Thursday, July 18, 2013

ZoneMind: A Day of Shame - Identity, Indifference & Humanity

Part 1: Hollow Identities?


This July was a time I felt that I had to re-evaluate who I was and to reflect on my position on this Earth and wonder once again on where I belonged. I decided to leave FaceBookas I was growing concerned that, in spite of all the good things it offered me, I found myself too dependent on it and sometimes felt I had to project an identity that pleased the public which I felt more and more to be somewhat oppressive, encouraging a culture of impulsive reactions which didn’t promote finding time for reflection or cultivate personal growth. I felt that sometimes I had to hold back too much parts of who I was and perhaps the reason I finally left was to be found in my past.

Yes, there was another reason I decided to leave. Perhaps I realised that being on FaceBook was my way of validating who I was because I still felt like an outsider. I still felt without acknowledging it, that I wanted to be accepted and taken for who I was or what I believed in. But, then, I always ran the risk of posting something for the sake of it. I might have felt that the media had once robbed me of my right to claim an identity as an individual when I was still a child. And, yes, while I thought I got over it, the scars in my mind were still there and still bleeding.

Indeed, I found that the painful memories I had when I was still a disabled boy were still there hidden in my mind. I realised that these ‘demons’ of the past which I thought I conquered were still acting in the background. I cannot say that this was a positive experience. It was not. I made that clear in my entry and recording found on a recent post entitled “Is Virtue Its Own Reward”. For, even if it was a difficult time in my childhood, I admit that it also taught me about myself and about how society viewed me.

Many times, we often judge things in terms of good or bad.

However, life is more of an experience that is in-between.

And there are many experiences in my life which may be judged as bad or terrible. The fact is that while our experiences may be a source of pain and anger, sometimes they are inevitable and necessary to learn and grow up. When I could still walk, I remember that there were many times I fell from my bicycle when I was first learning how to ride a bike. But, eventually, I had mastered the skill of riding a bike. Yes, I know that today I won’t be able to write a regular bike at least but I did benefit from learning that skill the time I could do it.

In the same way, the pain I felt as a disabled child when I realised that to the world I was just a one-dimensional boy ‘afflicted’ by impairment and a ‘burden’ and ‘sacrifice’ to society and to my best friend was when I lost my balance on the ‘bicycle’ of life and face the fact that no matter who I was or what I did, I will also risk being judge by my impairments.

From that day on, I felt I could relate to the countless times I found myself ill-at-ease when I listened to so-called grown ups making fun of people who were different than them, whether they were of a different faith, whether they were black, whether they were women or whether they were gay.

Unfortunately, I do confess that at times I did join in to make some witty remark but, I found that I preferred to remain silent when the words I heard felt wrong and unkind. But my silence was not that better. I didn’t know I had a choice. However, the experiences I had when I realised that for society I was to be an outsider with people arrogantly thinking that they can tell my story and distort my life to the extent it sounded more like melodrama.

I just wasn’t that boy they had constructed out of their assumptions and misconceptions.

It was from then on that I must have started realising I was an outsider. Society wasn’t interested in who I really was, it preferred to create n image for the sake of increasing sales and popularity. I was like a Joseph Merrick whose physical differences were the main reason he drew the interest of the people of his time.


Part 2: an Indifferent Ignorance



I felt that I could relate to my earlier discomfort when I heard people saying things about individuals they never met or didn’t intend to mix with. As I read about the struggle of black Americans in the US for civil rights, I felt that Martin Luther King Junior was also talking about an experience not dissimilar to my own.

As I read about Gandhi’s protests against the British colonisers, I felt that, in some way, I was colonised by a non-disabled ideology that placed people like me who had an impairment amongst the lowest classes of society, sustaining the belief that impairment was an inevitable reality and that I must accept my burden and not expect to be an equal. Of course, it would be much later in my 20s that I would be introduced to the idea of the social model of disability that appeared to given me a voice and the words to articulate my experiences.

For, like racism, sexism, homophobia or any other forms of intolerance that existed about people who may be different than us, The fact I had an impairment wasn’t the problem in itself. 

Indeed, one major problem was the attitude people had about impairment which was often seen to define my whole identity - even erasing any other aspects of my humanity.

However, unlike other forms of discrimination, society has also proved to reject my body whenever I was denied access to places or to resources simply because my body didn’t conform to the imaginary ‘norm’. Despite this fact, attitude played an important role on my feeling of being an outsider.

Like the black men and women in 50s America, I didn’t have equal rights in so many areas. Like the colonised Indian, what I owned and my history was always inferior to that of the unreal norm. Like the

African, to the West, I had no history and my impairment remained a curse or the effect of nature gone wrong.  Thus, my mind

and body appeared to be a defiance to the Graeco-Roman ideals of perfection. The only means that we all have to relate with the world suddenly seemed to have been imbued with features and characteristics that were never there but were only created by our limiting minds. 

