Saturday, September 24, 2011
Disability Identity: Good Intentions Gone Awry?
There's much buzz in blogger-dom and other literary circles surrounding the notion of a disability identity. Disability, whether mild or severe, is a simple fact of human existence. Identity is a social, psychological, anthropological or other "oligical" construct. Identity is a construct used to explain something which is unreal and fundamentally unexplainable, in other words, an anchor term of academicians and scholars.
I am a man! I am gay! I am black or Latina! I am a victim of abuse! I am a feminist! I am an alien! I am a born-again Christian! I am Jewish! I am a witch! I am a polygamist! I am a dork! I am disabled! I am fat and proud! And what do these "I am" statements convey about identity (if identity is a true attempt to define the Self)...not much. They classify, they categorize, they define which box to file the form into. Fundamentally, group identities de-humanize and de-personalize. A person is not what they possess, what group they belong to or what they believe. We should not be a culture of tribal nations. A person is not their sex or sexual orientation, their religion, their race, their nationality, their body type, their ability or their disability.
I am the father of a quite disabled 25 year old son. He can't speak, he has no effective way to communicate (despite all our efforts), he cannot intentionally move a muscle other than a head or an eye, he has to be fed and toileted...he, however, can smile at every face that approaches him. He has physical limitations of a pretty profound magnitude. I speak for him....he does not question his identity, he does not categorize himself, he does not proudly wear the label of a word. He is.......and he is happy! What does this tell us?
Oppression, "isms", prejudice, discrimination are the filth of the world which are pervasive illnesses borne of a perverted need for power and control. There are few groups (I can't think of any quite yet) who are not disparaged by someone. Power is displayed when you are better than someone, when you adopt a label so that you can belong to a group and the "herd" has power against the oppressor. It doesn't matter which group, just be a member of a group.
Perhaps the option which my son communicates to me is that he is .... simply is, a human being. As the radical Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, repeatedly said, "We are all spiritual beings having a human experience." Members of the human community are owed respect, kindness, human interaction, service, love and host of other things. They are deserving of these because they are members of the whole, a cosmic, unrelenting interconnectedness. Some of us are here to experience masculinity or femininity, others being black, brown, yellow or white, others to experience Christianity or radical Islam, others abuse or being abusive, others ability or total disability ....we are all experiencing so that we learn about the multifaceted aspects of our self, some would say soul. Our experience is not limited to here and now, it will occur over and over...till we learn and can share in the larger evolution of consciousness. Who is my son, Adam....I am! Who am I...I am. We have different experiences, but we answer the same question with the same answer. I am....
We refuse to be defined by a moment in time, by a particular life time, by any condition or life event in which we presently participate... Although a too frequent an occurrence, no one can or should attempt define anyone. Everyone has a right to define themselves, but should they? I have dignity because I am; I have pride because I am; I will not be dismissed because I am; I will not allow myself to be oppressed, because I am. I am...makes me a meaningful part of every conceivable group, make me deserving of love and respect, makes me who I am! While this dream may not reflect extant reality, my knowing that "I am" is all that matters in the very end.
POSTSCRIPT: Eric Fischer, whose blog is I am a broken man/You can't break me has developed a post which reviewed several bloggers posts on the concept of disability and identity. His analysis and synthesis of ideas and his additional insights certainly bear a serious read. Please click the above link to the blog post, you won't regret it!