What does being different mean? Being Black, Christian, in a wheelchair? This ColouredFemme talks about her struggles with coming to term that she is in fact different, but very much unique.
When did you realize you were different?
I first realized that I was different when I moved to Ottawa in 2012 because one, I grew up in an African society where everyone is Black, and of course there are those few Indian people, Chinese people, White people and stuff like that. But then coming here where I was now the minority, it was like “Okay this is very weird”. So that’s when I really started to realize that I really am different. And also with me being Christian, back home 95% of the people that I know are Christians or do believe in God. But then coming here, because there is a lot of freedom, which is a good thing at times, I’ve met a lot of people who don’t believe in anything, which came as a surprise to me because I’ve never encountered anyone who doesn’t believe in anything. I’ve also met people who do believe in something but don’t necessarily associate themselves with anything or any religion in particular. So that’s another thing that made me feel like I kind of am different. And to me, different was weird, you know. Different was weird. Obviously with me being black and just me with my hair and all, I’ve just seen all these different people and people I couldn’t relate to. So I was literally like ‘okay, this is weird. I’m not used to this, I need to get used to this.’
How did you get used to it?
As months progressed and my college classmates interacted with me like anyone else, I was like ‘oh okay, I’m different, but they still see me as a person’. That’s the one thing that we have in common. Yes we’re all different, we’re all different in race, we’re all different in culture, and all those things, but at the end of the day, the one that we have in common is that we’re all people. I’m a person; you’re a person. The things that you need for you to enjoy life, I, too, need. I need that respect, I need love, I need to be cared for, I need all those things. So we have all those things in common and just because I’m Black and you’re White, that’s just kind of secondary.
Have you ever felt like people judged you for being Christian?
Actually I had an encounter in college with a couple of my classmates. One of them is Christian—actually she’s catholic; she made sure to let me know she’s Catholic. And there was a time when they asked me about the whole “no sex before marriage thing,” and I said “yeah, I’m not about that life.” So they asked “Why? Like, shouldn’t you test the waters first before you just jump into marriage or something?” And they kind of cornered me and made me feel like part of me and that decision was kind of…dumb! And I really took offense to that. You know, it’s things like those that make me feel like being different is, like I said, weird. My differences felt like they were weird to me and I was made to feel like my differences were dumb compared to them.
Plus, I was the only Christian-Christian in my course and with me doing theater, there were many compromising scenes that I had to take part in. So I tried to be as professional as possible, you know. I signed up for this so it’s kind of like “okay, you have to step out of your own body for a second”. And that’s what I did before. Now, having been here for four years, I’m thinking, “I don’t need to do that.” I shouldn’t have to compromise myself, even if it’s in a professional setting. I’m different, deal with it. I don’t want to do it. Why? Because it’s not me!
Do you feel that people treat you differently because you’re in a wheelchair?
Oh yeah, definitely! When they see a wheelchair, they see a fragile person. And there’s this thing where they say, “Oh my God, you’re so strong,” or “Oh my God, I’m so inspired by you!” What exactly inspires about me? The fact that I got up this morning and was able to go to class by myself? Would you prefer for me to just be sitting at home crying about the fact that “oh I’m in a wheelchair! Woe-is-me”? No.
And also, people find you very fragile and take you as a little kid sometimes. A lot of people here are very helpful, but sometimes I don’t need their help, but they feel the need to. Some people don’t even ask and I have to tell them “No, I’m good!” I appreciate the help, but they’re still very awkward around me.
Is your chair a part of your identity?
The chair is not who I am, it’s just a part of my life. The chair acts as my legs, so it’s not me. When I introduce myself to people, I’m not like “hey, I’m so and so, I’m disabled, blah blah blah.” No, the chair is just there. Just like you have your legs, these are my legs. They just happen to have a bunch of different parts and wheels and stuff. So it doesn’t define who I am. But you know, because of my condition and all these statements like “Oh my gosh, you’re so strong to do this”, I feel like I can somewhat use this as an advantage and say, “you see, look at me. I’m in a wheelchair. I get up everyday. I go to school. I go to work. I do all these things, so you have no excuse to be sitting around doing nothing.”