Recently America’s largest minority (people with disabilities) lost one of its most committed advocates, Harriet McBryde Johnson. I got to know Harriet both from reading her articles and book (Too Late to Die Young), and from a series of telephone conversations I had with her when she helped the Foundation I run with suggestions for a conference on Defeating Stigma in Healthcare. She was right in the middle of a media deluge resulting from an article she wrote for Parade Magazine when I called her, and yet she found time to promptly return a stranger’s message and immediately offer help.
The cost stigma extracts from those who are disqualified from full social acceptance never ceases to amaze me. A huge part of the costs that surround stigma management is the effort put into passing, the term used by Dr. Goffman to describe the behavior of individuals who have a stigmatized health condition or disability which they can (although only with substantial effort) keep hidden. Goffman states that: “Because of the great rewards in being considered normal, almost all persons who are in a position to pass will do so on some occasion by intent.” There seem to be many creative ways that people discover to pass, probably many more then there are health conditions people are trying to cover up. Following are examples of these efforts to pass from the book Stigma: Notes On The Management of Spoiled Identity.
“The normal and the stigmatized are not persons, but rather perspectives.” – Erving Goffman, 1963
One of the things I was most looking forward to upon my first landing at Heathrow Airport was the long ride into London in one of England’s famous black taxis. It all started innocently enough when once I was settled in the incredibly spacious vehicle I asked the driver a simple question, and to my amazement didn’t understand one word of his reply – experiencing first-hand the old saying “divided by a common language”. The situation became even more embarrassing and went downhill quickly when he realized from my lame replies what was happening – after all, these guys are smart, they have “the knowledge” (a term applied to the in depth knowledge of 320 main routes through central London that taxi drivers must know without the help of consulting a map in order to obtain a license). Then the true awkwardness set in as he tried to apologize for his poor Cockney English – speaking very slowly I might add. When I remarked that however difficult their accents are it was the Brits who took to the air and sea in anything that would fly or float, thus saving us both from truly being able to communicate in a common language – German!
Over a lifetime we all construct a belief system, a compilation of our life’s past experiences, education (or lack thereof), parental attitudes, religious upbringing, who we choose for a life partner, and the quality of our friendships, to name just a few influences. Our individual belief systems are as unique as each of us. Each day’s new experiences are filtered through these beliefs. Individual belief systems lead some to accept strange objects in the night sky as an indication of visitors from across galaxies; others to attribute happenings in their lives as coincidence while many may see these “coincidences” as guidance coming from a source beyond their human ability to see or hear. Our belief systems also influence how we deal with stigma, for instance will we stigmatize others; or how much we might internalize stigma if it is directed at us personally.
Chicago, Ill., (September 7, 2004) — The Simon Foundation for Continence is pleased to announce that the Society of Urologic Nurses and Associates (SUNA) is the first recipient of the Foundation’s Defeating Stigma in Healthcare Award. SUNA is a national, non-profit membership association with over 2,800 members. The Defeating Stigma in Healthcare Award recognizes outstanding contributions to removing the stigma that surrounds a wide variety of health conditions.Continue reading
Chicago, Ill. (June 2003) – The Simon Foundation for Continence recently launched “I Am More,” the first anti-stigma song. “I Am More” will be used as the theme song for the Foundation’s anti-stigma in healthcare campaign. This song was recently premiered at The Simon Foundation’s June 2003 International Conference on Stigma in Healthcare, and was also highlighted at a Town Meeting on Stigma, the Foundation’s black tie Gala held at the Chicago Historical Society, and at the Jim Mullen Foundation’s first New Freedom Awards Celebration Gala held a the Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier in Chicago on July 22, 2003.Continue reading