An Interview with Dr. Barnes About Being a Black Deaf Young Man

Cleansing my soul in the most beautiful island of the Caribbean, Montserrat, home sweet home, and it’s the only place where I get to reset, reflect, and recharge. I was invited to do my first ever interview with Dr. Barnes. I was nervous, but it was quite an experience and it’s a joy to be able to share my story of growing up in London and coming from Montserrat. I noticed that I talked a lot in my interview and once you get to listen to it, you will understand that it’s my nerves. However, I look forward to doing many more interviews and podcasts of my own. Happy listening to my interview “Under the Tamarind Tree” with Dr Barnes. Press play with the audio player below and the transcript for those who want to read it.

Podcast Audio

Under the Tamarind Tree – Dr. Barnes’ guest in this episode was Thomas Irish of Montserrat and London
 Transcript of the Podcast

ZJB: Welcome to Under the Tamarind Tree. Under The Tamarind Tree features great ambassadors and world changes for and the Caribbean. Listen as you learn about their lives and that the music they love. Welcome to Under the Tamarind Tree.

Dr Barnes: Our guest today Under the Tamarind Tree is Thomas Irish of Montserrat and of London. Welcome Under the Tamarind Tree Thomas

Thomas: Thank you, pleasure to be here.

Dr Barnes: I understand that you are project officer for UK deaf sports.

Thomas: Yeah. I started working with them since January, so it was just my passion of working for deaf people and just deaf people in London and how we make them engaged in sports.

Dr Barnes: We are going to come back to that passion of yours. But before we do that, we have you seated under the tamarind tree and you’re a young Montserratian who has just returned for a visit. And this must be a very special visit because in the midst of the COVID pandemic, people are not moving to and fro as regularly as they did, but you’re here.

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a home for me because of my parents. So, it’s a place for me to be able to come back and reset and recharge and just live in the moment rather than, you know, daydream.

Dr Barnes: Yeah, you’re young Montserratian and I’m about to ask you if you have had any tamarind tree experiences or any that you remember.

Thomas: Yes, to be honest, tamarind is one of my favourite fruits. So, I’ve always been eating tamarind even my time in Montserrat as well and eating tamarind when I was in England too. But it’s not the same in England, but Montserrat is much better because it’s just local and it’s authentic.

Dr Barnes: I’ve had some of those in England, they’re coming from places like Thailand. And they’re very, very sweet. Sometimes. I wonder if they’re real because they’re so sweet. Yeah. But you prefer the tanginess of the Montserrat tamarinds

Thomas: Yeah, of course. I prefer to eat, you know, the natural, local stuff from Montserrat. Because you know,, when you’re in Montserrat, you eat all the fruits, the mangoes, the sugar apple, so many fruits out there and you don’t get the opportunity to ask somebody to get it for you and you can eat it and enjoy it. Whereas in England, you have to go to the supermarket and buy it, but you don’t enjoy as much as you get in here.

Dr Barnes: I’m going to ask you for another memory of Montserrat as you left here at four years old. Did you, by chance go to any school here? I would expect that it would be preschool. Do you remember any of that experience?

Thomas: Yes. Yeah. I remember I went to Brades School. And that the only memory I have but the memory that I have, the most that I used to have a friend in here where I used to play cricket all the time or play basketball. But I did, I left very, very young. I don’t really know many people in the Montserrat that only know my families, my brothers and my sisters, my cousins. Yeah, so.

Dr Barnes: So, schooling for you was in London. Tell us about that. We like to hear a bit of that experience.

Thomas: In London, who I went to school for the, it was hearing school, but it had a deaf unit for deaf people. I’m not quite sure how I remember, but I would like to say a massive shout out to Karen, because she’s the one who told my parents to come to England when I was being deaf. But my school experience in London had been a very positive experience, but also has some barriers that I have to overcome, but it has been the most blessing thing because it made me who I am today.

Dr Barnes: Yeah. You mentioned a shoutout to Karen and Karen is in Montserrat?

Thomas: I think she’s in England at the moment, but she come to Montserrat every now and then. And when my parents were struggling to find somebody who [know] how to deal with people who are deaf, and they wanted to know where to go. Like so Karen is the one who told my parents take him to England, take him to the hospital and pinch so he can get them. That when I had my first hearing aids, and I was like, whoa, I can hear.

Dr Barnes: They identified that you you’re deaf and in, in Montserrat here that was identified in Montserrat.

Thomas: They did, but they did not. No, we went to, we fly sometime in Antigua, and they were doing test, test test, and it wasn’t really doing anything. It didn’t progress further. I, I moved to England and that when I had my first breath of air of being able to hear things.  I never thought I would be able to, but when I was younger, I couldn’t speak properly. That’s what, everybody in Montserrat knows me well as. They used to know me, running up the stage, talking to a microphone and they say who is this boy? he can’t even talk at all. But since then, I’ve been coming back to Montserrat, and everybody had been to surprised saying wow. That’s not the same Thomas I used to know.

Dr Barnes: So, we are really interested in this, and I know that when it comes to disabilities, that there are lots of controversies about how you refer to the person with the disability, the identity. And there was a, I recall at one point there were discussions about whether we must say deaf, or we must say hearing impaired or are the same thing? So, if you just enlightened us a bit.

Thomas: You know, to be on honest in the deaf community, we do not use the word hearing impaired because of the terminology and how it would imply to the old medical term. And also, I didn’t really accept my disability until I think just when I was doing my time at university or when I found my deaf identity, but I didn’t quite feel that I had a disability because I can do all those things except that I can’t hear. Yeah, but now I do have a disability because there are certain things that I am struggling with, and it is who I am and it’s not a negative term. So, disability is a big part of my life, and you have to be proud of it. And you know, you have, you have to use it in a right way to, you know, not use it as an inspiration, use it as a motivation to become a better person and, you know, fight for what you believe in. So that’s why I used my deafness as a guidance and it’s part of my identity. Yeah.

Dr Barnes: There’s such a big difference between disability and acknowledging that as part of your identity and what you mentioned earlier as the rejection of the term impairment, because some people thought impairment gave the person with a disability a much nicer you know, and definition, but impairment, as you say, suggests that something is wrong. It’s a medical term. And we are saying that for disabled people, it’s much more than just a medical situation.

Thomas: Yeah. You know, when, when people mentioned impaired or in a medical term, all I can think it mean it’s fixed. So, for example, I am deaf, I am, I am deaf. Right. And I go to the doctor, okay. He deaf, let me give him hearing aids or cochlear implants and say, okay, you’re done. Here you go. This is who you are. And that how I see the word using hearing impaired. But I am so much more than that you know, okay, I’m going to in a crowded space and I’m talking to my friends. You know, my friends are talking at the same time with a loud background noise, and I can’t hear or understand what they are saying. That is the one of the barriers that I’m actually struggling, struggling with. So, it is important to acknowledge, you know, disability means, you have this, in term of something you know, that something that you can’t do, or control, but another word ability means that you can do so many

Dr Barnes: Certain things to a certain extent to which all of have a ‘dis’.

Thomas: Yeah, disability, just depending on what type of person have a disability yes, but I only have one problem and my one problem is that I can’t hear, but I have so many things that it’s not a problem for me.

Dr Barnes: So, now, now that we’ve, we’ve cleared that out. Yeah. I’m going to take you back to school. Tell us about school in London.

Thomas: A school in London has always been a positive. The thing is I, how I use my disability in terms of school sports is the one who saved my life. And if it wasn’t for sports, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I think I was introducing into sport by my father and my family had always been at sporty group but mainly my dad. But I first became in love with basketball by my brother. And that’s when you know it only because he used to go to basketball training every Saturday. And at school there’s always a child playing around, you know, football that when I discover football and sports and those kinds of things so sports in school, it saved me as well.

Dr Barnes: And you’ve mentioned almost your family. And I was about to say, you mentioned almost all, but I don’t know and others under the tamarind tree would like to know, you mentioned your mom and your dad and your brother. Is this an older brother?

Thomas: Yeah, it’s an older brother, I, I have six siblings in total. But if anybody was going to ask me, who is, who is your role model. I would say I have two role models and it, my parents, my mum, and dad. My dad teaches me more of the education sides of life. You know, you have to go to school to make sure you get a good grade, but it’s only because he knew that I was deaf, and he knew that I needed a support because he doesn’t want me to have some kind of struggle. Whereas, with my mom you know, she’s the one who bring it back say, okay, Thomas loves to go to school, but you know, Thomas needs to go outside in the real world and enjoy life and see what is out there. So, I have the best combination of both, and my both my parents are very independent, very knowledgeable, intelligent and they’re very strong minded.

So, I have best of both and both mind in one. That’s why people always especially people in Montserrat always see me. Oh, you, you look like your father, or you look like your mom, you remind me of mommy and dad. So, it’s both of them.

Dr Barnes: So, for those of us under the tree who don’t know exactly who these wonderful parents are, this wonderful mom and this wonderful dad, could you just tell us their names?

Thomas: So, my dad is Errol Irish, and my mother is Adelle Irish. Yeah. My dad passed away in 2018 in December. Yeah, my mum is still alive so thank God for that. But they are my rock, I’m always looking out for them and supporting them especially with my mum.. It’s so important to spend every moment with the parents because you know, you can, in life in general, people will say, oh, as you get older people, oh, I would see my parents all the time. You know, they are fine, and I will see them whenever I wanted to. But I never allow myself to get in that position. I. Even if I’m in a different country or gone away, I will always talk to my parents or visit them like maybe two to three times a month or something, because you never know when you’re gonna see them. It’s always important to spend a few moments with them. You know maximising every moment that you have with your parents, because not everybody has the opportunity to do that.

Dr Barnes: We’re so sad that you’ve lost your father and those of us under the tree now remember recognising who he is. Errol Irish, the educator, the public servant, and the great tenor. He was a member of the Emerald community singers. In fact, we partnered a lot on stage, and this will be a lovely time for you to share a bit of music that you like with us.

Thomas: Yeah. My dad. it’s funny because he shared his musicals experience with me, but I never really y well he introduced me to play the piano. The other musical instruments like the flute, the clarinet, and the guitars, and that when I discover my love, my passion for music, and it’s become more of a hobby where I just need to escape the real world. But my dad has a very different taste in music than what I listened to because he listens to calypso, soca music that what he’s into because of the Caribbean background and kind of though it’s his thing that he loved music about the old time, like the Slavey and things like that. But my passion to me is more of hymns, Christian music, as well as the rap music as long it’s poetic so that’s my style of music.

