Black and Disabled: When Will Our Lives Matter?

It is simply not enough to proclaim that all black lives matter when clearly not all black bodies matter in our collective conception and articulation of black liberation. Our conception and articulation of black liberation currently suffers from a profound failure to engage disability as a site of struggle, resistance and transformation.
02/13/2016 08:00 am ET Updated Feb 13, 2017

It is simply not enough to proclaim that all black lives matter when clearly not all black bodies matter in our collective conception and articulation of black liberation. As it stands, our conception and articulation of black liberation, not just in the United States but across the globe, currently suffers from a profound failure to engage disability as a site of struggle, resistance and transformation. This despite the fact that Black disabled people everywhere are on the receiving end of the cruelest forms of neglect, violence, and destitution. A serious engagement with disability, and the lives of sick and disabled Black people, would mean a more expansive view of what constitutes activism and resistance, and in the process move us all toward an entirely new and more beautiful conception of Black liberation at large.

It would seem as though the only thing we have in response to largescale injustice and inequality is our bodies. It is no wonder that our conception of activism and liberation is grounded in the body. In this way, bodies animate political conviction. Movements for social and economic justice tend to mean the convergence of bodies sprawled out on the streets in righteous indignation and protest. Fists thumping in the air. People kicking and screaming as law enforcement officers violently disperse crowds. Protesters shoved into the back of police vehicles. Young activists in holding cells waiting to be bailed out. This is what comes to mind when one thinks of activism that is imbued with the promise of revolution. The body is the thread that weaves together these images. But not just any body. It is the non-disabled body that seems to give meaning to our collective definition of activism and resistance. This default to the non-disabled body is what I call ableism.

A number of questions arise from the ways in which ableism structures dominant conceptions of activism and resistance. What do revolutionaries look like? Why the insistence that revolutionaries need to "look" a certain way? Why is a vision of liberation predicated upon "seeing" in the first place? What does it mean when bodies are not able to "fight back" in the way that ableism defines what counts as fighting back? Why the assumption of non-disabled ways of being? If I organize from bed because I live with chronic pain and my body hurts too much will I still be regarded as an activist? What would organizing from bed mean for redefining what organizing means in general? What if going to prison for my political beliefs is just not an option for me because prisons don't come staffed with personal attendants? Will I still be regarded as deeply committed to the struggle for social and economic justice? Not that I want prisons to be staffed with personal attendants, let alone exist at all. On this point, what would it mean to understand prison abolition politics through the prism of the deinstitutionalization of sick and disabled people? What if disability was the starting point for re-imagining the world? What if we stopped conflating disability with blackness and instead honored and affirmed the lives of actual Black people who exist at the intersection of disability and blackness?

I don't have the answers to all these questions and in some way I feel that asking these questions without offering answers is what is truly needed in this moment. All of us have a stake in thinking through how we all get free.

Black disabled people are not just made to disappear from public view, they are also made to disappear from the imagination. This is the definition of violence. To make Black disabled life unfathomable in our conception of activism and resistance is to fundamentally undermine the possibility of Black liberation, for this practice is a haunting that will make Black liberation itself unfathomable too.

This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter Network for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 29 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth.