Hate Still Happens……
This is an unusual blog in that I’m going to get a little personal…….
I had an early start at the office this morning and to avoid traffic took a slightly different route. Despite my efforts I still got caught in traffic and as many people do, I started to get frustrated. At a bus stop nearby, a gentleman of similar age to myself stood quietly waiting for a bus which was probably stuck somewhere in the distance behind me. A couple of girls (mid-to-late teens) walking past the stop decided to make fun of the chap. At that stage I realised he was physically disabled. They felt it would be funny to pretend to walk with a limp and twist their faces – I’m sure you can picture the sickening scene. He stood there and remained calmer than calm whilst I could feel my blood pressure rising rapidly. Before I realised it, my window was down and I made direct eye contact with the girls who knew what was about to come their way but before they had given me a chance, they decided to run. The man looked away not acknowledging me which wasn’t a problem. Traffic started to move and I went to the office – in a mood.
I arrived at my office around 7.45am and sat at my desk for around 15 minutes with a cocktail of negative feelings with the primary one being ‘helplessness’. For the last few months Disability Direct has worked incredibly hard and successfully in raising awareness around Hate Crime. Yes, the above is a hate crime – and as in many instances would go unreported and unactioned due to many disabled people accepting that this has always been and will probably always be their role in society – the easy target for the bully. It struck me harder than many people due to the following reason which to this day I have shared with only a handful of people.
As a disabled child I always knew I was different. Yet I went through and left mainstream infants and primary school with the best of memories. Friends, fellow pupils and teachers were just great. Never once did I ever experience anything similar to the above. I went on to Littleover Secondary School and absolutely loved the first year there. I was pretty good academically too. Then the following year, things changed. I remember the first incident a little too clearly for my liking. The school bell would ring and you got 5 minutes to get from one side of the school to the other. One particular morning I was walking alone and two girls from the year below walking in the opposite way were giggling and decided to walk in a strange way. As they got very near to me one of them said ‘ugly spaz’ and the other almost fell to the floor laughing. I was shocked. Were they talking about me? No one had ever said anything like this before. I felt sad, very sad. So sad that I went straight to the school office and did something that I often look back at wondering if it was the right decision…..I asked to go home as I was not feeling well.
My parents, siblings and extended family loved me to bits and there was always a sense of happiness in the Raju household. I remember my over-whelming thought on the way home – I just wanted my dad to go in to school next day and kick some backside. When I got home dad was still at work and mum was just confused to see me. I cried like a baby but couldn’t find it in me to tell her. I didn’t tell a soul.
For every day for four further years I saw those two girls who would always do the same or something similar to remind me of my inadequacy as a human being. My friends didn’t know and I would just smile as much as possible to hide pure pain. When I left school all those years ago, I celebrated for the wrong reason in that I wouldn’t have to see those nasty evil girls ever again.
20 years later as CEO of Disability Direct I took a month off work to rest and recharge my batteries. In my absence, my managers were recruiting for new staff. You know what’s coming next……..
On my first day back, I was in my office and the manager called me over to the main office to say hello to the new staff. As I walked in, a really happy looking woman looked up at me from her computer, who I as walked towards her, suddenly lost her smile. I knew….She knew…. After a few pleasantries, I went back to work – indeed, there was work to be done. I was the CEO of one of the biggest charities in the region with an ego the size of a small country but I suddenly felt a little of that pain again which I thought was banished into my past. She only worked a few months and went onto something else. I never went over to the dark side by acting on the pain and serving the cold dish. Instead I used it to my advantage – ‘create even more services and support for disabled people!’
If there’s one thing I think disabled people should do, it is the one thing I should have done all those years ago at school. Instead of going home, I should have told the teacher.
The girls at the bus stop will probably never read this blog. Yet I hope some of you will act on bullying, harassment and hate crime. Yes, karma gave me the satisfaction of being in a position of power over someone that tormented me during what was supposed to be the best days of my childhood but the majority will suffer (yes suffer – I rarely use this word) and some have even taken their own lives because of similar or worse treatment by feeble people.
Today I’m still the CEO of DD and a Councillor for Derby City Council and have enjoyed success with support in an environment where disabled people are encouraged to report such behaviour. I just hope other organisations and indeed members of the public talk and keep talking about such an important topic.
It’s been a personal story but one I feel I should share to raise awareness if nothing else.