thoughts on the politics of independence

“the community is not great for anyone until it is great for everyone.”        –WIDU motto

this past saturday, a friend, her family, and i went to a 6 hour star-studded gospel extravaganza hosted by radio station WIDU (biiiig Dottie Peoples’ fan here). what i didn’t realize on my end was that it meant i’d *literally* be attending church with 10,000 other folks. it was a really powerful experience and i realized something big is missing in my life by not being connected to a spiritual/faith community.

had a lot of interesting thought processes at this event. first and foremost, everything we are just now talking about community has been talked about for decades. it’s not a new conversation. i need to listen more and talk less. this event was organized by a coalition of SEVENTY-ONE local predominantly african-american churches and the speakers talked a lot about how what we are experiencing locally and at the gospel fest was a harvest (love that word) that was a result of people were being intentional about coming together. the event was also amazingly intergenerational. the theme was “fighting for the family” which in any other circumstance would scare the HELL out of me [normally when you hear this it’s in a homophobic, nuclear family rhetoric]. here it meant being anti-war, anti-prisons, and anti-oppression—this was not a progressive event either, if you asked people i’m sure they probably identified as having conservative values even if it was a pro-obama environment. these are all things i already knew but was nice to be reminded.

what also really stuck out to me was the high numbers of disabled people at the concert (and i’m only talking about disabilities that were visible to me, let alone all the disabilities our community represents). it wasn’t a big deal, there was no special effort to get those disabled people out there. they were just there with their families, friends, etc. maybe it’s cause i sat mostly around other disabled people, but it seemed like everyone was looking out for each other (i.e. a ten year old kid got separated from his grandma and when it was announced, not only did the whole coliseum PRAY for this boy but everyone was actively looking for him). community happened organically.

when i go to events led by people of color, i am always reminded that disability is and has been ALWAYS a part of the conversation. the model isn’t a replicate of the one the disability rights movement uses (independence first and foremost) but i’m not sure that model can ever work for our communities. values systems are different. at least for the corean-american/API community, independence alone is not something we cherish; in fact, western ideals around independence clash with our family/community structures and belief in interdependence. i feel like disability rights for communities of color is about making the quality of life for the whole family better, not one person. again, a one-issue solution is not going to be enough (i.e. is a ramp to get in the store a priority when you don’t have money to feed your kids? is getting PA services going to be really for one person or by being for that person, will it be for the whole family?).

not trying to romanticize communities of color or say that we don’t experience ableism here, just trying to really think whether our mainstream disability rights model will ever really *fit* for communities of color or whether we need to reframe the conversation and think about the values that are included in this model instead of “outreaching” to them.

one specific example of this i suppose is the politics of door-opening. for me, i feel no shame around strangers opening a door for me. being able to ask folks and count on community is a huge part of my own independence. if the situation was reversed (or if there is an automatic button), i would open the door for them. i have a hard time of seeing the message of “i can do this by myself!” as a priority. at the same time i understand the danger of low-expectations, the trap of expected roles, and even how door-opening is gendered. i know many people who connect door-opening to these issues and am guessing that my outlook on this maybe different because i didn’t experience life pre-ADA, corean culture emphasizes people helping each other v. doing things independently, and my disability requires me to have no shame around needing and asking assistance with things.

and with all that said, i *was* still offended when i ran into someone i knew at the show and he randomly asked if i needed help with anything. but did he have low expectations for me? no, he knows firsthand my work as a community organizer and what i am capable of doing. did he mean anything by it? no. he was just checking. was it because my disability? yes, of course. but in a community that functions by making sure everyone is accounted for, is that so bad?

i’m not sure. obviously i know what it’s like to be trapped in the receiver role (it’s probably really bad that one of my reasons for wanting to go to law school is to say HA! COREAN COMMUNITY! BOW DOWN TO MY MOM AND TAKE BACK YOUR PITY!). at the same time, the corean community has always supported my family, especially around disability. i mean, heck, my halmoni left her whole life in corea to come support my mom and it wasn’t even something to think about, just like putting halmoni in a nursing home will never be something to think about as it isn’t even a perceivable option.

so what do you think? is there a balance to it all? is it just about different values clashing? is it something different? really curious to hear if anyone has any thoughts on this.

(check out philosophercrip and wheelchairdancer for recent blogs on similar themes).

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4 Comments

Filed under ableism, abolishing medical and charity models of thinking, API-A, community, disability, i love my people, race, woc

4 responses to “thoughts on the politics of independence

  1. “not trying to romanticize communities of color or say that we don’t experience ableism here, just trying to really think whether our mainstream disability rights model will ever really *fit* for communities of color or whether we need to reframe the conversation and think about the values that are included in this model instead of “outreaching” to them.”

    I like how you connected this issue up to cultural identity. My recent post – coming from a place of privilege as a white man – treats liberalism and independence as if they are THE American ideology that drives our movement. I learned a lot from reading this because it identifies different ways of thinking about community that already exist right here in the US. Once again, you have helped to take my thinking to the next level.

  2. oh man, disability and independence and community and how all these things push against each other, in good ways and in bad ways.

    i value independence strongly (for reasons of my disability and my mother’s too-attached/too-dependent raising of me), BUT there is a caveat here. the way i see it…

    disability is the ultimate admittance of dependence. you HAVE to learn how to be ok with being dependent on the people around you, in many, many ways. you HAVE to push beyond that initial feeling of “no way no how, i can do it all myself!!” because you should be allowed to do everything you want to do on your own — and that is unfortunately a privilege we have to fight really hard to get in this culture — buuuuuut. i mean, someone has to open the door for you — or make your food — or file your paperwork — or carry your baggage (memories of RENT, here, and actually that’s an amazingly beautiful model of exactly what i’m talking about!) … you have to learn that you know what, it’s ok for other people to *help you* so that you CAN do what YOU want to do. does that make sense?

    and in this POV, the centering of individualism falls apart — because that’s not what life is about. life is give and take, push and pull, you do this for me (that i don’t do well/don’t like to do, but that i want/need) and i’ll do this for you (that i do well/like to do, and you want/need).

    disability, really, when you get down to it, is the ultimate unraveling of that ball of individualism — it FORCES you to look at all these little things that go into the living of a life, and realize that not all of them are yours to do or yours to control — and also to realize how many of those little things YOU affect for OTHER people’s lives — and to finally give up, and fall back into the arms of the community.

    it means you have to stop looking at things as “mine, yours, this person’s, that person’s” etc. you have to stop keeping the damn tally — and just rush to give, knowing that those around you will rush to give back…

    so many people are afraid to admit that ultimately, they DO depend on the people around them, and their accomplishments are not solely their own, and the things they do, affect people besides themselves. but it’s all true! and it’s not a bad thing, if you look at it the right way.

    your post really tapped into that for me… i love the way you connect things, chicky. i am on my way out now but i wanted to throw this out there.

  3. Pingback: disability is.. « cripchick’s weblog

  4. i keep meaning to comment on this. seem to be experiencing… some sort of “verbal intellect fatigue” at the moment…

    anyway, i will try to get my head together properly to respond to this tomorrow. it’s given me a hell of a lot to think about…

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