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From: Barbara McKee
Date: 24 Aug 2000
Remote Name: dialupb232.albq.uswest.net
Culture vs. Community
cul·ture (kùl¹cher) noun: The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
com·mu·ni·ty (ke-my¡¹nî-tê) noun: a. A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government. b. The district or locality in which such a group lives.
I’d like to discuss the perception of culture and community. This topic was a very volatile one on the New Mobility board a few months back. I’m resurrecting it because I feel it merits discussion.
It all began when a posting asked if there was such a thing as a “disabled culture”. Some felt that the disabled culture is more of a community, made up of all individuals that have any form of disability. Others felt that “disabled culture” is more appropriate, siting that the disabled experience shapes how we act, think, respond, and develop as humans. This debate has its merits. It forces one to take a good look at where, and why, they fit in.
Let’s talk about culture. As you can see by the above dictionary definition, culture is learned behavior, forced upon an individual by their families, friends, and neighborhoods. Some of the behavior is genetic, passed on throughout family history. But the majority of a person’s behavior is shaped by human experience, the culture they grow up in. If a person is born in the lower eastside of Detroit, they learn a behavior that enables them to live in their neighborhood. They also are taught acceptable behavior within their family. They may choose not to obey or agree to the behavior, but they learn it just the same. There isn’t a conscious choice to avoid the teachings of culture.
However, belonging to a community is a choice. One is born into a culture, but is placed in a community until the individual decides to stay in that community, or choose a different one. Community doesn’t necessarily relate to physical living space. One can choose to be in the Catholic community, just as one chooses to be part of the black community. I may have some argument here comparing a religion to a race, but my point is this; culture is a by-product of birth; community is a by-product of choice. I have known many black people who refuse to be involved in their community, but are staunch supporters of the elements of the culture.
This holds true for disabled individuals, regardless of when or how they became disabled. Learning to live with a disability exposes you to the culture. Depending on the severity or type of disability, we experience the world totally different form anyone else. We have our own language, music, housing criteria, and believe it or not, our own food. I saw a film about crip culture a bit ago, and in the film one gentlemen who is wheelchair disabled stated that the crip culture is real because we have our own food—fast-food drive-thru! I had to agree with him because any business, be it fast food, drugstore, or dry cleaners that has a drive-thru will get my business. I hate lugging my chair in and out of the car.
Crip culture is unique in the aspect that is crosses all economic, gender and race barriers. No one is considered exempt from becoming disabled. I have a good friend and poet, Dara McLaughlin, whose poetry speaks of the “temporarily-able bodied”. Old age, disease, and accidents insure that those of the healthy sector will turn to the disabled culture for advice and direction. Only an untimely death will allow an escape from the inevitable.
Crip communities are more limited. Physical communities are mostly comprised of the elderly in assisted-living or nursing homes. There is an internet disabled community, which is quite large and very vocal. The internet was where I first joined the disabled community. I have been wheelchair disabled for nearly 25 years, but didn’t associate or involve myself with other disabled individuals until I discovered a couple of well-designed sites. Being part of the disabled community gives me a sense of belonging, that camaraderie that comes from shared experiences, and the giving of that experience to those that are new to the culture. I have always been a part of the culture, but I was ignorant to the struggles and successes of most crips until I joined the community. I now have a good number of friends, in persona and in cyberspace, that happen to be disabled.
Disabled culture is a reality. Now if we can only convince the AB world that it is not a fate worse than death.