Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Inspiring the able-bodied, one day at a time.

Meet Siti, a heroine rising from the ashes of mainstream media representation of people with disabilities (PWD).

Siti suffers from ignorance around her medical condition which has a scary sounding scientific name. Thanks to her various mobility aids however, she is able to overcome public pity and discomfort to gain dignity and autonomy.

With the help and assistance of her caregivers, she triumphs over her limitations and accomplishes essential everyday tasks such as showering, getting dressed, eating and going to the toilet.

Because you think she probably also has mental limitations because she does not speak, look or act like you, she often suffers from patronising treatment. She fondly recalls one fancy dinner where the only thing a Very Important Man said to her, speaking very slowly and loudly: "The food OK for you?"

Everything she does is special and/or inspiring: from abovementioned daily tasks to getting any level of education or having a family. More inspiring is if she can travel from point A to point B by herself: not many possess the courage to find a stranger to press the lift button that is either too high or blocked by a trash can.

Few are able to handle the adversity of being stuck in the rain waiting for someone to pass by and pick up her dropped phone. Even rarer still are those who can keep their patience when a car blocks the ramp from her house to the road.

But Siti pushes through, day by day.

Most inspiring of all is if she is better than you in anything -- art, science, sport, procreation or religion -- because you think that anyone who has the use of their limbs should be able to be better at everything that PWD can do. This is Siti's biggest obstacle: eradicating the belief that she can only reach her full human potential if she was able-bodied.

When she's not busy being patronised, she occupies her time with helping able-bodied people feel better about themselves. She stops them from whining about their shitty lives because at least they can walk/see/drive/go to the toilet by themselves. She also inspires them to do more with their lives because of aforementioned abilities.

She helps out the well-meaning ones the most. She inspires them to create an excessively humble but uselessly hollow self-image by calling themselves things like "more disabled than the disabled". She helps them feel generous by thinking they can't even do what PWD can.

Most importantly, she helps them feel altruistic because they can raise money by dancing and singing, instead of dealing with the sticky and difficult tasks of fighting for social welfare, making public and private spaces accessible, or creating safe and decent paying jobs beyond peddling small goods on the street.

When asked about the most important thing others should know about her, she shrugged and said simply: "If able-bodied people can be seen as complex human beings, be portrayed with dignity, and not have mobility aids overshadow their actual talents, we can do it too! Never give up!"

--

This is satire, obviously, written from the limited perspective of an able bodied person who grew up with a sister with a disability. "Siti" is a generic Malay name, not unlike Jane Doe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

With whiteness comes erasure.

I wish I could remember who wrote this. I would thank her or him profusely because when I read this, it resonated deeply with me. It was an articulation of feelings I had not been able to grasp; uncomfortable sentiments felt too often and so left no space for me to rationalise them away.

It's about being Brown and with someone White that renders you the Other. It's about White people universalising and imposing their life experiences in the 'noble' pursuit of assimilation and/or integration, so you never get to own and own and have pride in your childhood, your celebrations, your proverbs and your norms or traditions.

It's about having White people reiterating and reminding you of the 'freedom' they experience and that you are supposedly able to enjoy in their country. (They forget  about anti-Brown or Black microaggressions, racism and violence, because they can't universalise something they don't experience).

It's about having a hybrid child who is part White and part Brown (never mind that he is descended more of Brown than White). A child who is seen to be a rich White charge when with his Brown mother and a poor saved Brown adoptee when with his White father.

It's about White people worrying that your child will not learn his White language if he goes to your country. Never mind that they never worried he wouldn't learn his Brown language in their country.

It's about having White people worry that your child will not be 'raised properly' amongst your Brown people. Perhaps too conservative or traditional or religious or backward or primitive or savage -- their worry has been the same for hundreds of years.

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