On the first day of 2017, I tried to find the name of a black woman with intellectual disabilities who was killed two years ago without a hashtag or a fuss. I started with a fruitless Google search, then went full librarian and used some Boolean terms and LexisNexis – nothing. While I searched for information about the particular circumstances of her case, I was bombarded with countless other names of the fallen, casualties of an ancient war against our folks. My internet searches produced more corpses than available dissenting hashtags, more bodies than could be protested if we protested ceaselessly.
Overwhelmed, I attempted to list the reasons for how this list could be so long and at the same time these crimes be so overlooked. Although D/deaf and disabled people make up the majority of people murdered by law enforcement each year, the black activist mainstream has been slow to add disability justice to their platforms for a brighter black future.
It’s a shame that the only time that violence against black disabled people becomes a priority is when it is used as a counterpoint to violence against white disabled people
Several days after my original search the story of a young, white disabled man beaten by four black people, three of them teenagers, emerged. White supremacist news organizations dubbed the violence the #BLMKidnapping, although none of the accused were affiliated with the Movement for Black Lives.
Suddenly, activists that had previously been silent on issues of disability – some who had even been defensive and hostile in the past toward including disability justice in their analysis – had much to say on the issue. I saw articles about the incident from Shaun King, who avoided using the solidarity term “disabled” in favor of the apolitical “mentally challenged.” When mentioned, major black organizing spaces where ableism and disability are relegated to the backburner,dug deep into their pockets and found something to say about this story, since after all, they were now directly implicated.
It’s a shame that the only time that violence against black disabled people becomes a priority is when it is used as a counterpoint to violence against white disabled people. I am a member of The Harriet Tubman Collective, an incubator for black activists, artists and advocates, and we have worked to advance an anti-ableist agenda in black movement spaces. We have been accused of attempting to splinter the movement, of being selfish for wanting inclusion in spaces purported to be designed for us.
Today’s shame is tomorrow’s tragedy; with Jeff Sessions ascent to the office of Attorney General and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act looming, disabled people are set to be the first victims of Donald Trump’s presidency. Jeff Sessions, a man who has described special education as “a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America,” will become the person assigned to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act. A man who believes “good people don’t smoke marijuana” will steward a country that just recently passed groundbreaking legalization and decriminalization measures, helping myriad disabled people deal with chronic pain and illness. To combat these toxic positions, disabled Americans need your support now more than ever.
Don’t write articles about disability justice issues once the movement is accused of ableism – help build disabled leadership now.
Why haven’t you joined your disabled siblings in struggle yet? Why aren’t you pouring into our work.
What has always inspired me about the current incarnations of black freedom struggles is the desire to lead from the margins. Why are black disabled people not considered among these numbers? As people who are not chronically ill make fearful social media posts about losing their healthcare and access to preventative medicine through Planned Parenthood, I invite you all to understand that while these changes affect all of us, they have life and death significance for many disabled people.
Don’t write articles about disability justice issues once the movement is accused of ableism – help build disabled leadership now. Instead of inviting disabled people to inaccessible meetings and marches, pour into the activism and advocacy we’ve already started. Stop asking why we didn’t come to your twenty-mile march; let’s move forward using a diversity of tactics, holding each in equal respect.
This post is part of the Black Futures Month blog series brought to you by The Huffington Post and the Black Lives Matter Network. Each day in February, look for a new post exploring cultural and political issues affecting the Black community and examining the impact it will have going forward. For more Black History Month content, check out Black Voices’ ‘We, Too, Are America’ coverage.