Dr Barnes: So, which one would you choose?

Thomas: So, that song that I made when I was at student at boarding school for the deaf I create a hymn song as the deer and it’s one of my favourite songs. I created the hymn a song into a reggae version with my dad’s singing in it.

This song is about love, you know, it, you know, for people who listen to As the Deer paths for the water. It’s a love song and some people use it for the wedding, but it’s just the love that you have with the people who inspired you in many different ways. Yeah, it’s just, it’s just given me a good vibe.

Click here to listen to the song -> As the Deer – Thomas Irish x Errol Irish

Dr Barnes: So, you’ve just heard As the Deer paths through the water, and we are getting a very special version by Thomas Irish and with vocal accompaniments by the well-known tenor Montserratian Errol Irish. So, Thomas you told us some things about school, but we are going to continue talking about that because there might just be a child or parent who’s listening who would have to make certain decisions about education based on their deafness.

Thomas: Yeah. It’s a difficult one for parents. I think you have to be open. You have to be, you have to have, and I think when I was younger, I’ve always asked questions to my dad all the time and mom. But they weren’t afraid to, well, they never hide anything from me. They always say, okay, if I didn’t do well at school or I would say why I can get a certain grade or, you know, I don’t understand what the teacher is saying. But for school, I use to be home-school as well so if I don’t understand what a teacher is saying, I will come home and say, oh mom, I don’t understand maths, you know, I don’t know much about you know, multiplication or those kinds of things.

But luckily my dad is a teacher himself as well. He used to be able to teach me things that I will never get the opportunities to do that at school. And when I go to school, I would say oh I know what to do, because my parents teach me things. And yeah, I it’s a difficult one, but I always say you have to be open and don’t be afraid to ask questions because I always have a saying a fool asks many questions to become wise.

So, ask many questions, as you can, you know, you know there’s another words knowledge is power, you know, a fool asks many questions to become wise, yes. But the more question you ask, the more knowledge you gain and it, the powerful thing. So, I’ve always that to parent or whatever, I’m talking about my experience as a deaf person in terms of presentation or for schools and things like that. These are my two mottos I always go by so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Dr Barnes: You completed university undergraduate and at the master’s level as well. Tell us about that experience.

Thomas: This is one of my favourite topics to talk about. I finished my, you know, be honest, I was actually gonna drop out university because I was actually struggling with the course that I did not enjoy and there was one Lecture. It was the research method and there was a lecturer there and she is now my supervisor, but I also consider her as my friend too, cause we all, we talk regularly. She was talking about the philosophy of research. The, you know, quantitative research, qualitative research, the methodology, ontology, epistemology, you know, kind of philosophy. Yeah, yeah. That kind of thing. And at a time, I have no idea what she was talking about.

Dr Barnes: But she knows that I know I’m not alone in this, you know, everyone who’s done a research method, methodology course, feel at some point that they have absolutely no understanding of what is been spoken of. It’s not an easy thing, is it? Yeah.

Thomas: Yeah. That, that, that you see. But she used a very interesting analogy, and she was talking about the matrix movie, the red pill, and the blue pill. And if something about, if you take the red pill, that’s what you’re gonna do. If you take the blue pill, you know, you see what I like to do? My supervisor Katrina always said that when I went and go you know what? I really like her, I’m going to send an email so I sent an email and said that, you know, I don’t know what I want to do for my dissertation that when I was as an undergrad, but I would like to talk to you. So, she books the meeting, I went, went to see her.

And I said to her, you know, all my friend is talking about, you know, hypothesis, something, something so black and white you know, talking about the physiology of sports, the biomechanics. You know, what is different between running and walking? And I’m like, I don’t like this stuff. Can I talk about my experience as a deaf person in sport, you know, is that possible?

And she said, yeah, of course, and then that, when she introduced Autoethnography to me, and she gave me some papers and some books I would read in an article about a girl who had an anorexia experience and she, you know, she was very skinny, but she played sport. But then, you know, in a sense that she was struggling with her identity in being an Asian woman.

Dr Barnes: This is fantastic. You notice the smiles and.. You mentioned a red pill, blue pill. So could you tell us. Which one of the pills was written which one of the pills you take and what does that represent you? You mentioned autoethnography, but in terms of the philosophy of doing research, there’s a step before then that I’m certain that some of these students were tasked with doing their Caribbean studies and other things might want to, you know, the SBAs might want to hear.

Thomas: Ah, ah, so

Dr Barnes: Which one did you take?

Thomas: I can’t remember the analogy, but it was, I think it’s something to do with

Dr Barnes: Qualitative and Quantitative.

Thomas: Yeah and something about that and especially with the matrix movie, it is talking about something like. She goes, I can’t remember it, but it was the moment that gave me…

Dr Barnes: Once you’ve settled on Autoethnography, then you’ve gone qualitative. So when, when we talk about qualitative research, we are talking about research, which has to do with people’s experiences, what they say, you know, what they do, and it’s not enumerating anything. Yeah. It is about the real-life experiences of people.

