Contrary to some people’s preconceptions about disability and disabled people, my experience of being both Korean and disabled are fairly positive. I have not been a victim of bullying, nor have I ever been severely discriminated against.
However, growing up in a world where whiteness (or proximity to whiteness) and able-bodiedness is heralded as a priority, perhaps the hardest part is not having adequate representation in the media.
Not having any leads to this skewed view of yourself. Whether it be through ableism or racism, the fact is the society we live in breeds children with disabilities and children of colour to hate themselves.
By not seeing myself represented in the books, TV shows or movies I was watching, I started to view myself as a background character in my own story. Growing up without representation was like looking into a mirror and not seeing a reflection. Children with disabilities and children of colour not only deserve to see themselves represented in any and every form of media, but need to be. By not representing marginalised groups, books, TV shows and movies are all sending a message that they (people in marginalised groups) are somehow deviations from the “standard norm”.
The mainstream feminist movement has pushed for better, more complex, female characters. Although some movies and TV shows have answered with portrayals of strong women, the actresses are mostly white and able-bodied. The outcry for more complex portrayals of people of colour, people with disabilities, and people of colour with disabilities has been silenced by people who claim our reality is not realistic. The unique intersections of people are what make us human, and the media we consume should reflect that.
I am a third-generation Korean-American teenage girl who was born with a cleft palate. Every day is a battle. A battle with a world that refuses to acknowledge my existence. But I have learned that my confidence in being unapologetically me is a weapon against a society that is hell-bent on destroying it.
Words: Sammy Park
Image: Yi-Hwa Lin