an essay called, “Let’s Stop Saying Mental Illness.” Because Language is powerful, he says, and “language is a quick way to fight back against an overwhelming bully. ”
STIGMA IS DISCRIMINATION AND PREJUDICE
Discrimination is my mother wanting to go to med school at the age of 36.
“Wouldn’t you rather be a nurse,” people asked her.
“Aren’t you too old for med school?” “What about your kids?”
A single parent in residency – yeah we never saw her.
Except she taught me to dream – you’re never too old to dream
And no one is what we seem, as long as your eyes still have a gleam.
I told her I wanted to go to the Olympics in Judo.
She chose the part of the country to do her residency based on the best Judo programs.
I never skipped a class, I ran in the mornings before school.
At Lincoln Prep I wanted to be the one who was cool, but maybe I was just the fool
The fool that did three hours of leg lifts while reading a book one night.
Before I learned to be smart about my workouts.
My mother came home from 36 hour shifts in the hospital and drove me an hour to practice.
I had to talk the whole way to keep her awake in the car.
How many people think they’re crazy to go so far
To build up a dream and save in a jar
For college and the US Olympic team.
I fought in the Olympics – I’m not what I seem
I want to make double my income – my eyes still have the gleam
And the prejudice still comes in an ongoing stream.
There’s the cycling I do, all the people who knew just how I should go through
My day. “Ride on the sidewalk,” they say.
Or the man last week who buzzed me and said I have no right to the road without a licensed vehicle.
I educate who I can, I ignore the rest.
I stopped flipping off motorists; it’s not what works the best.
No more breaking rear view mirrors or beating my chest to explain how I’m oppressed.
Living my life is just part of God’s test.
I still have a dream and my eyes have this gleam
And if you knew I had a mental illness you’d know I’m not what I seem.
29% of people with my diagnosis work in any kind of competitive employment
But the stream of negativity says I might never work again, live off disability, poor as dirt,
Hope for a case manager to take me to Wal-Mart, look forward to a therapist to tell my disconcert,
No friends but the TV, all my days become the same, my life is inert,
Get caught in the loss of hope called stigma – internal prejudice of the dreams that have died
I reject that destiny – I have chosen my fate
My job is usually decent, sometimes even great, helping people to get out and relate
Their own process of recovery.
We all have stories to tell, like the poet from Jazz Poetry Jams who checked on his scholarship.
And the registrar said, “Who’s your coach?”
And Glenn North’s classmate who thought she knew the black experience because she’d been on welfare.
And people who work in social services but believe we all deserve what we get.
I’ve been homeless – I made some bad choices and paid the price.
But most homeless people still have their dreams, their eyes have a gleam
Wanting a better life, and be sure there not what they seem.
White men are not sacred from prejudice – it’s hard for a homeless guy to get a job
Carrying all his possessions on his back with a 4:00 curfew.
Stigma is negative judgments from within or without.
Stigma is discrimination and prejudice, and everyone has felt it.
If you’ve never noticed, ask a terrorist what they think about America.
I dream to move beyond the hate, to keeping changing what I seem.
To help as many people to still keep their gleam.
To define who is me
To build a better plea
To make them into we.