Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Facing Discrimination with Silent Diseases and Illnesses

As a personal project I have been blogging since 2010 about Gluten Free living.  My blog is titled Celtic Celiac: A Modern Guide to Staying Sane Without Grain and can be found here. The below excerpt is from that blog itself, and while it is directed towards Celiac Disease and Food Allergies it can be applicable to any silent illness be it mental or physical.
Let’s talk about a topic many of us only talk about in school or when getting trained at work: Discrimination.While it exists in our world way too often, many of us grow up being told not to judge and discriminate people based on their looks. Most of us understand that discriminating against someone because they are Black, White, Asian, Male, Female, Transgender, wheelchair bound, Blue Eyed etc. is in appropriate. But, I feel there is a misconception about discrimination.
A difference doesn’t need to be visual for it to be discriminated against. While most of us often also know that it is wrong to discriminate based on sexuality, religion, mental illness, non-obvious physical illness, and cognitive handicaps, these ‘silent differences’ are often overlooked when it comes to discussion of discrimination in our society. To me, just because a difference is obvious, doesn’t mean that it’s discrimination is any more hurtful on the individual than discrimination based on a covert difference. While some groups may encounter this issue more then others I believe it is imperative to tackle discrimination and stigmatization from a holistic perspective. To stop it dead in it’s tracks for everyone, but how?
The realm of Celiac Disease, Food Allergies and other food illness is the perfect stage for such a discussion.
A recent article has sparked some discussion on the internet, and in my personal life, about the discrimination which faces those of us with Celiac Disease, Food Allergies and other food related illnesses. This article was a mother who brought her son with Celiac Disease and food allergies to a Pizza Hut in Oklahoma. She and her son were meeting with other local parents, so she got him McDonald food on the way there. However, after opening the item in the store AND discussing her son’s illness with the waitress and the manager they were promptly kicked out of the store for bringing in outside food.
As the mother says in the video attached to the like I posted, this is flat our discrimination. To take it a step further, this is discrimination against an individual with a disability. Many would say that our food related illnesses are not disabilities. However, a disability is defined as:
(a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual
(b) a record of such impairment; or
(c) being regarded as having such an impairment.” (P.L. 101-336, Sec. )
Given this definition, Celiac Disease and other food allergies fall into the category of being a disability. According to the American Disabilities Act is it unlawful and unjust to discriminate against someone because of their disability. This is why youth with food issues are allowed to have IEPs in the classroom.
However, this post isn’t about discrimination against disabilities alone but in general. While the above article is a shocking example of discrimination based on a covert illness, we encounter these experiences everyday. Looking at a girl with large breasts and saying she ‘isn’t smart’, making a racist joke after seeing a ‘bad Asian driver’, smirking at a dumb answer someone says in class, or even looking at the one person in a group at outback who ordered the salad with a questionable glace. These are all forms of subtle discrimination.
Since food is social, and social almost always equals food, those of us with Celiac Disease, food allergies and other food illness often make our difference notable even when we do not want to. We are called ‘picky’, ‘frustrating to eat with’, ‘socially inconsiderate’ because we make our needs known and bring our own food. This video says it perfectly.
The stigmatization we feel as a result of our disease is no different then that which individuals of color may feel, although it may be less often and with less hatred and awareness. I know I for one feel isolated when I am rushed to go out, don’t have the change to eat because I feel we are going to someplace I can eat and we end up somewhere (such as a bar) where I can eat nothing… Our lives are altered because of these diseases, often leading to discrimination, even in jest, and stigmatization. As the video says we are stigmatized prior to diagnosis because we are ill, and after our diagnosis because of the way we need to keep ourselves healthy.
So, what can we do to stop this discrimination? It’s all about breaking that vow of silence. Silence, in social work, can often be viewed as facilitating and continuing oppression. Think about it, the less you speak about what’s bothering you the less you share with others, and the less you share with others the less likely you are to be able to change your situation. Keeping silent perpetuates discrimination. So, open your mouth. Tell your friends you don’t appreciate their discriminatory jokes, share your thoughts when you are discriminated against and TELL YOUR STORY. The video above should be an inspiration to all of us with food illness to speak our minds and let the world know we don’t appreciate being treated poorly because we are different. What’s your story? Don’t hesitate to share it!


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One Response

  1. Vin December 28, 2012

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