I Empathize

Today’s Democracy Now broadcast spent an amount of time talking to “Somali-Canadian hip-hop artist” K’naan. It was a very interesting interview, If, for nothing else, than the perspective he provided on his home country of Somalia. And, especially, the issue of piracy.

But one part of the interview, a story I’ve heard him tell on CBC previously, caught my attention, again. I thought I’d cite it, since I meant to before;

“I remember the first couple of days I was in school, I met this teacher who was supposed to be an English as a second language instructor. And so, she says to me, she says, ‘Kanaan, something something something,’ and speaks in English. And I can’t respond, and the whole class is waiting for me to respond. And so, I look at her, and then she repeats what she was saying, only louder, you know. And so, I turned to my friend who spoke Somali, and I said, ‘Could somebody tell this woman I am not—I’m not deaf, I just don’t speak her language’?”

I’ve written about this exact same treatment before. And how I often encounter it. The significant difference between his story and what I’ve previously faced is, people, not only talk louder at me, but speak slower, too. Like my wheelchair and an inability to clearly vocalize are “signs” of my auditory or mental capacities. Or better yet, since my ability to walk is “handicapped,” everything else must be as well, right?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to cast any individual’s “disability” in a negative light. When I say I don’t much like being treated as if I was “impaired,” my only point is, it’s not who I am. I’m merely stating I don’t appreciate a person’s unjustified treatment based on flawed (read: the shitty way in which some people tend to think) assumptions, is all.

And I empathize, K’naan…