By Letter to the Editor on January 17, 2020.
I had several international visiting professors at university. Some of them were world-renowned scholars. A few were brave enough to teach in Japanese. Because I was young and stupid, I thought them less than what they were worth because of their newly acquired language, ignoring my French, which was like a three-year-old child. You are condemned to lose so much when blinded by prejudice.
We have many irrational reasons to judge people out of prejudice. Language is one; colour of skin is another. Visible sign of disability also distorts reality. I once saw a celebrity academic in a Swiss hospital. She had a stroke that affected her speech. She was treated like a intellectually disabled person by hospital staff because of her gibberish speech. She must have felt insulted. She looked frustrated, and her voice became high-pitched. Then attitudes toward her got worse. She was treated like an insane person.
I went to a conference in Spain with a person in a wheelchair as Canadian delegates. It was an eye-opener to see her treated like a mentally disabled person outside of the conference venue where she was merely another tourist with a disability. At a restaurant, a server looked at her, then me, and asked me, “What does she want?” I didn’t know Spanish. So, my companion in the wheelchair ordered dinner in her perfect Spanish. She asked me, “What do you want?”
Clothes count, too. Once I took part in a project to see the real life of downtown Toronto. I dressed like a homeless person for 48 hours, loitering streets, eating at soup kitchens, and sleeping at the shelter for the homeless. Everybody avoided meeting my eyes on the streets, no one spoke to me and kept a distance from me in a pew at a church service. I went there because I could sit in a warm place.
I was detained for three days in solitary at Johannesburg Airport, before I was deported in 1971. Afterwards I asked the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town to find out what the problem was. Without investigating, the First Secretary of the Embassy wrote, “As a Canadian of non-European origin (those were his exact words) you should have respected the laws of the country where you were a guest.” I received an apology from then Minister of External Affairs, Mitchell Sharp, 10 years later. Prejudice is folly.
Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui