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YJ's picture

Cultural Concerns

I was thinking a lot after class about why I am so introverted during class and something I think I've been meaning to articulate, but never fully realized until this class is that yes, I am naturally introverted and quiet but there is also a cultural element. I was raised by very traditional Korean parents who have taught me to always obey authority and to always be respectful for authority figures as well as anyone older than you. In fact, one of the worst insults to hurl at someone in Korean culture is to call them "disrespectful." Of course, they didn't teach me to blindly obey authority, but that part of respect is to listen to what others, especially elders have to say. High school was easy in that this fit pretty well with what the teachers wanted in class, (with the one exception of a math teacher who began the 1st day of class complaining about how Asian kids never talked in his class which he really disliked, I never did like that class) but college has proven to be a bit more challenging in that it seems most professors like the people who speak up and are very extroverted.

The other thing about being quiet for me is that I always feel this immense pressure to say something brilliant or insightful whenever I speak-a pressure partly self-originating, but partly also from past experiences with racial stereotyping ("oh Asians are so smart" blah blah blah). My greatest fear- which has only been exacerbated since coming to Haverford-is to sound stupid. Intelligence was another thing that was highly prized in my family, my sister a genius and true intellectual, my brother smart and witty, and me, the one who almost failed 2nd grade. Naturally, I always feel incredibly self-conscious when I speak and I always reshearse in my head what I'm about to say a million time before I actually say it. Of course, by the time all that's happened the topic of discussion has usually moved on.

What I did want to say in class today but didn't b/c the conversation had moved well beyond this topic, was that it's interesting to think about the parallels between disability studies and race. The notion of identity politics concerning race is unquestionably tied to the notion of racial/ethnic pride-a "colorblind" policy is racist because it denies what is for many people of color a significant aspect of their identity and what they rightfully take pride in. It made me think about how that operates differently for people with disabilies-especially visual disabilities-(much like the visual aspect of race) are almost assumed to be shameful or are not supposed to take pride in their disability. And I say-why not? If having a disabiltiy is a large part of your identity-but not everything you are of course-then you should take pride in yourself. Just as with race, you can't choose the color you're born, you also can't choose the body or mind you're born with. I think naming the disability in that kind of culture could be much more accepting and more akin to the non-colorblind society P. Walker (and myself) prefer.

The other thing though, is that even as I have benefitted from thinking through some of the issues of disability studies by comparing it to racial issues, I do worry there is a danger in losing something when we do so. In other words, in using disabiltiy studies as the lens to look through feminism, racism, classism, we may be potentially limiting what we can or do learn about both disability studies and the "-ism" we are studying. There is a seeming incompleteness there and I think it's important to acknowledge those limits in using so many different lenses and when comparing different "-ism" expereriences (although I know I'm being hypocritical when I just did it myself in the proceeding paragraph).


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