Thomas: Yeah. I always like to talk about something that is meaningful, you know, I always say storytelling is the most powerful thing that can change people’s life. So, you know we can talk about that there’s 4,000 people in Montserrat. Yes, so what and then you said, okay. Then, I don’t know half of these population have young people, yes, so what? But Montserrat have so much gone on. You know I know the volcano happened during the time that I was being born in 95. And I always thoughts, my mom, my parents always talk about their experiences in Montserrat and that when I always love hearing their experiences but even though me going through school about, you know not being able to understand what people are saying and the struggles and how sport took me to a different world. I always wanted to share my experience of all the struggles that I been through That when my supervisor I would call her my supervisor because I see, she’s also my friend and also my supervisor. When Katrina introduced me to Autoethnography, I didn’t understand what it was. But when I went away and read about it and for people you don’t know what it is, it’s like an autobiography, but it’s more about understanding you know, the culture, the social part of yourself that goes deeper than just telling a story it’s about, you know, what is like being a deaf person?

You, know what, what the culture behind it, you know, how did the culture affect me who I am as a person? Okay. You talk about sports. What’s so special about sport? Which sport do you love to do, you know, what, what is the research is saying about sport and how that impact me as the person? And then university, you know, there’s so many things that happening around that made me who I am and that’s, what’s so special about Autoethnography. Yeah, that’s when I started to write my experiences and then went to publish the paper about that as well.

Dr Barnes: We are going to come back to that, but just to top it off, that is the value of qualitative research, as opposed to research that a statistic just statistically based and centred on hypothesis science, the science so-called scientific method. Yeah. So, our experiences are important. Yeah. And there’s a science to it as well.

Thomas: Yeah, of course. There’s science to qualitative research. There’s no doubt about that. People see, some people who doesn’t see as science are people that they don’t know, they don’t know anything. It so repetitive. It’s so black and white but there’s with the grey area, you know, you know I always say, you know, why you showed me the numbers. But why are these numbers is telling me about?

Dr Barnes: What is the story behind it?

Thomas: Yeah, what is the story behind the number, you know? And it always, you know, you can’t generalise it, but you there’s an article wrote by Brett Smith that talks about Generalizability in sport like naturalistic, generalisability, and those and different ways to generalise in qualitative research are which is really difficult to do, but it just gives you some context of understanding how you can somewhat generalise it.

But it so important to find out what the story behind it and how you can change these numbers, you know once you hear the story, then it would always go back to the people and see the problem now. Now there’s work had to be done. That’s what so special about qualitative research, you know, it just, it always something fresh.

Dr Barnes: Yes, and there are those under the tree who are probably thinking and they’re listening and they’re probably thinking, what are those two talking about? You know? And that, that is a thing that happens with research and the understanding of the research process and research methodology. It, the, those who are passionate about it, speak about it in the way you were speaking about it. And I am I’m listening and contributing, but for the ordinary person. It’s not a thing that they might even, you know, what we’re talking about and are things that they might think about, but we are going to make it simple for them. So, let’s have your next piece of music before you make it simple.

Thomas: So, the next song that I am also passionate about is black by Dave this song is about what he him talking about what is being a black person and how, you know, what is this society is talking about being black and being black is a powerful thing. So that’s what I’m passionate this time.

Click here to listen to the song -> Black – Dave

Dr Barnes: So, you’ve just heard Black by Dave and I was speaking to Thomas Irish project officer for the UK deaf sports. And we were talking about the difference between quantitative and qualitative research and how difficult the understanding research methodology and process is. We say we are going to make it simple, and we could start making it simple with that same piece of music that you’ve chosen, because this is about identity. So, take it away.

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, I’m going to make it simple. That’s my motto. I like to keep things simple. So, the, my identity for the song. Black is so important about recognising who you are as a black person. You know, it’s, it’s a struggle that I’ve, I wouldn’t say struggle for me for being who I am. It’s just a struggle of what the society sees you as and that’s affecting who you are. I think it’s just because of when, you know, I am, I’m a deaf person and I am also black, but these are my two things that you can ever encounter though. I’m not disregarding any other people who have difficulty yes, but my difficulty is that what do people see you as, do they see you as a black person first or do they see you as a deaf person?

And when I introduced myself you know, I always think about my disability first, but I don’t think about me being black. So, I always said yes I’m Thomas, just to make sure that, I am deaf. I just need you to make sure to not to cover yourself with your mask or anything else. I just need to read your lips. I can understand what you’re saying.

And then people would look at you oh, he’s deaf. I don’t think he can talk to me or something. That’s one of the barriers. But then when they get to know you they know how to communicate with you, but then there a little thing that racial slurs or the micro aggression, the people saying stuff to you and you’re thinking ahhh that’s another barrier I have to go through.

And you have to say no, you’re not supposed to say these things because you know, this is what happen based on black history is [unable to identified what being said. No, you shouldn’t be saying these things and they might either don’t like you or they might acknowledge it and apologise you for it, but then you have to go through you know how does society be? You know, I am a black deaf man and, you know, men and women have differences of what they’re going through.

Dr Barnes: We are looking at gender differences now. Yeah.

Thomas: So, you know, it, it, I have to be careful how I say this because I think in terms of being a black man, well, being a black deaf man, you know, people would think, okay, being a man is all about masculine. You have to be, Men don’t cry, men should stand up, work for the money and, you know, provide home for their wives or their babies or stuff. But that’s not how the society should be, you know, we should be open. We should have a sensitive conversation with a loved one or whoever, you talk to and be emotional about it.

Don’t be afraid to use your emotions. You know, especially, you know, the, one of the highest death rates is with men committing suicide, you know, I don’t want to be in part of that statistic yes.. So, I’m grateful for my parents as well because they are always open with me. You know, If I want to understand anything I have, I will ask them, and they will be able to tell me about their experiences. They can tell me about their relationship and how they feel about one another. And I would go think, okay, how do I feel about my mum? How do I feel about my dad? If I don’t like certain things I must speak about it, I want them to know that how I’m feeling. And then they would say, okay, this is how Thomas’ feeling, what can we do to make it better? Now, how can we solve the problem? That is so important to talk about those things, because why do we have to resist ourselves and say oh nope I have to be strong. I’m going to go and no, no, no that’s not how the world works.

Dr Barnes: And there is those who are listening, who would be saying, well, he’s a young man. Where does he get this wisdom from, so we have race? We have your disability. We have gender and now we are adding youth.

So, you’re a deaf young black man?

Thomas: Yeah. But maybe in the next couple of weeks or years, am I, oh, I’m a Montserratian black deaf young man or something, you know, it all,

Dr Barnes: In a couple of years, a couple, couple of more years, you might be saying you’re a Montserratian Black deaf young, old man. Middle-aged man.

Thomas: Yeah. I mean, you know, your identity changes every day. You’re never the same person. You’re not, you’re never the same person as yesterday.

Dr Barnes: And then we add sexuality

Thomas: Intersectionality?

Dr Barnes: Well before we get to the intersectionality. Sex, sexuality.

Thomas: Yes. You know, you can be gay straight, you can be bisexual, you can be anything. But I’m a straight man. But sexuality is very complex topic to talk about. And you know, what the thing is right, I didn’t understand anything about sexuality until I moved to England. And I see all different. London is a very multicultural city. You see all sort of people and I’ve come across with so many different people in my life and I am friends with, well, one of my best friends who is bisexual or queer, but I don’t have anything against them. They, and I have a very mixed of friends. I don’t like having just one black people friend, white people friend. I have a very mixed of friends, and it’s so important to mixed with, be friends with all different people so that you can understand their experiences.

And that would give you a time to reflect on how you reflect yourself on them and yourself and how can you make yourself as a better person. And when I was younger, I never really used to like reading and I used to read books about so many different things, the most books I like reading is about non-fiction book, but real-life experiences, the memoirs and stuff. And that when I discover lots of different things and I talked to people about it and I go to conferences and talk about, you know, what they are talking about and how can I make sense with them. So yeah, it’s, I, I know a lot of the things it’s just because I just want to understand how the world works.

Dr Barnes: And, and understanding how the world works and Montserrat, at this moment is going through its transition into multiculturalism and so forth. And it is very clear that by living in London, maybe living in England, you’re living in a society that holds very holds a lot of value on inclusiveness and openness. But that is not as simple as it appears. And then, you know, we look at race and gender and disability and gender and sexuality and age all of these constructs that being given special attention so that the whole idea of inclusiveness can be made real, and openness can be made real. And you’ve, you’ve, you’ve outlined that so nicely for us and I heard you use a term earlier that I want to put back into the bag seeing that we are discussing so much about research and how we interpret our stories and interpret other people’s lives. And this a black researcher, Kimberly Crenshaw brought a very important concept to the table, which is being heard and used very widely now in so much of what we do in interpreting and society, that big word intersectionality.

Thomas: Yeah, I come across the word intersectionality, after I finished my masters because I wanted to go into research, but I wasn’t sure which route I want to go down as but I went to many conferences. I went to conferences in Vancouver, in Canada, I went to conferences in Durham, I went to conference in Oxford Brookes, and I talked to many different people, and I came to an idea of my own. I came across Kimberly Crenshaw. I think it was one article I’ve read. It wasn’t, I’ve read her work after I found somebody that they were talking about intersectionality, and I was like, oh, I think I know where I read it.

I read the book called Diversify. And it was written by Sarah Sarpong [June Sarpong] or something about a black lady who talk about different diversity that we should know about. And there was one word intersectionality, and it’s just ring a bell to me. And I, I don’t understand what it means. So, when I went away and I went on Google and write down what it means,, and understand it and I’m like, wow, this word is very powerful.

It’s a theory of understanding multiple identity in one. That’s how, I’m how I explain it to myself, because I don’t like to be the person who is so complex. I like to keep it simple. And I want people to understand what it means. So, you know, it’s mainly talking about, you know, intersectionality, right, is all of these identities, like gender race, class, sexuality come in together and made you who you are as a person. That’s how I explained to myself for, to make his sense for me, because when I tell people what intersectionality, what does that mean? Yes. Oh, it’s just multiple identities, I’m a black deaf man that’s intersectionality.

Dr Barnes: They all come together and yeah, there are some people under the tree who might remember this, this concept of the crossroads where different, you know, they are coming different roads come together at one spot. And in fact, in my village, the intersection was under a tamarind tree. So, the, we, you know, we can say that human beings have all these various identities and they, they come together in that spot that makes you who you are.

And that’s what the identity is about. Isn’t it, you know, the, the, the overall identity? But then when you look at all of the, the roads, which would have come to join, each of them is a different identity. And in acknowledging that they exist makes you the better person. Yeah. You think that we’ve nailed it? Yeah, of course. I think we’ve nailed it and there’s lots more, but you know, that that’s a word that has been thrown around and like your friends who say what a lot of people say, what, and some people use it glibly, but it is a very important term, and its meaning is important. Kimberly Crenshaw first brought it under the table and with reference to race issues and in the legal in the, in, in the legal context. And then she said, what a black woman is not just a black woman, a black woman is a black woman and they, their class issues and, and whatever those differences are, would make e The life of the person, what it is. Yeah. Yeah. There’s no singular way of looking at a person.

Thomas: Yeah. I really appreciate her coming in because, you know, she was so much into something about feminists and feminism and how it’s so focused on white women.

But it’s not about that feminist is about everybody, who’s women. But I think people never really considered the disability in that context, but it always been left out. But, you know, it’s there, a person who is a woman who might be gay, but she’s the feminist because women have to have rights you know, to do what they want to do and how the research is going, and it is developing. She started based on racism and class. But now it had been used in, in disability, gender, sexuality and so much more. Yeah, so I really I’m grateful for how she came about that and now people are talking about it because it’s so new. No, but

Dr Barnes: It’s been around for a little while, but it’s still new because philosophies are like that. They they’re around and people toss them around and eventually the light bulb goes on. And I think the light bulb is on right now, especially now that we’re talking about with the black lives matter Black Lives Matter, but black lives of disability of disabled people matter black lives of, you know, of women matter and do they matter in the same way or do they, have their difference.

Thomas: It’s a difficult one because black women have the most difficulty at what they’d been through than a black man. But yeah, it’s something that needs to be talked about, you know, it’s something missing that people don’t really talk about it, but it should be a conversation

Dr Barnes: I’m loving, I’m loving this conversation, let’s have your next bit of music.

Thomas: So, the, the other song that I, I love is underdog by Alicia keys. That song came out recently, not recently, maybe last year or something and when during the pandemic and people were struggling about, you know, how to chase their dreams, but, you know, you’re the underdog and if you have a dream and a passion, chase it, you know, what’s stopping you, just go for it.

Click here to listen to the song -> Underdog – Alicia Keys

Dr Barnes: You’ve just heard underdog by Alicia keys. And I’m speaking to Thomas Irish project officer with the UK deaf sports and Thomas Irish, who’s also emerging as a philosopher. So, underdog?

Thomas: Yeah.

Dr Barnes: So, you know, this idea of, of being the underdog,

Thomas: ah, I love being the underdog, the reason why, because people always will say, oh, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. How could deaf person be a researcher? How could a deaf person finish their masters, how could, how come I’m planning to do my PhD? I love being an underdog, I love people telling me that I can’t do something because I will continue to prove them wrong and I’ve always said it to myself that, you know, I remember when, I got in university only because I just wanted to wear a hat that my dad was graduating in Middlesex university and I wearing his hat. And I said dad I’m going to be like you, guess what? I graduated at university, and he said, well, I’ve done my masters and only my daughter had done a master’s.

I said, you know what? I can do it anyway; I went and do my masters and before I would go and do my masters. I said that you know nobody in our family ever published a paper, a research paper. He said, if you do this, you’re better than me. And I said well look at me and I published my paper.

Dr Barnes: So, tell us about that paper.

Thomas: This paper is about Sports saved my life, but I’m tired being alien. So alien is me being a deaf person and children or adults, anybody see me at and looked at me differently. Like alien have a weird, ears and shapes, but sports save me, saved my life because when I played sports, nobody think about, I have a disability. They will say wow, he can play basketball and that’s my passion of sport. And then they, oh, wow. You know, you can do so many things. That was sport saved me and in sense of understanding the real world. That’s how I became who I am, because I see so many athletes who had a difficult background you know Nobody thoughts Usain bolt was going to be the world fastest man in the Olympics, but when he was about what, 15, 15 time he came, what nearly at the bottom, and now he fastest man that you ever seen. So, it, and then you see so many athletes that have gone through, like for example Andy Murray he played tennis and then he had problems with his hips and now he had a metal hip and people say, oh, he can’t play tennis with mental hip but look at him playing tennis. So when, whenever I see people doing these sports, I see myself as a disability person and I, Ooh, you know what? I can do that. So that’s why I love being the underdog. I love proving people wrong. If I say, or I said to my mom, when I was graduating my masters, after my dad passed away. I said mom, you know what, I want to be a doctor. I want to be a professor in the future. I just want to research and I’m passion about learning something new.

And she said, if that what you want to do, go for it. And I have no idea where to start at a time. I spend a lot of time talking to people about how to get myself there. So, I’ve, I was very fortunate to meet so many networks with so many people and I found a place where I want to go and where I want to study and that is why I am pursuing what I wanted to pursue.

Dr Barnes: You, you will do that. And we are going to talk about that in a little bit more detail, but I’m bringing you back to the paper and the title of the paper. Where was it published? What is this whole idea of writing of people? What is it because there’s some, some people listening to, would like to know exactly? You told your dad that you are going to be the first person in your family to publish your paper. So, tell us what title, where did it publish and what were the details of it the content of it.

