Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Perception

Growing up I never saw people who looked like me.  Now I know you are saying, “Dude you are white.  There are lots of White folks in media.”  Well, that is true.  However as a kid, I had a physical attribute that in my mind was a huge red flag.  In retrospect, it was not huge.  To me it glared at me from the mirror.  It screamed you are different, you are a freak.  What was this attribute? It was my cleft lip scar.  It is a faint scar now, but with the constant surgeries I had to keep up with my growth it was swollen a lot for a quarter to a third of the year.  So to me it was loud and screaming.  When I was young my identity was tied to my disabilities.  By my Twenties, I did not do that as much.  After 14 years with someone whose whole life was about their disabilities, I found myself there again.  Now that part of my life is over, I am reassessing myself and my history. 

I look back at my picture of myself as a little kid.  The only time the scar is obvious was either right after surgery or the one time I tried to shave at the age of 5 or 6.  I was trying to be just like my Uncle who was 13 or 14 at the time.  I think it did not help that my mother kept bringing up my being different.  She did not do it with any malice.  She just did not want me to be disappointed when I was unable to do things other kids could.  Were my challenges as harsh as my friends of color?  Socially, no they were not.  My physical challenges though at times were difficult. 

I never had to deal with people putting me down for being a Harelip or freak.  In many ways I had myself for that.  As a kid I only heard one Harelip joke.  There was on incident where a kid finally went after me for being a Harelip.  Later, I discovered his baby brother was like me with a cleft lip and palate.  Somehow, since I was the only other person he knew that was like that he blamed me. We were little kids, these things happen.  Later as an adult, I have encountered more insensitivity about that subject.  Mostly the problem is about those God Awful Harelip jokes.  I grew up in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood and that kind of stuff did not happen.  Here in rural Oregon, I encountered it a lot in my early twenties.  Funny thing very few of the idiots telling the jokes knew that I was a Harelip.  It is less obvious to people, because I wear a full beard and do not sound like the stereotypical Harelip.  Harelip is a common derogatory term for someone with a Cleft Lip and/or Palate.  Most people who have this condition find it highly offensive.  The jokes made present someone with limited intelligence.  The condition almost never affects cognitive abilities.  It also uses the stereotypical speech impediment, which most modern folks with either do not have.

This re-examining came after several articles about people dealing with being minorities in America and what it means.  With me, it has been about perception.  I saw myself as a minority.  I doubt however many around me saw the same thing.  They saw an educated, Blue Collar Caucasian guy.  Honestly, I did not have it that bad.  Due to my father being a career military man, all my surgeries, speech therapy and dental work were covered.  Financially, we had rough patches when dad was on deployment.  Overall, we were fortunate.  Now the only two celebrities I knew growing up who had clefts were Stacy Keach and Cheech Marin.  In high School I saw them as a coke fiend and a pot head.  Now that is not a nice thing to say, but that was my perception.  In the 1980’s Mr. Keach had legal troubles surrounding cocaine.  Mr. Marin’s most famous character is a pothead.  Since then I discovered that Tom Brokaw, Rev. Jessie Jackson, Jason Robards and Doc Holliday had a cleft of some kind.

What I am saying is that sometimes perception is everything.  What I saw as a major thing, was not so major in the big scheme of things.  Many folks overcame their challenges similar or worse than mine.  I did not deal with real discrimination based on my challenges.  I dealt with insensitive idiots.  Compared to what some people deal with it is an irritation.  I need to step out of my skin from time to time to gain perspective.  Lately I have been doing a lot of that.  That Is My Not So Humble Opinion.

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