For their Human Rights Day activities this year, organisers and individuals are choosing to include one or more of the human rights achievements of the past two decades. So I thought I’d share what my journey has been like by choosing some of the human rights topics.
Freedom of expression
“Languages change, it will change itself”. I remember a journalist shrugged his shoulders at that a couple of years ago at an event I was at. I totally understand that languages change and words evolve into different meanings. I too have freedom of expression and I am saying that it is not okay to name a disability after an ethnicity and abuse people with learning difficulties and disabilities using the term “mongol”. I have met people who have told me “I hate that word”, pointing at my book title. Since I grew up I have had pride and joy in being a Mongol. This word should read and feel like other ethnicity or nationality like French, Scottish, German or English.
Right to the truth
We all have the right to the truth. We should be told how this term started. As much as I appreciate what John Langdon Down did in his time – the 1860’s – putting Down’s syndrome on the medical map he named this syndrome using the term “mongoloid”. In his opinion, people with Down’s syndrome looked like Mongols. He might have used the term to describe the syndrome, but it quickly became the worldwide medical term for Down’s syndrome translated into many languages causing confusion between the Mongolian ethnicity and people with Down’s syndrome. Eventually, in the 1960’s The World Health Organisation (WHO) dropped the term from medical context at the insistence of the Mongolians and changed it into “Down’s syndrome” after John Langdon Down himself.
People with disabilities
Now the term “mongol” has become part of hate speech, used to bully people with disabilities. It depends on which country, which class, who your friends and family are and even the region you live in. The term has grown different endings in different languages (“mogolico in Spanish; mongool in Dutch”) and different short versions like “mong” and “mongo”. This year, in Lebanon they have been campaigning to stop using the word mongol to describe people with Down’s syndrome, they banned the word. Why? Because this word brings shame, hurt and anger.
The Argentinian Down’s Syndrome organisation made a video campaigning to stop using certain insult words including “mogolico”:
“When you come to a new country and a new culture, you follow what they do.“, someone said to me. “You just grow some resilience”, she continued. Of course, that’s what I try to do being a migrant in Britain. But my heart tells me that not everyone is like her. My heart tells me that there are people out there who would understand where I’m coming from, from my perspective. I know that because they told me that “We are not like that. We can change it. We can.”
Yes, I know WE CAN. It might take a while. I will be talking about, writing about and campaigning about this word “Mongol” and I hope you will support and do your part too.