Voter Protection in Massachusetts

So I’m a volunteer lawyer assigned to election protection here in the land of the bean and the cod. Thinking about dirty tricks, voter suppression and the importance of maintaining a perfect demeanor on the job, and as I was pumping gas today, a cheerful man in work clothes, filling his landscaping truck, asked me who I thought would win: Elizabeth Warren or Scott Brown. I said, truthfully, that I was sick of the subject. Undeterred, he asked me if I knew what kind of a car Warren drives, and I said no. “A Jeep Cherokee!” he said happily, and waited for my reaction. “Um, sounds about right,” I said, blankly. He gave me an odd look and left. Then it hit me. Cherokee! Duh!

Sometimes I think I have a touch of Asperger’s. Racial insults fly right over my head. Years ago I got dragged to South Boston to help counter-demonstrate against some organized racists at a rally. There were all these scrawny white kids wearing baseball caps and some of them were holding signs saying “One man, one woman.” Since I had gone with a delegation from the ACLU, I turned to the legal director and asked if there were voting rights issues in the rally. He chuckled and told me quietly that those were anti-gay signs.  I felt like Homer Simpson– d’ho!  I am not quick, that’s for sure.

Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.

13 thoughts on “Voter Protection in Massachusetts”

  1. Although I have a generally positive view of greater Boston and its folk culture, some of it is still strange to me. I remember in the early ’70s hearing people go on about “neighborhoods”. When I finally got the word mapped to specific places, I rudely said “Oh, you mean slums with white people in them.” When I used to commute to work in New Hampshire, no one thanked me for describing Nashua as “Framingham North”. There are many more weird status hierarchies here than an outsider can comprehend.

      1. You can’t insult Prof. Warren by saying she’s Cherokee. _She’s_ said she’s Cherokee.

        The thing that’s in dispute is her honesty about that. She’s never provided documentation of the claim, despite requests for it from actual Cherokees, and there’s reason to doubt it.

        The joke is also on all those so quick to see racial motives everywhere. Humor works best when it punctuates the pompous, so I suspect that truck-driver had Ms. Heussler pegged perfectly.

          1. Since “Cherokee” isn’t an epithet for Cherokee, no, it’s like saying you can’t insult Barak Obama by calling him black.

            Though that kind of misses the point, too, since nobody doubts that Obama has some black blood in him, and the joke here is Warren’s apparently evidence free claim to be part Cherokee. So I guess it’s more like saying you can’t insult Peewee Herman by calling him black.

  2. The (upper) East coast doesn’t do much in the way of institutional racism, but they sure do have the free-floating kind, don’t they? (Why do people from Mass hate indians? I do not know. There are no indians there.)

    The big thing here (further south) seems to be hating on Mexicans. When I was told this, I responded, ‘How can they hate Mexicans? There are no Mexicans here!’ (And there aren’t – the occasional Guatemalan or Ecuadoran not withstanding, there aren’t a lot of Hispanics and practically no Mexicans, except in the close-in metro. And still they hate them. Weird.)

    [‘Nope. Don’t get it. Never will, I expect.’]

    1. The Cherokee thing with Warren isn’t about Indians. Racist America has decided long ago that it is perfectly acceptable to claim a small dose of Native American ancestry.

      It’s about affirmative action. The story in wingnuttia goes that Warren would have never made it to Harvard (or anywhere else), if she didn’t make an affirmative action claim of ancestry. Not that wingnuttia really cares one way or the other about affirmative action: Tagg Romney and George Bush the Lesser are just fine by them. But wingnuttia sure does care about Negroes. It’s always about the Negroes in wingnut land, except when it is about the Jews. (But wingnuts love Jews! Yes they do, especially when their favorite Jews kick wog butt without apology. But their cardboard “liberal” is built of tropes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.)

  3. As the mom of a teenager on the autism spectrum, I never know what to make of comments like this: “I think I have a touch of Asperger’s.”

    Is Asperger’s suddenly cool, and this is a way of claiming coolness, too? Sort of like how Clinton was the first Black president? That would be okay with me.

    Is it ultimately trivializing in the sense of, “How big a deal could being an Aspie be, look I’m just like ’em.” I wouldn’t like that.

    Would it work if you substituted another disability? “Sometimes I think I have a touch of intellectual disability.” How far is that from “That’s so retarded!”?

    Please, someone isn’t so immersed in the autism world, explain this to me. I am sincerely at sea on this one, and it isn’t just this one example. It is all over. Maybe it is something to celebrate and like Lowry, I’m just not getting it.

    1. It’s a touch of shorthand and I guess I’m not bothered by it. I don’t think the phenomenon of, “How big a deal could being an Aspie be, look I’m just like ‘em,” has much to do with statements like this. It is, however, very prevalent. When I describe my symptoms to someone unfamiliar with Asperger’s, I almost always get, “Oh, I’m like that, too,” at least once and usually more. That’s the point where I have to explain the difference of degree involved and just to what a seemingly irrational level my fears reach.

      1. Thank you for this perspective. I can tell that in this post Asperger’s is being used with a wink and a smile but so many times it is not. I’m thinking especially when I see Asperger’s used when “sociopathic” would be a better choice to describe someone who is criminally callous, manipulative and worse. A relative lack of ability to express feelings in ways in which NTs can understand is not the same as having no empathy! In those instances I am sure it is being misused and harm is being done.

        It’s interesting to have witnessed the evolution of the terms autism and Asperger’s from barely-known to wide-spread slang. I’ll probably continue to wonder what that reflects about our times.

  4. Ah- thanks, Ohio mom. I’m the proud auntie of a young man with Asperger’s, and a pretty severe case of it, too. My nephew is a genius, but he does not get nuance. He struggles to understand irony, and is tone-deaf to sarcasm. When he was a child, the cruelty of other children was particularly horrifying because my nephew did not understand when he was being bullied or teased. He took statements at face value. That’s what I meant. I’m often the last one to get a joke if it requires an assumption of snark. If someone asks me what kind of a car a candidate drives, I think they’re talking about a car. I hope it’s not too late for you to see this.

    P.S. As a person with a pretty advanced mobility disorder, it does not trouble me when an injured co-worker refers to herself as “gimpy,” a term I often use myself.

    1. And thanks to you, Lowry. If I am correct in assuming your nephew is now an adult, he must have had a difficult childhood in good part because Asperger’s was not recognized or understood in those years. In contrast to his experience, my HFA son has received a lot of instruction in things like reading body language and understanding sarcasm from his speech-language pathologists, and that has made a difference. He’s is also benefiting from his school system’s ongoing campaign to stop bullying. Increased awareness is a very good thing, even if it sometimes leads to misunderstood jokes.

      The words used to describe disability — or any type of difference — are quite a thicket, aren’t they? Somehow, gays were able to take the words used pejoratively against them and make them their own, “Gimps” also, I think. But people with mental retardation felt they had no choice but to jettison that label for ID (and that’s not the first time they’ve changed names).

      I remember when schizophrenia was often used to mean “of two minds,” as in “She’s so schizophrenic. One day she’s dumping him, the next day she wants to marry him,” but I don’t hear that much anymore. Did that useage have any effect on how people with schizophrenia saw themselves or how they were treated by others — not that this is a question that could ever be answerable.

      I guess we have front seats to a bit of linguistic history here, as the uses, and sometimes misuses, of the terms austism and Asperger’s continue to increase. Will it end happily, like it did for “queer,” or unhappily, like it did for “mental retardation”?

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