The old adage that hatred and discrimination is a taught trait — not one that children are born with — is one that many people consider to be fairly true. Unfortunately, a new Tik Tok viral “challenge” that has been making waves on the short-video platform proves the theory true. In the challenge, adults pretend to FaceTime their student’s new teachers for the year and surprise their kids. Most of the iterations of the challenge show a mugshot (which is problematic for obvious reasons) of someone or someone making a funny face, but in darker, more upsetting versions of the viral videos, parents show kids videos of people with visible physical disabilities. The kids, in shock, scream or run away, the parent laughs, they post it on social media, and, voila. Somehow, having a physical disability is a joke for these parents. Parents teach their kids to be scared of people who look different, laugh at it, and get online clout.
One activist and motivational speaker, Lizzie Velasquez, who has Marfanoid-progeroid-lipodystrophy syndrome, a syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight and affects her facial structure, was used as the butt of a joke. Velasquez is well-known across the world for speaking out about disability rights and spoke out against the cruel prank, and reposted one of the videos where a mom did the cruel prank on her child.
“If you are an adult who has a young human in your life, please do not teach them that being scared of someone who doesn’t look like them is OK, please. Everything these kids need to know about having empathy and being kind to one another starts at home,” Velasquez said in a video responding to the challenge. Melissa Blake, another prominent activist for disability rights who has Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, has also spoken out, writing articles and Tweeting about the cruel trend.
“The TikTok prank has only reinforced how important disability representation is, especially given the fact that 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability — that’s one in four… We need to normalize seeing people who don’t look like us or our family members. We need to teach the next generation that our differences should be celebrated, not feared, or mocked,” Blake wrote in an article for Refinery29.
Indeed, perhaps what’s most disappointing about the trend is that it’s not just stupid, thoughtless kids and teenagers who haven’t yet learned a valuable lesson in kindness and acceptance, but that it’s adults teaching their children that it’s okay to be afraid of, or even laugh at, people with physical disabilities. Parents ought to do better. It’s a shame that they are not.