Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hate speech – Part II

First of all, thanks to those who have responded either here on the blog, or on my Facebook Note – your comments are much appreciated. It is heartening to think I have played a roll in informing some people who, it would seem did not realise the impact that these kinds of words have. If you have not already read Part I – it is here. Johnny's blog: cretin, spastic, retard, ... is this hate speech?

Right – now I'm assuming everyone knows what this is about.

All I was hoping to do, in my own little way by putting that into my status, was say that these words which I mentioned are not acceptable and that I objected.

Teacher TV has nominated this week as "anti-racism" week –

I do not know if they ever have a week where they deal with the issue I am trying to highlight here – the negative stereotype and abuse (directly or indirectly) of people who have disabilities. However, it is useful to look at racism as a parallel, and to understand that just as someone does not choose to belong to a certain racial group, one cannot choose not to be disabled, and discrimination based on disability is as wrong as racial discrimination or any other type of discrimination.

I am aware that most countries have laws against discrimination against disabled people, just as they have laws against racial discrimination, but just as racial discrimination still persists in society, although people are not as blatant as they used to be, so also, disability discrimination still takes place, and there too, people become adept at disguising it, so as to get away with it. One of the ways people discriminate is in the language that people use and especially how they label people.

People who refer to other races by negative or pejorative terms (usually whenever they think they can get away with it) carry in their heart a bad attitude towards others. Now, I know, that most people either out of fear of legal reprisal or simply awareness that it is in bad taste would not ridicule a person with learning disabilities to their face, but the fact that they are willing to talk like that behind their backs means that they still carry within them the prejudice and lack of understanding for people with needs.

I am making these comments - not because I was insulted, but because I think that the use of those terms is an affront to people with disabilities in general.

Apparently, racism is the belief that one's own racial group is superior to another's. Well, many people hold the belief that they are superior to people with disabilities. In our modern world, discrimination starts before birth. A pregnant woman has a scan done – or an amniocentesis – and discovers that the 'foetus' (its easier to speak of it in those non personal terms) is going to have Down's Syndrome, and decides or pressurised to have an abortion. People will say to the woman – you did the right thing – after all you spared 'it' a miserable 'existence'. I'm sorry – this is not a cat or a dog that can be euthanized. Who is to say that the existence will be miserable. Most people with Down Syndrome, while like most people have their down days, by and large are very cheerful and happy. The thing is, and I think this is where the real rub is, children with disabilities need a lot more input and investment, birth in terms of time, and money, and people are not willing to put that in. People also decide that they will put in a lot of hard work for very little 'reward'. I don't know what they perceive as reward – but to my mind – if you are blessed to have a child who calls you Mummy or Daddy (even if that is with sign language or by gesture) – you already have a most marvellous reward.

I had to learn to rise above the actions and comments of small minded people who look down on others because I was different. At school, other kids would tease me about something that was related to my disability (which was much more obvious then than it is now. Part of my coping mechanism, was to 'ignore the comments and keep on keeping on, and sometimes, when dealing with school bully that is the best approach. But, when one hears the same sniping comments over and over, it is hard NOT to let it get to you. There comes a time when you must say 'enough is enough'.

Martin Luther King Junior, a hero in my eyes - took a stand. He lead the Civil Rights Movement in the US during the 50's that got racial segregation and racialism outlawed in the USA. Now as a minister of religion, if he had just minded his own business - kept going to Church on Sunday and being subservient and submissive to the white folk - he would have had a comfortable life, probably retired to a nice little home somewhere - and who knows he might have been alive today - he would have only just turned 70. But he could not sit idly by and accept the abuse being inflicted on his people a day longer - and so he stood up, and he decided to join the Civil Rights movement.

If it weren't for the Rev Martin, there probably would be no Barack Obama today.

While I know and am grateful that disabled people are not discriminated against to the extent that black people were back in the 50's, and that in terms of Civil Rights, Disabled people are recognised as having rights. That is good, but is it good enough? I for one don't think so. And I will use my little soapbox - called my Facebook Status to shout about it and to stand up for the right of people with disabilities to be respected.

I may not be the Martin Luther King for the disabled cause - but it was not only MLK who marched on Washington. Many people marched alongside him. One of the most poignant speeches that Martin Luther King ever made was his "I have a dream" speech.

MLK envisaged a time when children would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character –

I would like to say let a time come when people are not judged by their physical appearance or by their academic achievement or by any other superficial and unnecessary measure but, as MLK put it so clearly, by the content of their character. Character, you see, is something that transcends all of these other things – and I have found that mostly, not always, people with disabilities display many wonderful character traits.

Jesus said that we know a tree by its fruit (Matt. 7:16) and in the book of Galatians, we read that the Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. (Gal. 3:22-23)

Other positive character traits that I have noticed among people with disabilities, are: determination – they keep on trying, keep at it, even when it hurts or they are tired, they are persistent; the ability to forgive – when they have been wronged, I have seen that they are ready to forgive and move on; sense of humour – they can laugh at themselves and see the funny side.

Finally, I remember when I was in Primary School, my headmistress, Mrs. J. had a sticker on her car – it read "Disability is not inability." To put it in another way, because a person has disability, does not mean they are incapable of doing anything. I was about 10 when I saw that sticker – I am now 40 and it has stayed with me all these years. It was a good thing for people with disability to hear and to apply in their lives – but it is also good for people without disabilities to hear and apply in their lives – in terms of their perception of and attitude towards people with disabilities.



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Plumbline said...

Word!!!! This is a brilliant follow the Elixir after hitting us hard in the previous post..

Anonymous said...

well said John - although I think you may be preaching to the converted!! I hope people will take notice of their own outburts - even the unintentional ones

Anonymous said...

I think you are doing the right thing to stand up for those whom most people look down upon and shun. The sad thing of society today is that people no longer take the time to get to know each other. People have to an extent stopped caring about each other. If we would put aside our prejudices, we would find that people who are considered disabled are just as much people as we are - they have a soul and spirit and are in fact no different on the inside from us. Thank you for taking a stand for those who are shunned by an ignorant society. M.C.M.