Saturday, January 14, 2017

Accidental Ambassador

If ever I get myself in trouble, it is for action, rather than inaction. Most major regrets follow the times I have shot off my mouth, rather than the rare moments I have remained silent. 'Doing' is my default. Yet I have mellowed in recent years. Life has gifted me with a bit more silver on my head and circumspection in it. I hold my tongue. I look before I jump. And every now and again, I think things through before acting.

Even as a young woman, with my naive hot-head-ed-ness, I recognized there were some things I didn't know a dang thing about and should, therefore, shut up about. These issues usually were massive social problems that needed to be transformed. Sometimes it was a misunderstood body of knowledge. Injustice and ignorance were mountains too tall for me to scale. Yet now the years find me discussing them.

I have overcome my reticence because these things are important. I know I possess a lone, unqualified voice; but I can not wait quietly for the experts to be invited into my circle of influence. Silence is not okay. My hope is that I can get people thinking or feeling uneasy. If those who listen feel a bit abashed perhaps they will do some research. That research will lead them to voices that know. Those voices speak better than I can of the injustice or ignorance they live with. Those voices need to be more than heard, they need to be heeded.

The following is a brief overview of those things which need knowing.

Chinese American Culture

I am married to an ABC (American Born Chinese.) I have absorbed so much wisdom from his family that we often times joke that I am more Chinese than he is. But the deep truth is that I am a white girl who was raised in the middle of the United States of America in a comfortable suburb. I didn't know that China has one written language, but many spoken ones. The thrill of dim sum carts rattling up to our table, loaded with extraordinary cuisine was a paradise unexplored before I met my man.

Did you know that the Chinese invented almost everything worth having? Today's Americans think that because we landed on the moon and formed gadgets with fruit on them that we are the inventors of the world. That is not so; we share the glory of genius with many others. Some know that China has given us gunpowder and silk, but that is not all, my friend. To learn more about the many treasures the Chinese have created, read this book.  I'm particularly grateful for toilet paper.

Then there's the gravity of being an ABC: too Chinese for America, too American for China. And why/when did we start lumping all Asians together? For one man's perspective, read this book. Did you know that the Border Patrol was originally created to keep the Chinese out of America? The abuses of Chinese immigrants should make your heart slow to a heavy, dreadful thud. To learn more about the complex history of Chinese Americans, read this book.

Disability Language

I have been a staunch advocate for people first language for as long as I can remember. As a nurse, I phrased any necessary mention of a person's disorder as "she has diabetes" or "he has schizophrenia." I avoided identity first language, which refers to patients as an extension of their disease with terms like "diabetic" or "schizophrenic." I deliberately referenced patients as a person with the disease, rather than the disease itself.  I intentionally use people first language still.

But my deeply held preference for people first language was taken too far. Once upon a time I argued with a family member who has a disability about how he identifies himself. This beloved man prefers identity first language. Hearing him attach an "ic" to the end of a disorder and proclaim it as his identity unnerved me. I had a visceral reaction. I told him he was not the disease, he merely had it. He patiently, but strongly informed me, "No, I am it."

My grandmother had polio as a girl. The virus swept through her body when she was three years old, leaving permanent damage to her right foot and leg. She has told me about spending months in hospital wards, seeing other children subjected to iron lungs. She told me about the multiple surgeries summer after summer, trying to limit the impact of disability. She walked once, without her brace, to show me how her knee collapses and slides in with each step, causing a pronounced limp. She also told me she prefers to refer to herself as being crippled. Because of the damage to her leg, and how it was acquired, she thinks the term "crippled" best describes her condition.

I choke on the word "crippled" and can not bring myself to say it about my grandmother. But it would be a grievous arrogance for me to tell her how she should identify herself. When I look at my treasured family member I don't see disability, I see him. The pompous gall it takes to tell him he must use my eyes when looking in the mirror is unacceptable, though.

As the mom of a child with disabilities I want the world to see him and identify him as a person first. And until he tells me otherwise, I get to do that. But should he tell me he prefers to use identity first language, I will honor his right to chose that. To read other people's thoughts on language choice, click here.

When you, dear reader, speak to or about someone with any disorder, please refer to him or her as a person first. If the person prefers identity first language, then you may adapt your language to honor his or her wishes. But always error on the side of respect for the individual.

Disability Resources

Oh boy. This post is already so long, and I want to save some steam for the last topic. I will be succinct: ask someone who needs assistance with any manner of disability about the availability of help, the process to acquire it, and the attitudes of those who are tasked with providing it. Es no bueno.

African American Infant Mortality

Did you know that twice as many African American babies die in their first year of life as do Caucasian babies? I am hoping that information just jolted you. I had no idea America was burying so many of her African American babies until I became friends with Ms. Payne. If you aren't horrified, then we need to have another conversation about how you've been trained to devalue some lives.

This isn't just a statistic. This is a mother holding a limp body, sobbing from her soul, wanting to jump into the grave with her child because one so small and beloved isn't supposed to be all alone. But it's more than one mother; it's thousands.

If you are thinking that the babies die because their mothers don't take care of them, then you need to keep scrolling down the page of the first link and see that most die from causes linked to poor  maternal healthcare. Also, we need to consider why health disparities don't bother you. And even, perhaps, visit the thought that different styles of parenting are just that: different.  African American mothers ought not have their competence evaluated by how much they behave like Caucasian mothers.

If you are supposing now that the connection to poor maternal healthcare is proof that African American women are lazy and just skip their doctor's appointments, scroll some more and see that mothers want excellent healthcare, but it is not available to them.  You also need to spend a minute pondering what it is that causes you to blame the victim for suffering loss. They are losing their babies, and they are losing their own lives. Our nation is losing its mothers to death.

I don't know how to weed out racism, stop death in its well worn tracks, or improve disability care. But I know that staying silent isn't working. Injustice and Ignorance are still unscale-able mountains. But I know One Who can move them. A Bible verse that has been prominent in my life the last number of weeks is Micah 6:8 "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Perhaps as I walk humbly and love kindness, God will teach me how to do justice.

Wanna come with me?

copyright (c) Elizabeth, Bug's Beef. All rights reserved.

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