Have you ever had a situation when doing your grocery shopping and you're approached by an attractive person? No, I haven't but there’s always a first time.
So, here’s the moment…
There I was strolling through a shopping aisle when this handsome man who I will name Samuel randomly approached me, offers to shake my hand which I accepted, we exchanged new year greetings and being polite to each other.
You see, I didn’t want to appear to be rude. Before you jump to conclusion, this was not because I found him to be attractive. It’s also because I'm often approached by people that I struggle to recall and being a wheelchair user, I’m pretty much an easy person for most people to remember.
I asked Samuel if he knew me? As he could have met me at a business or social engagement? No, Samuel replied. So why has Samuel approached me? If he didn’t know me then it's obvious he’s chatting me up. Right?
Was this one of those love at first sight moments where I'm supposed to recognise the uniqueness in this person. Then I'm blown away and grab the opportunity. Was this my moment? So, what other reason does someone approach you in an appealing way and to that in a supermarket?
He told me his name, then proceeded to say that he works with a local authority for people like me (which I will not name for obvious reasons), without a pause, he complimented my wheelchair and went on to say “I like to see the outcomes of my work”.
I was extremely upset and my behaviour changed from being Ms Sunshine to Mrs Hostile. I no longer saw the physical attraction, now I was seeing who he really was. He had now become ugly in my eyes. However, I wanted to understand Samuel’s narrative and what really triggered him to approach me? I asked Samuel to elaborate on his work and tell me more of what he did?
Samuel replied that he brokered residential and community services for a local authority, whilst he was explaining his job, he made reference to me as a way to demonstrate his work but also to depict me as an example of an outcome of professional success. In that short encounter I had become a local authority project. He had taken my shopping experience and converted it into an outcome-based goal as well as a financial goal to show as a successful measurable outcome. This was undeniably the deepest level of insult.
This experience drew me to think about some of our prominent leaders such as Martin Luther King, Ed Roberts and Millie Hill who advocated for change. If they were alive today, I wonder what they would have said about this experience? To borrow the words of the great Martin Luther King he perfectly articulates a response. He says that “in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
It was never the dream of our leaders to have our experiences measured as a professional outcome, especially when performing a basic task such as grocery shopping. It was their dream that all human lives would be valued and respected but sadly our differences are too often interpreted as a negative.
When the mass of people buys into a notion that convinces them that their beliefs are acceptable, for example segregated schools for disabled children, disabled people shouldn't become parents, disabled people wouldn't make good employees and so on. When in reality these types of ideologies reinforce segregation that in turn helps to create discriminatory practices. I totally agree with the point made by Dr Angela Davis when she says “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I'm changing the things I cannot accept.” History has taught us about the effects people have in adapting to change. I remember in the 1980’s when the local authority which I lived introduced inclusive education. There was a huge backlash from the parents against inclusive education of disabled children because they believed it would reduce the learning standards of their non-disabled children. Here it was clear that when people try to create change it is made difficult because they use their power of influence and create arguments for the oppressed mind. These parents were not concerned about the education inequality. Disabled young people left school with no formal qualifications but the majority of society continued to remain totally oblivious to this practice which sadly is still happening. We know that formal qualifications are the passport to accessing further education and needed to compete in the job market. The education system had failed generations of young disabled people and sadly still does. To plaster the problem, when young disabled people completed their schooling they were reinstituted into day centres or other segregated institutions to be looked away from society and remain in such places until they die. I have always rejected segregated education and any other form of segregation. The standard of education in the school I attended was so low that Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) would have deemed it as failing and forced to closed immediately if it had been a mainstream school today making it a hot topic for the press.
Once again I give my respect to Dr Angela Davis when she tells us that “you have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
So, while Samuel might work in the profession which is about supporting Disabled people and those in need of support, the rhetoric of his views are more about disconnection of human lives. This explains the reasons to why Samuel saw my experience as a successful professional outcome. But also seeing me as a black disabled woman away from his day job had taken him out of his professional comfort zone. This is why he made the assumption that I’m in receipt of local authority support. Samuel’s actions were an indication that his interaction with disabled people was within a professional capacity. He had experienced a reality change and found it difficult to adapt to change, to accept seeing disabled people getting on doing ordinary activities outside the stereotypical times between 9AM to 4PM. Albeit that I’m dependent on the assistance for much of my physical needs. I refuse to accept that I am a success of a professional project outcome.
Can you live in the shadow when you create a reality change?
No. From the very moment I was born my mother’s pursuit was that I would not be institutionalised and I would be exposed to the same experiences as my siblings and not be disconnected from everyday experiences. Another observation from my day to day life is that I rarely encounter Disabled People out and about doing activities that do not exhibit an institutionalised activity e.g. group shopping trips carried out during working hours.
I recall a time when a good friend of mine named Saâdia Neilson said to me that I had the language of the street. What Saâdia was telling me was I did not depict the stereotypical behaviour of a disabled person. Samuel’s behaviour is a manifestation of this point.
So, basically when a disabled person just wants to be a human being and engage in the norms of society. The disabled person is highly likely to attract unwanted attention and thus making it very difficult to live in the shadow.
And finally, the reality is my informative years had a huge influence into shaping my life today. I could’ve easily had other people define my possibilities but also allowed them to choose how I live my life.
How could I disappoint my mother and also go against the hard work of the equality campaigners? In true solidarity I chose not to accept negative ideologies about disabled people, women and black people. While improvements have been made in the way employment, health and social care support is offered. The mobilisation combined with the tireless campaigning and advocacy which has today greatly influenced and shaped the types of opportunities and possibilities available to me. So, without a doubt, these improvements have contributed to the way I live my life.
And finally… In my life I have learnt that I should challenge and not accept. Accept to challenge. Life has also taught me that people do not change when they’re comfortable. And, also as a proud black disabled woman I have refused to accept people to character assassinate or confident assassinate me based on their own issues. I hold onto the words of Bob Marley he tells us to “love the life you live. Live the life you love.” These words build confidence but also remind me that I should never be prepared for others to be the author in my life or to define my possibilities. No Way! I’ve always known that for me to manipulate my way through life then it’s up me to solve my own problems but there are occasions when this needs to be done in harmony with others.
The way I live my life, attracts unwanted attention. I’m viewed as a catchy date. Hey if you want me as a date then I ask if you would oblige, to be the assisted hands and help cut my food, please?
Shopping continued… And, I’m confident that Samuel left the supermarket with a paradigm shift in his discourse on thinking and human life was renewed.
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