My friend said: Imagine that you are running a race against olympic medal winning athletes. You would like to win, although against your competitors you know you won’t have a chance. Yet, people around are cheering you on, saying ‘you can win, just run faster and you’ll make it’.
Does this sound unrealistic? Actually it is not, it is the reality of many people experience discrimination. Comedian and journalist Stella Young explains that advertisement featuring images of people with disabilities to texts such as ‘Before you quit, try!’ or ‘The only disability in life is a bad attitude’ is simply ‘inspirational porn’ for abled people to feel better about themselves for not being ‘that person’.
‘No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp (—) No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshop and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille.’ – Stella Young
Of course, we all know success stories, such as the prominent theoretical physicists who lives with ALS and communicates through a computer, the beautiful transgender women who started her own Hollywood tv serie, the first African American who became President of the USA, or the Nobel Prize winning young Pakistani girl. These are all amazing individuals that against all odds won the race. Their stories may reveal their uphill battles, yet they do not tell the full tale of the unfair conditions of trying to compete against those with advantage pre-conditions.
My friend said: Is it really up to me to change all the time?
We need to strike a balance between encouraging our friends to continue running and at the same time not putting all the responsibility on them to speed up. Instead we need to take an active role to remove barriers and give way. In terms of integration, we often refer to a two-way-process acknowledging that both migrants and the majority population has a responsibility to integrate with each other. Yet we still often praise the successful migrant entrepreneurs without reflecting on how long they unsuccessfully tried to enter the labour market before they turn to their only option – starting their own business. We need to acknowledge that the race is unfair already from the starting line, and not deny it by reference to Hawkins, Caitlyn, Obama, Malala or any other individual success story.
My friend say: I am tired of trying to run faster.
I wonder if it is sometimes more helpful to not only come with the pepp talk but to admit the race is unfair so she knows it is not her fault. It is not her fault that society only allows for two rigid categories of ‘men’ and ‘women’, where suspicions against anyone who might not fit is put in question. Likewise it is never a women’s fault that a man harass or rape her, yet we know for a fact that women are being blamed, and simply her dress can be used against her in court. (ps. great video explainer about consent.)
Those who make products accessible for people with disabilities speak about ‘Design for All’ so everyone, disabled or not, can use it, but they also promote that sometimes we have to make ‘Design for Some’, such as a phone that is user friendly for a blind person but not functional for a seeing person. An interesting thought that maybe should be explored as ways to overcome disadvantageous societal barriers for others.
My friend said: Attraction is not governed by anti-discrimination laws.
This last point really made me think. Our societies are built according to norms of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion and belief and abilities. Education can raise awareness and anti-discrimination laws can tackle inequalities in our relations to colleagues and service-providers. It is time to admit that much remains until there is diversity in our friendship and love relations. Successful individuals can give an illusion that their lives are unproblematic, but the fact that 75 percent of all trans people are single in Europe shows that this is not the case.
We all run parallell races. Sometimes we may take the lead because of our socio-economic status, and other times we lag behind because of our gender. We win and we lose, and in some cases we can try to change the rules.
Read about my friend Alexandra here.