by Winnie Ma (PhD candidate)
“I don’t believe a word you’re saying.”
“I think you’re just trying to game the system.”
Hearing these words when you’re trying to report an injustice you’ve experienced is to experience an additional, often overlooked and underestimated kind of injustice – testimonial injustice, which Fricker defines as a kind of injustice that occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word. In recent times, we’ve heard about these sorts of responses and this kind of injustice being perpetrated against women who report sexual harassment and sexual assault, as well as against members of minority ethnic groups (think about responses to Meghan Markle’s recent interview on racism and attitudes toward mental health issues).
The performance of Asylum Monologues by Ice&Fire, in which actors performed three asylum seekers’ first-hand accounts of their experiences of the UK asylum system highlighted the prevalence and the negative consequences of testimonial injustices perpetrated against asylum seekers. For example, in the first-hand account of Denise, a woman from Nigeria who sought asylum in the U.K. on the basis of her LGBTQIA+ identity, her claim for asylum was met with similar incredulous responses by various officials who accused her of lying about her sexual orientation. In addition to the hardships that led her to seek asylum then, Denise suffered the further injustices of being disbelieved and of being accused of being disingenuous. One consequence of these further injustices, which compounded other experienced injustices, was the deterioration of Denise’s mental state to the point of an attempted suicide.
Perhaps, just as the #BelieveWomen movement went viral in the wake of the Prof. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about being sexually assaulted by now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, we need support for a similar movement for asylum seekers whose experience of testimonial injustices compounds the injustices and hardships they already face – #BelieveAsylumSeekers ? – and really for members of all marginalized groups who are often forced to suffer being silenced in silence.