August 18, 2016 | Catherine Jacobson
During my orientation week with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) internship, Michael Murray the Chief Operating Officer of AAPD, asked our cohort to think about three words that describe our identity. Albino Asian, automatically came to my mind. I didn’t even have to think about it, these identifiers were handed to me before I even knew what they meant.
I’ve learned to describe myself in this way because everyone else did. However, once I started mentioning it, I realized a lot of people don’t know that I have albinism or that I am Asian. Some guess I am just a really light skinned Caucasian. I am white, but I’m not white. Too often race is described by the color of your skin; I am a walking contradiction of that. I am a person of color, but I have absolutely no pigment. It’s a concept that is hard for me to understand, let alone the rest of the world that is trying to figure out what I am, when they meet me. However, some do understand by looking at me that I am of Asian ethnicity, and happen to have albinism. Some know, but some don’t. One thing is for sure true though, by the naked eye; no one guesses that I am also blind.
I am blind due to my albinism, but that is not general knowledge. Being blind is something I normally have to disclose to someone. However, it is not a word that immediately comes to mind when I think of my identity. This is not because I am embarrassed or trying to hide my disability. In fact, it’s the opposite for me. I grew up with blind parents and within the National Federation of the Blind community. I cannot even think of a moment where I believed my disability would hold me back in life, and I know I am extremely privileged in this born acceptance.
I had a lot more trouble finding acceptance of my albinism. But can I really separate my albinism and blindness? If I didn’t have albinism I wouldn’t be blind. Then I got to thinking; no I cannot separate my blindness and my albinism into different parts of my identity. Just like I cannot separate that I was adopted from South Korea, or that I am a woman, or that I am educated enough to begin trying to comprehend separating my identity into parts. My identity as a whole cannot be described in three words. The entirety of myself comes from all of my experiences that have been shaped by every part of me, parts that I have not even discovered yet.
So yes, albino Asian came to mind as my first two words because if I disclose that immediately, then maybe people would care about me as a human being right away, and not just try to decipher what I am. But thinking through all of this I realized I don’t want to be acquainted with, or close to, people who are going to care so much about what I am, albino, Asian, blind, etc. I want people who like me for exactly who I am in my life; which includes all of my identities. I don’t have a third word. I don’t like to be confined by just three words to describe my identity. I am albino, Asian, and blind. But I am also a woman, daughter, writer, leader, follower, student, sister, planner, achiever, dyslexic, and so much more. Having a disability is a key aspect of my identity, it may even take a majority of it, but it’s not all there is. My aspiration in life is to discover all the parts of my identity, and be the best of all of those parts, to create the whole entirety of the best me I can be.
* * *
Catherine Jacobson was a 2016 AAPD Summer Intern who interned with Senator Amy Klobuchar. She is currently a junior at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, pursuing a double major in Public Health Sciences and Social Justice, with a Health Equity concentration.