This is why I felt I was an outsider as a boy. This is why I feel like an outsider sometimes even  today. 

I felt the need to speak about the injustices that I witnessed this week in an episode entitled Lives Should Never Be Used As Meanswhich I posted on my podcast channel . The inhumanity in the government’s attempt to deport a group of Somali migrants back to Libya. While Malta has limited resources to provide shelter to more migrants, I felt that this attempt at sending a message to the EU that Malta needed more support was morally deplorable on so many levels. For, given that Libya remains unstable and that the detention centres at Libya offer very poor human conditions while guards there don’t seem to have any respect for human rights,, 

if our government hadn’t been stopped, these immigrants would have certainly suffered torture, rape and death. And I don’t like to call them ‘immigrants’ but language is often constraining. They are, first and foremost, people - men, women and children. They are my brothers and sisters. They all have their own identities, likes and dislikes. They feel the same feelings and emotions that I feel. Like them, I can get sick and I will die. We share the world with each other.

Part 3: Humanity Denied!


Before starting this last entry, I wish to share a few verses inspired from  the words that are attributed toMartin Niemöller as I can see the danger in arguments and action that seem to imply that our human rights can be negotiated or, worse, put to the majority vote. I am painfully aware that, as a disabled person, many (if not all) of the rights I and other disabled people, would have prevailed and it's only because of some pioneers that made sure our rights should be legally recognised that we can say that we have more opportunities today - even if there's more to be done to gain real equality for disabled people. But I digress, so here are the adapted version of  Martin Niemöller's speech foe our local reality as I am currently perceiving it:: 

Now, they were coming for the migrants,

And we said nothing...

Then they came for those who were Muslims...

And we said nothing.

Then they robbed once who identified themselves as LGBT of their rights...

And we said nothing...

Then they attacked the environmentalists...

And as nature was dying...

Our mouths were still shut...

They would also make ones protecting human rights of minorities and other discriminated social groups appear to be unpatriotic...

And we still said nothing.

Then, when they came after us...

Well, no one was  there to defend us!

I don’t want to sound too pessimistic but unless we don't speak together against injustice perpetrated on others, we have lost our claim to our own rights. Unless we come together and really together on issues concerning human rights, then all expressions of solidarity and talks social inclusion remain simply empty rhetoric. When people in my own country forget their humanity, these people seeking refuge become a group of people robbed of an identity. At the same time, we choose to impose our own prejudice and assumptions on them turning them to monsters and even savages. When we look at them, there is a danger that we project our own fears onto them.Perhaps we fear of losing our own identity. Rejecting them would mean that we cling to the delusion that we’re far better than them or more ‘civilised’ than them. We might have believed that they were poor people suffering from famine and starvation. We might still have an image of those children with swollen stomachs. We might have pitied them. We might have thought of Africans as savages without a history or tradition. Like the Africans of that distorted Africa found in, for example, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

In many ways, I feel that I must speak up against any attempt to reduce the rights of these people we call immigrants. I feel that I am also an outsider. In spite of any nice things said about disabled people, there are still many who harbour deep inside a certain resentment and fear of becoming like us - which is likely to happen as they age. I am, like the immigrant, an outsider - the other. And being the ‘other’ makes me a threat to the social order. For, in fully accepting me and people who are different, society would have to face the reality that we are more like each other than we are different. And while our differences matter, they are not fundamental to who we are. The day when we even considered sending people back to most certain torture, humiliation and death can’t be ever justified.

It was a day of shame for us and for Malta when we were close to to remain indifferent to our fellow human beings for the sake of making a political point.

While we may come to be forgiven for these actions, I believe we must make sure that we don’t forget. Even if the public has a short memory and the media is always looking for the next controversy, we can’t afford to forget. For forgetting would mean that next time we may actually have blood on our hands.

To end this long entry, I wish to express my last thoughts in the Japanese haiku form:

Yes, we must forgive...

But I refuse to forget...

This moment of shame.

End of series!


 This series originally appeared as a three-part series of entries published on my blogZoneMind between July 12 and July 14., 2013. This version has been slightly edited. If you enjoyed this entry, you can follow some of my activity on Twitter@gordonGT

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I love blogging for the very same reason I love writing. It gives me the opportunity to express myself and my ideas to others. Yet, the great thing about blogs are their potential to reach out to people across the world. Blogging is also a means where I can explore thoughts and ideas, express my creativity and better examine who I am. As a disabled person, blogs are also tool to raise awareness about how society excludes us as disabled people through its failure to take us into account. Besides disability activism, I also enjoy creative writing and to read about a wide range of topics, ranging from science to philosophy which I also explore in my blogs.. I dream of a world that includes everyone, irrespective of our differences. A world where people have true equal rights and opportunities. A world where everyone is given the means to succeed and attain his/her full potential.