Being in a Social Work Intensive program means writing a reflection of self roughly every 5 seconds. In my last short reflective interval, I was was required to write about cultural influences and the culture I identify with. Naturally, I wrote about what it’s like to be a black man, and a few friends have asked that I make my mini-paper accessible. So here it is. Please don’t expect mind-blowing. This is the basis for what it’s like for any oppressed group ever. Nothing that hasn’t been done before.
I’ll admit to being one of those students, who, before this class, never gave much thought to the culture in which I belong. The textbook tells me this is a symptom of being part of the dominant culture, and I guess it must be, as humans are only apt to look for points of difference and are ignorant of privilege until they are deprived of it.
As you might have guessed, I’m a white girl, born in raised in a little suburban white town with white fences and bright white church steeples. As is such, I have never felt discrimination for my fair skin tone, or the culture that I unknowingly practice, because it was the culture of most of my peers.
This does not mean, however, that I escaped all accounts of cultural difference, as I am also physically disabled. I debated whether or not to include this aspect of myself in my reflection on cultural identity, simply because hard evidence that disability in and of itself has a “culture” is hard to find. But to not include my disability in the making of my cultural beliefs would be to leave out one of my pivitol drives and factors that influence how I see others and myself.
When discussing whether or not disability is a culture with one of my disabled friends, he was quick to answer,
“Disability is not a culture. No.”
I challenged him, saying that a culture is a way of life which a group of people express similarly. He looked at me puzzled, but with conviction and said, “Well then disability is an anti-culture.”
I am not much for technical terms, but “anti” being synonymous with “against” or “opposed to” indicates that my friend thinks of disability as an oppositional culture. Personally, I see disability culture as one rooted in such shame that many members deny or hide their affiliations with it. As our textbook very briefly discusses, stigma behind disability includes weakness and inferiority, something that is counter to the ableism which is so prevalent in Canadian society.
My own admission to being part of a disabled community was a long time coming. Right up until late adolescence, I grew up being the only disabled person in my community, fighting disability constructs constantly with assertions of intelligence, academia, and, when really grasping at straws, wit an an oh-so-persevering spirit. This is the anti-culture to which I believe my friend referred, as it is never good enough to simply be disabled, you must have to compensate for such perceived weakness or be exceptional in some way.
As a way of forming connection with able-bodied people, I often look for people who are physically able but are part of another minority, or have an obvious point of difference. In my experience, two people who have experienced oppression and marginalization are more likely to relate to each other, as they are both looking to be treated equally. Though this is specific to my experience, I have witnessed similar paths of connection with other members of the disabled community and believe it to be quite common and natural.
This is the point at which my assignment wrote itself into the positive elements my difference will bring to SW. I wish we had more than 500 words…but, save that for another reflection.