Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sorry - Gotta Catch Em All

“Would 'sorry' have made any difference? Does it ever? It's just a word. One word against a thousand actions.”

― Sarah Ockler, Bittersweet

In Australia, Sorry Day is an annual event to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the continent's indigenous population. The Australian government's most controversial policies resulted in an entire 'Stolen Generation' - Aboriginal children separated, often forcibly, from their families of origin in the interest of turning them into white Australians.

I'm thoroughly sick and tired of the word 'sorry'. I can't begin to imagine how Aboriginal people feel about it - not about Sorry Day itself, but about the meaningless apologies that the disadvantaged receive every day.

'I'm sorry that we removed your grandmother from her family two generations ago and told her she could never see her family again or use her language or keep her identity or live at home instead of out on a mission way out at Mogumber' might be an appropriate response, but 'I'm sorry that we will not let you go to your mother's funeral' or 'I'm sorry that we will not give you a job' is not. I was proud of our country when we delivered the National Apology - not so much when discrimination against Aboriginal people continued on a daily basis - will we be apologising for the Northern Territory Intervention fifty years from now?

That got me thinking about disability and the word 'sorry'.

I have a cool game that I play when I go to Carousel Shopping Centre.

I enter the store, and the clock starts ticking. I start counting how many people say 'sorry' to me.

Some leap out of my way, even if they are a metre or more away, muttering 'sorry', red faced. I'm never quite sure whether they're apologising for being in my way or whether they're apologising because I'm disabled. My record is 23 'sorries' over the course of an hour.

I'm collecting 'sorries' like Pokemon cards.

'Sorry, we cannot provide an accessible toilet for you in your workplace.'

'Sorry, you cannot visit this restaurant - it has steps.'

'Sorry about the wait - although you fly regularly, we have a new pilot today and he really wants to make sure your wheelchair is safe to fly. Just wait here at the front of the queue.'

'Sorry about the lift breakdown.'

'Sorry - you are different from other people, and it is a huge inconvenience having to accommodate you, even though you are a paying customer.' And the apology never reaches their eyes.

I'm not even exceptionally disadvantaged. If we disabled people collectively made the 'Sorry Pokemon' card collection, it would look something like this.

'Sorry that we will not employ you.

Sorry that we will not let you in.

Sorry that we will not educate you.

Sorry that we will lock you up in a prison, without charge, for ten years.

Sorry that we will fail to support or protect you.

Sorry that we will not allow you to testify in a court of law.

Sorry that we will paint your rape or murder as an administrative error or an act of mercy.'

I don't want a National Sorry Day for People with Disability. I want change. I want people to stop discriminating against people. I want our Pokemon collection of Sorry Cards to be as irrelevant as Pokemon is today (and as collectable).

“one thing I don’t need is any more apologies i got sorry greetin me at my front door you can keep yrs i don’t know what to do wit em they don’t open doors or bring the sun back they don’t make me happy or get a mornin paper didn’t nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars cuz a sorry.” ― Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

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