Thomas: So, the title of my paper is sports saved my life, but I’m tired of being an alien. I publish my paper on my blog. So, I have a blog website where I write about my experiences, and I put my paper there if people want to access and read it. The paper is about that I am talking about my experience as a deaf person and from a young age to the person who I was, because I’m the different person that I am now. And I was talking about how being a deaf person is so difficult. People didn’t understand how to communicate with me. People didn’t know how to be a deaf aware of you know, I had to be in a certain room. I had to be in a quiet room to be able to understand what people are saying. If I’m in a group of people and everybody talking at the same time, I can’t, I don’t understand what they’re saying.

I need them to understand that I need them to acknowledge that I am deaf, and I need you to speak one at a time. And then people looking at you in a different way, people, oh, you can’t hear so I don’t want him to play me or anything, but they don’t realize that I can do so many other things, you know, actually need something that not fit, but be able to adapt the situation that I’m in. So, this paper is about it for people to understand it. It’s not generalizing anything, it’s about being open and say look, the, I was the deaf athlete and I played basketball regularly and I used to play for Great Britain deaf basketball team. I played basketball all the time. Not many people know that because I don’t really show it. I don’t like to show off. I just like to be myself. But I played basketball but playing basketball with hearing sports with people who is hearing, I always struggled with them because one minute they will look at me and okay. He can’t hear to, how can he play basketball, so if I say, oh, go left, go right just because somebody’s coming to block me. I can’t, I wouldn’t be able to hear that, but it’s dangerous for me to wear my hearing devices when I’m playing sports. But in deaf sports, where it’s just deaf people only, we’re not allowed to wear hearing devices because it’s for health and safety’s reason, and we communicate in sign language.

And it, I feel more connected with them because everybody who the sign and communicate British sign language. And when I go and compete in Europe, there’s international sign language, and there’s different languages in different countries have its own language sign language, and I feel more connected with them, and I feel more comfortable with them.

Whereas if I play sport with some hearing people that doesn’t understand about deafness or coach, they will just put me in the side-line. They would leave me out and say he can’t do it. I can’t do it with him, but he just needed to be as a coach. You should be able to, you know, face your athletes, and look at me. I need your attention face to face. You know, don’t cover your mouth, you know don’t move around when you’re talking. And just have an open conversation, but I didn’t really have that connection with the certain people from that session. So that’s what my paper is about that. I’m struggling with those things. But when I went to school, boarding school for the deaf, it’s just a school just for the deaf people. I, you know that when I found my identity, that when I found about me who I am and meeting other people, I was able to meet friends, and this is my world. And I, I loved it there. I went, I went to university it the whole different world and I’m like, oh my goodness, I’m back to square one all over again.

But then, you know, after I have finished my paper, my experiences change that, that’s what, how sports saved me in itself, that when I played sport, I don’t think about the problem. The problem goes the way, even though I have problem with certain people. But I still loved it because when I played, it just gives me that feeling dopamine of, you know, being happy and enjoy. And that’s how I love sport and that’s what my paper is about.

Dr Barnes: Research paper that gives insights from your life into being a deaf person and you in, in sports. And you intend to continue this at the PhD level. You told your dad that you’re going to become a doctor.

Thomas: My dad actually didn’t know about none of that. No, because at the time I didn’t want it in my PhD. I think it was after I went to many conferences after he pass away, I decided to go traveling and I decided to meet people into research when the conference is about you know, sport and discrimination conference. I put myself into that situation and where’s there’s like sociology of sport. I put myself in that situation. I, when I meet people about it, I became to love it and enjoy it. And I, that when I found my passion in research and that when, I said, you know what, earlier last year, this year, that when I came to the, you know, what, I’m ready to take myself to the next step.

Dr Barnes: And that next step, it’s not just about getting a title doctor. It is about making an original contribution to knowledge. So, what what’s going to be your contribution?

Thomas: For my contribution, I just want, there are many research about that deaf people deaf athlete experiences in sport. And for me, I wanted to talk about intersectionality in the deaf community in sport because I meet so many deaf people in my life, but in a deaf community, it’s so white base.

You know, it’s all about audism, and, and I came in between, ah, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but between the capital D deaf and lowercase D deaf the capital D is about people who is from a deaf culture, deaf background, deaf family, you know, they being deaf for their whole life, where whereas lower case d deaf is more into the hearing community, but to come in to the deaf community every now and then that when

Yeah. So, when I come to realization, you know, when people talk about class and they talk about upper class, lower class, middle class, class in deaf community by identifying the different D’s. But then when, and I don’t really, I’ve only read one paper about a black person talking about their experiences, but it was the female in America talking about her experiences as a feminist in college, but there’s nothing in the UK. And when I look about my own paper, I said to myself, I realised I only talk about me being a deaf person, but I never talk about me being a black deaf person and it’s so good to go back and criticise your own paper and say wow, you know, I’m grateful for that, that it had been published, but it needs, you know, research is always changing. There’s always something new. And recently, I submitted a chapter with, two my supervisors about intersectionality – experiences of the black deaf individuals in sport. And that when we start talking about those things to in term of for my PhD, I want to talk about more about intersectionality or as you call it underrepresented group in the deaf community in sport or whether is it Deaflympics as we have our own Olympic and it older than Paralympics with just deaf people alone and just meet the athlete and talk about their experiences in public. I don’t hear anything of them. I want to know; how did they get into their sport? You know, it can be about it. Where do you hear anything about it? I talk about my sport, but I didn’t, I talk about me being an athlete, but I didn’t hear anything about other deaf people, my fellow friends and those people that is so important to have that conversation come about because, you know, you can think about so many different disability, like people blind people, you know, people with you know, amputees and those kind of things.

