I have posted here several times before about the dangers of 'I am x person' solidarity slogans, most recently in relation to the 'I am Malala' campaign. It's a bit odd to me to show you are in solidarity with someone by claiming you are that someone. It's like trying to be the one you're with. If you stand in their shoes, where are they supposed to stand? Why not walk alongside them instead? Wouldn't it be more empowering for both of you that way? I do get that saying 'I am with Malala' does not have the same sort of rhetorical impact - but in the long run it is more respectful and can build more powerful and meaningful solidarity.
Well, by now you've probably already seen the "I am Adam Lanza's mother" post by Liza Long that went viral last weekend. It is a gripping description of one woman's experience as the mother of a mentally ill boy in the US. We can easily imagine that Adam's mother might have experienced something like this. That other parent's with mentally ill children face similar nightmares. And, I would hope, it moves us to act for meaningful mental health treatment in the US. So perhaps it is effective at rallying solidarity with parents of mentally ill children, though it does not ask for any specific action (like health care reform that would force health insurers to cover mental health treatment).
So is Liza Long appropriating Adam's mother's voice? Well, yes. The thing is, Adam Lanza's mother is dead. He killed her. With her own guns. There is no sign that she reached out for help with her mentally ill son. Instead she stocked up, bought five guns, and took her son to the shooting range to practice with them. It appears she may have had her own mental health issues. None of this makes it ok to speak in her name. And now the real mother's life story is even less heard, as so many read Liza Long's post instead.
But what is more disturbing about Liza Long's post is that it is most certainly not going to generate solidarity with the mentally ill - if anything it stigmatizes them even more and puts them at greater risk. Most notably it stigmatizes her own son, who is given no privacy since she does not even use a pseudonym! For a great review of how Liza's post does injustice to both her son and others with mental health issues see the post You are NOT Adam Lanza's mother.
I agree with much of what you say here, Sara. A factual correction, however -- in the article I read, she actually does use a pseudonym for her child. She calls him Michael, and writes (name changed). Perhaps that wasn't in the original. Also... I have mixed feelings about the "I am" campaigns for solidarity... I've always taken them to be sort of metaphors. Thanks for your thoughts.
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