„How One Instance Of Discrimination Changed My Life"
Anoushe Husain was born missing her right arm below the elbow, is living with multiple health conditions, is a cancer survivor, a Muslim and coming from an ethnic minority. She has never let what society or culture thinks she should do limit her or dictate the direction of her life. She is constantly breaking the mould and challenging not only her own beliefs about her own potential but also that of society and her own culture. In her last post we got to know her and her story. Today she tells us about how one instance of discrimination impacted on her life.
Bridging The Gaps That Exist Between People
As a woman, born with a little right arm and a visible Muslim wearing a headscarf, I have certainly met some very interesting people in my life. Sometimes a little too helpful or asking some of the most awkward questions. I pride myself on being very open-minded and saying that no question is stupid but that does not mean they are awkward to ask, hear or reply to!
No I don’t wear my headscarf in the shower and yes I can wash my own dishes (and cook, clean etc…). Awkward questions might be trying at times but they are generally harmless and asked with the best of intentions. With that in mind, I keep a smile on my face and encourage people around me to feel comfortable asking. Why? I want to help bridge the gaps that seem to have built up between all of these different groups and boxes. At the end of the day, we are all human.
Discrimination is a whole other matter and it’s against the law. Unfortunately as a twelve-year old, I was too young and vulnerable to recognise it, speak about it and take action. Here’s a basic definition of discrimination I found. I’m restricting the definition to disability only in this instance though discrimination can happen to anyone with any form of protected characteristic.
Discrimination is when you are treated less well or put at a disadvantage for a reason that relates to your disability. The treatment could be a one-off action, the application of a rule or policy or the existence of physical or communication barriers which make access difficult or impossible. The discrimination does not have to be intentional for it to be considered to be discrimination.
„With only one arm you cannot compete in the tournament!“
Now I’ll tell you my story and how it changed my life. As a child I was a competitive swimmer and I enjoyed it but I was also very keen to try different experiences and so I started karate. I had a good teacher and I was learning in one of the better dojos in the country. Our dojo also had the head referee for the country, someone teaching the much more advanced students. I reached my yellow belt quite quickly and at that belt, you can start competing with the other dojos. I needed to in fact because the belt system was being reformed and more emphasis was being put on the competition experience. This meant that if I wanted to keep up with my friends and my class, I would need to be competing on a regular basis and accumulating points.
I remember that day vividly, I was eleven or twelve and was on my way for my first proper competition. My kimono had been freshly ironed and starched, I arrived at the reception area to have my name ticked off and no one could find my name on the list. I was puzzled, my instructor had told me at class on Thursday that he would see me on Saturday at the competition. So there was no reason for me to assume I wasn’t going to be performing my routine. The head referee came to find me and told me I couldn’t compete that day. When I asked why, he said because I have one arm. This head referee saw me training two days a week in his dojo. Surely someone somewhere should have said something rather than let me come to the competition? Surely someone should have told my parents on the day they asked if I could start the sport and wanted reassurance that I wouldn’t be treated differently.
After many tears and being heartbroken, I found out that a round table had been called by the head referee for all referees including my instructor to attend. This was to discuss me. Apparently if one referee objects to a student competing, they are out. All but one objected to my competing, only my instructor wanted me to be treated like everyone else.
There was a problem, I had fallen in love with the sport. Sport, no matter the type, has always been an escape for me. My parents were concerned about me carrying on but I didn’t want to drop the sport. Sure, it would take me longer to get my next belts. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it. Over the next three years, I persevered, lost motivation but slowly and gradually grinded through the belts. I got myself to a green belt, by then, most of my original class were at brown belt, 2 belts above me, being taught by the cool coach.
I asked to move to the head referee’s class. That’s where I needed to be to get to my blue belt. It was horrible. When we were standing in line to be corrected, he would skip me, even if I was obviously doing something wrong. If I asked something, there was no answer. When my classmates noticed and asked the head referee why he was blatantly ignoring me, there was no response. I was obviously beneath him, not worth his time, his attention or his care. I thought I could handle this but I couldn’t. I was preparing to tell my parents that I wanted to change sport.
Be confident, look proud and hold your ground
That same week, while I was in class, something happened. It was a Tuesday, as usual, I was holding my position, waiting for the head referee to possibly correct me and watching him correct the person to my left and right. My gaze dropped to the floor, my body language showing exactly how I felt. I hear someone whispering “psst…psst”, cool coach was trying to grab my attention without head referee noticing. I looked at him and with his eyes, he tells me to look up, look proud, hold my stance. I listened, I stood, for the first time in longer than I could remember, someone noticed me and cared.
On Thursday, I went back to class as normal but cool coach diverted me to his class, where all the people I knew were. I asked him why and he said that I was in his class from then on. Over the next six months, I was pushed like I had never been pushed before. People thought cool coach was being extra hard on me - and I loved it. He pushed, I listened, I learned, I thrived. After he found out I had been banned from competing, he called it discrimination, rounded up all the referees and had me reinstated. I participated in my first competition within six weeks, getting extra Sunday classes from cool coach and proudly lost in my first round to the Champion of Switzerland. I didn’t care that I lost badly, I was inexperienced. I cared that I participated.
I managed to get my brown belt too and then cool coach was transferred to another club. I seriously considered stopping karate again but I was competing and making my way to my black belt, I wanted to carry on. It was worth it, I got my first podium place and head referee actually came up to me and congratulated me. He said it was a good thing I was part of his dojo…It was a difficult moment, I always wanted his praise but not because of winning a medal and proving my worth in his eyes. My karate days ended the same week, injuries linked to Ehler Danlos Syndrome had me swiftly stopping all impact sports. The head referee smiled when I told him I had to stop karate. That was the last time I ever saw him.
15 years later, cool coach is following my journey. We kept in contact when I had cancer and today he is following me on my climbing journey, proud of the fact that he was able to be part of my journey when I needed him most. When I thank him today and ask him why he fought so hard for me, why he believed I deserved the chance? He said that I showed I wanted it.
Discrimination - Inadvertent Or Intentional - Can Break A Person
Discrimination, inadvertent or intentional can break a person. I was too young to understand I was being discriminated against at the time and believed it was too late by the time I realised. I was afraid I was the one being over sensitive. I didn’t want to cause a fuss. I could have and should have spoken about it earlier but I was afraid of the impact it would have on myself, on others and on my ability to do karate.
Whether you are an adult thinking you are facing discrimination or you know a child who might be. Speak up. If it’s not discrimination, then at least you can be at peace of mind. If it is, you will have stopped the undue suffering of yourself or others.
Guest post by Anoushé Husain. Anoushé was born missing her right arm below the elbow, is living with multiple health conditions, is a cancer survivor, a Muslim and coming from an ethnic minority. She has never let what society or culture thinks she should do limit her or dictate the direction of her life. She is constantly breaking the mould and challenging not only her own beliefs about her own potential but also that of society and her own culture. Anoushé will contribute a series of articles over the coming months.