Contrary to some people’s preconceptions about disability and disabled people, my experiences with being both Korean and disabled have been 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 media representation leads to your having a skewed view of yourself. Whether it be through ableism or racism, the fact is that the society we live in causes children with disabilities and children of color 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 color not only deserve to see themselves represented in any and every form of media, but also need to be. By not representing marginalized groups, books, TV shows, and movies are all sending a message that they (people in marginalized 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 color, people with disabilities, and people of color 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.
– Written by Sammy Park (redefy contributor)