Archive for June, 2011

Redefining the Self and dropping of Labels.
Article two in a Series

Right before Dr. Martin Luther King passed away, he and his compatriots were working on organizing a renewed march on Washington with the added plan of occupying the city. The difference with this event is that from the first, Dr. King had begun to see that the shared issue driving racism in America was poverty. He desired to march for an end to poverty! Dr. King had rightly grown to understand that ending poverty translated into a wider world view through an action that we will call “full inclusion.”

We should not limit our understanding of poverty to its financial dynamic. Its financial aspects are a byproduct of systemic historical under-education. In the world of the Physically Challenged, an individual can even come from the privileged class here in the US and still have to overcome poverty as a mindset. The “poverty mindset” looks at an individual and/or group and says because of an individual’s “looks,” dominant form of “communication” and/or
geographical location they have inferior cognitive ability.

The contention here is that the “poverty mindset” in a majority of instances leads to under-education. The impoverished to often feel overwhelmed just in the action of sustaining the little the group does have to be worried about expanding their knowledge base. Coupled with this there is a mistrust of their own innate ablates to “understand.” As a result, institutions of higher learning, not just schools but also institutions like museums, many types of concert halls, and visual art venues become inaccessible because of the “impoverished mindset” creates a feeling of ingrained inferiority. This access issue seems so simplified and maybe even hard for many readers to understand, that it is even hard to write about. My own first reaction, if I had/have not seen this “mindset” in action, would and has been: “Why don’t people just educate themselves?” The thing is the “poverty mindset” is deeply rooted in a sense of inferiority. Say someone of the “poverty mindset” happens to hit on the American dream of economic prosperity and upward mobility, then very often it will take several generations of sustained prosperity to lose the “poverty mindset.”

The poverty mindset does not affect other minorities as it does the physically and cognitively challenged. In the African American communities, diversification has been much more common; the poverty mindset has not held its iron grip as fully as it has in handicapped communities. Even in the most dire situations, a well adjusted parental figure will positively reinforce their child’s dreams and motivations by saying, “You can do anything anyone else can do in this world!” For to many physically and cognitively challenged there is what can be called a lack of Knowing. All the systems built up around supporting the physically and cognitively challenged to often lower their expectations because of what testing says or because of general perception. The idea that one can “do anything” can come into question and stay with the physically and/or mentally challenged there entire lives. This lowering of expectation and assumptions of lack of faculties results in years of a kind of social retardation, and thus the roots of the “poverty mindset” are planted firmly.

Due to the “poverty mindset” so many of the Challenged subculture assume automatic weakness in their own abilities in regards to learning new skills. We do not believe in our own natural skill sets and this disbelief leads us to settle for what the people defining our “non abilities” say defines our abilities. When a system begins to label us (or, as in my case, being labeled from the start) we tend to look to the system to define ourselves entirely.

Once we have given our identities over to the helping system (whether we do it unknowingly or not), the system becomes our life support. Not just our physical life support, but our spiritual-emotional framework of analyses as well. When this happens,what follows is the complete compartmentalizing of a Challenged persons interior life. The challenged community begins to see itself through filters provided by the helping system. Soon the Helping
System is dictating how people with physical and/or mental challenges are collecting and gathering from the world around them and the world at large. The Helping System creates cubby-holing classifications for streamlining and controlling socialization.

Of course all this in the name providing persons with challenges
an “equal playing field.” Yet in striving for equality through labels
the opposite seems to manifest itself. Labels like “full inclusion”
and “main streaming,” which are in fact labels, are broader labels, each containing lesser identifiers within them. It important to understand that these labels are how the system operates and we cannot just disband them out of hand. What I am suggesting here is that we need to distance our subculture from putting our full identity into the label. We need to understand that if the system is offering us “full inclusion,” by its very labeling it is automatically not full at all. Governing Systems more often then not offer “controlling” factors. These factors are why initiatives like “integration” and “mainstreaming” have failed on the level of social/societal integration. The community must buy in and support an independent push towards self-governance…not just within the handicap subculture, but also in the minds of people on the outside of our community looking in. This point may be the most important because most ideas surrounding what handicap people can or cannot do is projected on us by people outside of our experiences. We tend to take those projections/limitations and self-actualize them.

We think our issues are independent of all other subcultures. In reality, all subcultures (as they emerge into to the mainstream) face almost the same issues, rooted in labeling that is being projected upon us by the culture at large. All emergent groups start out being classified into limited cubby holes, and within and under the poverty mindset; in a twisted way this seems to be a tactic by which the dominant cultural bodies both control and allow for the emergence of a minority group on to the main stage within society. We see this kind of handling of minority groups throughout American history. The difference for the handicapped is that we are deeply intrenched in the poverty mindset. You can draw many parallels with African American
struggles, but for handicap people our needs tie more directly into
Industry than in the case of any other subculture. As one example of
this, our need for medical and/or adaptive equipment makes us the worlds largest captive audience for industry. It is this convenience for industry, both public and private, that keeps the poverty mindset alive.

It is important to hold even the public “helping” systems up to the light in the illumination of its role in maintaining the poverty mindset. So much money circulates through programs like Medicaid/Medicare and all the other Federal, State, County, and in some cases City programs. This flow money feeds the overall system even when cash flow has slowed down to hard financial times. Even though the helping system is plagued with ineptitude, the money keeps circulating. Note the money is not and does not have to flow into the system, it simply needs to circulate. Red tape and regulations can and do keep the system from being overwhelmed by demanding clients (us).
Understand that the system is not outcome based and if there is a program that is outcome based it does not expect the client to rise up beyond minimal expectations. There is a history of low expectations and of playing down the natural gifts born in a person with a disability. We have come to internalize these low expectations so much so that when a person rises up beyond them the community at large holds them up as somehow Super Human. Due to the amount of obstacles one has to overcome, this may in part be true. It is this internalized history that I call the poverty mindset. It is important for the maintaining of the system to keep the poverty mindset alive because it has a literal payoff.

What I Think the problems are in short: 1.We have internalized
limitations put on our subculture by systems outside of our direct experience through labeling. 2.We do not see our collective histories and similarity in that with other minority groups. 3. There is an overwhelming economic need for the poverty mindset. 4. Non-handicap folks have an ingrained perception of the handicap as weak and/or needy. 5. We accept this perception as truth.

We must begin to see ourselves as our own cultural body. Maybe this calls us to more clearly define the makeup of our subculture. Questions like: How powerful are perceptions? What defines intelligence? Can and should a subculture really integrate into mass culture? I will dig into these questions in future writings.

I see the handicapped in terms of history and it is important to see that we are an emerging group, not unlike any other minority has been or currently is. Understanding this will tie many of our labeling issues to deeper human causations. I think its important to develop an identity as a subculture, while understanding that many of our institutional problems are universally felt by most others at one point or another. We should see our history as a collective one and our struggle as broadening Human and Civil rights for all people!

It is in my view that handicap people are not to the point in our history where we (most of us) identify as a subculture. In my view this is because we have been separated by the helping system into our disability identifiers and as I talked about earlier in this article each group that makes up our subculture in large part handles its own “direct-action” advocacy. Note that I acknowledge some crossover within radical grassroots organizations like ADAPT, but the reason I am writing this for the individual not locked into a progressive ideologue. For those that are, I am hoping my prospective can offer a retooling of understanding and labels like, “full inclusion” on all people.

“Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods, or tactics, or strategy. We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society.”-Malcolm X.


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