The Zen of Being Graceful in the Face of Raw Rudeness

“I don’t think you should do it.”

A beautiful woman was walking toward me. As she approached, she said it again.

“I don’t think you should do it.”

I knew what was going on, but I forced myself not to be reactionary.

“Hi, I’m Dessa.” I stuck out my hand to shake hers – and to hopefully shake her from her rudeness.

She mumbled her name, quickly shook my hand and then repeated herself again.

“I don’t think you should do it.”

The mouth of the friend sitting next to me dropped open.

I knew what I looked like at that moment: a girl in a wheelchair who wanted to enroll in a Zumba class. Actually, that’s exactly who I was in that moment.

Here’s the sequence of events preceding this awkward introduction:

I complain to my friend that I want to get in shape but loathe exercising.

Zumba exercises include music with fast and slow rhythms, as well as resistance training.

She suggests I join her at Zumba some week because it’s more fun than other workouts.

I call the gym and set up a pre-class chat with the instructor.

The instructor wasn’t there when we arrived, so my friend and I waited in the lobby for her. I had explained to the people at the front desk that I was interested in Zumba, but wanted to see if the instructor was able to help me improvise the workout so I could get the most out of it.

I guess they filled her in, pointed her in my direction, and that’s when she walked over.

Because I knew with her opening line that she held a lot of assumptions about me and my capabilities, I had led with an obliviously defiant tone- introducing myself and holding her to normal standards of communication between adults starting a professional relationship. I was hoping my attitude of confidence would garner a little respect and remind her that I was fully human.

But, after having been so quickly written off by this woman, not once or twice but three times in a minute, I felt this sudden urge to just focus on proving my athleticism.

“But I grew up riding horses! I won a medal for swimming in kindergarten! I played wheelchair basketball in college! Most of my life I’ve been in really good shape, I promise! It’s just the last few years … you know how office jobs are…” I trailed off.

It didn’t feel like I was even making a dent in this woman’s perception of me. “Did I mention that I can walk?”

She was in a hurry because class was about to start. There wasn’t really more to say, I suppose as she’d made it pretty clear that I wasn’t welcome. She went off to instruct her class without me.

It’s always the reactions of people who witness experiences like these that further make them sink in for me. Like I said, my friend’s mouth was open in shock. She told me that she couldn’t believe what had just happened. I knew it was messed up too, but at first I wasn’t surprised by it, probably because misconceptions about my abilities are so common. It’s sad to think how much I expect that kind of thing.

Having third party validation in a situation like this can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s reassuring. Had it just been me talking to the instructor, I might have left wondering if I was overreacting to her lack of sensitivity (For God’s sake, all I wanted her to say was, “Come on in! Give it a try!”).

On the other hand, having someone else witness things like this can be embarrassing in a way. My friends know I’m a complex, multi-faceted person, so it stings me a little when they witness someone else not realizing that. More importantly, having someone witness an experience like this makes it more real, because then I can’t say, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad. I was just me being overly sensitive.”

Nope, I have to admit it: This is actually a legitimate problem. This time I was a girl in a wheelchair trying to join an exercise class, but when people can’t see beyond their narrow preconception of who you are or what you might be capable of- despite you telling them – what else might they bar you from even trying?

Extrapolate this to all the really important points in life when you need someone to give you a shot- like getting into a good school, landing a job, starting a business or collaborating on an important project for the first time. Prejudices no doubt get carried into those initial encounters and make us all poorer as a result of all the missed opportunities to include people with unique and different perspectives and ideas.

I’m over the Zumba class. With an attitude like that instructor’s, I probably don’t want to be in there anyway. I do want to be able to make choices like those for myself though, like everyone else in the class did. And I want people to look at me and say, “There’s a woman,” rather than “There’s a woman who can’t do a lot of things.” As a culture, we’ve got a lot of work to do on this front- and not just for people with disabilities. I commit to working on leaving preconceived notions about groups of people at the door.

Do you?


Related blog posts to this piece: ‘Raw Rudeness’ Blog Draws this Response from a Zumba Instructor and Rudeness Trumped by Showing the LOVE

Photo credit this page: lincolnearthday.  homepage slider:  jinterwas


About Dessa

Originally a Southerner, Dessa loves the charm and hospitality of Detroit. Dessa is a proud Little Person, using her disability to challenge, endear, and cut lines at amusement parks. Training community organizers by day and earning her Masters of Social Justice after hours, Dessa loves shifting paradigms, breaking glass ceilings, and honoring the Feminine Divine. Click here to read more about Dessa

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