Guest Blogger: Annie Laurie Harris memoir “It’s Easier to Dance”

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I’m a non-fiction kind of gal. I really like biographies. And I’m not afraid to admit it: I love memoirs and autobiographies. So I’m very excited to be able to present today some very brief excerpts from the memoir by Annie Laurie Harris called “It’s Easier to Dance.” Annie has given me permission to record the audio for this book. She lives on the other side of the country from me, and it was just easier for me to record. So I do hope you enjoy this reading.

Please visit www.annielaurieharris.com to see her blog and learn more about this wonderful book.

Chapter 4

“A Change in Identity”

by Annie Laurie Harris

Excerpts:

“Until the age of 40, I defined myself in terms of my physical disability, cerebral palsy, a neurological birth defect that can affect any area of the brain. In my case, athetoid is characterized by involuntary gross motor movement, muscle spasticity, and speech impairment. No intellectual impairment was found, however, it was presumed because of my lack of ability to articulate words. I believed I had more in common with those who were disabled and white rather than being “colored”.

I began to question who I was in terms of culture, and femininity. I had always loved being a woman and my mother had taught me about being a female in the world and in relationships with a man. I had never thought much about being a black woman, just a disabled woman. The more I became aware of the cultural differences, my African Heritage began to grow more vibrant and my medical diagnosis of having a “severe” (I hate that word) disability began to recede in significance in terms of how I identified myself and projected myself to the world.

This was a pivotal moment in my life.

I was 35 years old before I met another woman with cerebral palsy who was older than me, Edith Schneider and her husband were presented at a workshop on sexuality and disability. When I met her, I cried and she held me in her arms. It was the first time I had felt a body like mine. One that could not be entirely controlled by her will. Although the impact of meeting and feeling Mrs. Schneider was powerful, she still wasn’t like me; she just had a body like mine. When I looked at her I didn’t see myself the way I did when I looked at other people of my cultural background. In essence, I began to realize I was bicultural, having being born disabled and black. This phenomenon is rarely recognized or considered by the medical professionals, educators, speech pathologists, and other specialists who work with a wide variety of complex challenges and their families.

Ignoring this aspect limits using the values, rituals, or belief systems of the families, when putting together an educational plan, rehabilitation program, and teaching social skills. Therefore, the expectations that were communicated to me as an adolescent and developing young woman with a disability were based on an incorrect frame of reference. This was my experience until I became aware of what was happening, and I took control of the decision making process of what was appropriate in my life. This change in self perception at times seemed to put me in opposition to rehabilitation system and other professionals. They saw me as non-compliant, argumentative, and uncooperative. According to their point of view they were correct. They only had eyesight, but I had vision, persistence and an indelible since of purpose to my life. I believed in something far greater than society presented to me. I could see, and can still see, beyond the boundaries, beyond what the world initially presents as possible.”