You know, they’re very more popular one, but deaf is a very, more popular need to ability in the world. But why is it does not talk about; People fail to talk about that. They don’t. So, it’s so important for me to go into research about.

Dr Barnes: And we are all standing behind you. We are proud to hear where you intend to head, and we know that you are definitely going to get there. We’re so pleased that you have taken time out to share all of these insights that you’ve shared with us. And let’s have your final bit of music.

Thomas: The final bit of music is I smile by Kirk Franklin you know, everywhere you go, just smile, you know, if they know if there’s no sunshine, just smile. If there’s no cloud in it, if there’s cloud in the sky with no blue skies, just smile, you know, everywhere you go. Just smile. That the best policy, you know because we have good days and bad days, but if you smile, you know, you’re going to get there and kindness beautiful thing you can ever have, because I know I’ve been away from social media for past three or four months, because I don’t want to be left and right centre just look at other people, posting pictures, you know, and I’m thinking to myself why I can’t have what they have, you know, it’s not making me happy. So, I decided to remove myself from the situation and live in the moment and maximise every moment that I want to do. And I’m at the present moment, even being in Montserrat, I’m in my happiest self.

You know, I can go into. You know, if I see somebody dress nice, you never, you don’t know what the person story behind you don’t know the story behind them. You can go up and say, look, you look very good today. You know, I like how you dress, you know, you’re going to, what you say to them. They going to change the whole life.

They can tell, thank you. You know, I needed that. You know, it’s so important to be kind to people, you know, kindness goes far away you know, to compliment somebody, even though, you might, a person might have diabetes when you walk past people, especially in London they are too many people. You don’t know if they have problems with their families and they might have a disability, they might go through serious issue at work. People just be kind, just say, oh, you look good, good today, let me take you out for a drink. They gonna say wow. I never expect anybody come up and tell me something good about myself. It’s important to smile and be kind.

Click here to listen to the song -> Smile – Kirk Franklin Song

Dr Barnes: you’ve just heard I smiled by Kirk Franklin and I’m speaking to Thomas Iris project, officer UK, deaf sports who’s reminding us to smile and be kind and now Thomas you’ve inspired us. You’ve educated us. And we would like to be kind to you and to leave you under the tamarind tree, to rest for a while to cool off that wonderful mind of yours and we going to leave you there with three things from which you will choose one to help you enjoy that moment there. So, would it be something to eat or drink, something to read? Or a piece of music, please tell us what you have chosen and why?

Thomas: The food I eat would eat. This is my favourite Caribbean, Pelau, I think is like a one, like a cook us dish. I need to eat it because it’s a chicken and rice and one to drink is supermalt and it’s just I l always like to stay true to my roots and is supermalt.

It’s a typical drink that everybody likes to drink in the Caribbean, book to read. It’s a really difficult one for me to choose. But the favourite book that I loved the most is Diversify. Something about it and I have two books diversify and surrounded by idiots. Diversify, it just talk about the people with different. It talks about diversity. You know, whether you’re into gender, sexuality, disability, politics, the kind of things class. I liked reading about those because it just helped me to understand what’s going around, people’s background and surrounded by idiot is that everybody has multiple personality. You don’t have one personality and it’s not about everybody is an idiot.

It’s just about you know; you can be very sensitive. You can be very intelligent, you can be, be hot headed, but you have to learn how to understand these people. You know, I might be, I’m very sensitive and I’m very open and I like to be intelligent that my identity to myself, because, and then you might be very intelligent open-minded and very driven, you know, understanding different people, personality so important. What was the last one again?

Dr Barnes: All right. So, you were to choose one, but you can have it all. So, you chosen food and drink and book. Yeah. And it’s music,

Thomas: Music is always difficult one for me. But I would say I smile by Kirk Franklin or the song as the deer with my dad singing. I made the song because I just want to hear his voice and to be able to hear his voice just allows me to be grateful for who I am, because as a young man who lost his father in 2018. All my friends that said to me how are you still standing and how I’m still breathing. And I said, because I had the conversation with my father before he passed away and he said to me, I’m forever grateful that you’re studying all the time, but I want you to go outside in the real world and enjoy your life. That’s when you learn who you are, not just in education, because I never, he never had the opportunity to do that. You know, he dedicated life to his children, and he wants them to do the best, he wants them to achieve their goal, the dreams. So, I’ve held on that, and I said I have a purpose and my purpose is to make a difference.

And my purpose is to go out there and study, not to study, but go and talk to people about their story and how to do, how to make the story come alive and to be heard.

Dr Barnes: Now we’re hearing you, so Thomas Irish, thank you for joining us this week. Under the tamarind tree we were delighted to have you.

Thomas: Thank you.

Published by Thomas Irish

A Blogger, Aspiring Researcher and Arsenal Fan

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