Disability, race/ethnicity and gender: Themes of cultural oppression, acts of individual resistance

Katherine E. McDonald, Christopher B. Keys, Fabricio E. Balcazar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Community psychologists have called for research on human diversity and interactions between individuals and society with a focus on oppression. This study examines learning disabilities as they co-occur with other sociopolitical minority statuses. We examined dominant cultural narratives of and individual responses to learning disability, race/ethnicity and gender identified by low-income men and women of color with learning disabilities. Our qualitative analysis identified cultural narratives that suggest that: (1a) individuals with learning disabilities are perceived as having an illegitimate impairment and being of lower intellectual ability and unworthy; (1b) having an invisible disability facilitates passing as nondisabled, thereby lessening disability discrimination from within racial/ethnic groups; (1c) having a learning disability detracts from positive gender expectations and exacerbates negative ones; and (1d) gender and racial/ethnic narratives are relevant for individuals with learning disabilities. Our analysis also identified two overarching individual acts of resistance used to thwart internalization of oppressive cultural narratives: (2a) removing self from oppressive environments and (2b) reframing dominant cultural narratives (including discounting the validity of negative messages, using negative narratives for motivation, and engaging in positive self-talk). We discuss findings in relation to extant research and theory and consider implications for research, theory, and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-161
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Community Psychology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Disability
  • Oppression
  • Self-liberation
  • Sociocultural diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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