Rather than covering the woes of my week, there is a much more important conversation to be had.
I want to preface this by saying these are my thoughts. These are my opinions. My reactions. None of this is a personal affront towards anyone, but rather my conclusion serves to be an open invitation for positive communication and a step as a collective society towards something better.
This is about life and death. Not politics. Not red or blue. So please, as you read, know that I do not come from a place where I believe the right for someone to live stems from a political belief.
Because it is not. Life is not political. Liberties are not political, especially when these liberties are laid out for all of us in our constitution. The constitution serves as a guiding document for our country, it is not red or blue.
Rather than argue about events that have happened and the merits of looting, I want to share why this matters to me. This post will be longer than normal, as it extends beyond current events and is more of an essay.
I had intended to write a piece regarding feminism and my introduction to the movement coming from black women, rather than the rather unappealing white feminist movement that exists today. But, I will get to that in a bit, as it’s important to address the current relevancy of disability as it related to standing in support of black lives matter protests.
I am disabled. The ADA was created 30 years ago to change the way society functions and exists and make the world around us more accessible. There are a few ways of looking at disability, and I’m not incredibly familiar with the various models that exist. But here’s a brief breakdown of the medical model vs the social model. In the medical model the goal is to “fix” the disability, find a cure, and address it via medical avenues; the medical model implies that it is the individuals fault they are limited. In the social model society places limitations and barriers – stairs rather than ramps – and the goal is to address social and political ideas to create a more inclusive society; the social model places fault on barriers rather than the individual.
As someone with a chronic illness, I fall somewhere in the middle of this naturally. As it doesn’t matter how much more accessible the world around me becomes, my pain still imposes limits.
In 1977, disability advocates had a huge push towards creating a more accessible society, and at this time disabilities were more physical in terms of advocacy. The fight for the ADA involved a Sit In lasting days in order to get attention from the governors to promote real change. Crip Camp is a film on Netflix that shows this story in depth if you want a full background.
The 504 Sit Ins however are an important intersection between two civil rights groups. When the Black Panther Party heard of the sit ins, they provided aid. They provided meals and warm food and supplies to the disabled activists at the sit in. The sit ins would not have been successful without the outside help of other organizations.
It’s over 30 years later, and although the civil rights movements of the 70s made great strides, our worlds don’t look very different. Disabled worlds or black worlds. Especially the disabled AND black world.
When I entered into advocacy spaces because of migraine and seeking to connect with the broader disabled community, I found that people who look like me cannot be the center of the movement. That if I wanted to exist in advocacy it would be to use my platform to advocate for black women, but to allow their voices to be centered. This is not something I take offense to, I don’t need to be centered when centering others will have the same outcome but for a broader group.
There’s a phrase: “Nothing about us, without us” that entered disabled activism sphere in the 90s. This is a very important concept that echoes the idea that we cannot take over movements that are not ours, we cannot silence the voices who started things and made changes and carried entire movements. Those voices must be centered.
Which brings me back to my introduction to feminism. Black Feminism is the realm I exist in, because White Feminism is comparable to the mean girl clique in high school, and advocating for feminism cannot be advocating for a feminism that is exclusionary.
My sophomore year of college, I took a course titled “History of African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement” instead of a basic US History Course. I came into that course as someone who did not know much about feminism, who – from personal experience – hadn’t had exposure to the pay gaps and women’s rights issues that were often discussed. And to me, my lack of exposure meant I didn’t believe it was as serious.
What I learned from this class has informed my decisions and beliefs since.
The course started by sharing the work done by African American women post-Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era. The groundwork laid in these early days set the stage for the 19th amendment: the right for women to vote. However, this movement was taken over by white women and set forth into motion, leaving the black women behind and left out of history books.
As the course progressed, we learned of women like Ella Baker and others who were the backbone to the NAACP and other organizations. We learned the true history of the organizing of the bus boycotts and the staging of Rosa Parks arrest. And most importantly we learned that credit once again did not fall where credit was due. It fell to the men of the likes of Martin Luther King Jr.
Ella Baker’s story and who she was as a strong, empowered woman, set the stage for my own interest in feminism.
My advocacy and participation in disability conversations and movements has one strong driving force: making sure that black, disabled women have access to healthcare without facing the discrimination that leads to a disproportionate death. There is no excuse for a black woman in America to not know if she will survive childbirth.
Why is this my main goal? Because my healthcare rights and needs can only be addressed as a RESULT of their healthcare rights and needs being addressed. There is no reform and change without them, so that means that I will always advocate for them and their needs before mine. History has demonstrated that by addressing the most marginalized and oppressed, we all benefit.
If I only chose to fight for my own needs, I’d be abandoning the people who have taught me the most. I’d be saying their lives weren’t worth fighting. And they are.
Every issue in society, is a disability issue, because disabled people exist in all walks of life regardless of race, sexual orientation, class, religion, and so on. Disabled people are pushed out of society, excluded from advocacy efforts in every sense. But, we as disabled people will show up for the current fight against racial violence, because of the intersections within our own community, but also because they showed up for us in the 504 sit ins.
I want you to see what I see.
Because race is not a democratic or republican issue. It is a white supremacy issue that has roots deeper than even the founding of our nation.
This is not about a politician.
This is about acknowledging our place, as white people, in a society that is built for white people, and taking the time to step back and acknowledge how our “whiteness” gives us privileges. You are not bad for being white. However, whiteness is weaponized against people of color. Proximity to whiteness is weaponized against people of color.
This is about taking the time to understand how your beliefs help to uphold the larger systems that serve to oppress. It’s time to go even further and acknowledge all the things you can do while white, that you cannot do while black. Running. Selling CDs. Playing cops and robbers. Watching TV in your own home. Go to church. Sure you can do these things while black, but as white people we can do every one of these things without second thought, while black they see the faces of those who were murdered and must spend everyday worrying about themselves and their loved ones. We, as white people, do not come close to having a level of understanding of the daily fear that comes because of the color of your skin.
It’s the time to acknowledge that and work to change that.
This is not a time to ask for cookies for being a good white person. You shouldn’t be celebrated for acknowledging that a black person is a human being who deserves equality, equity, and justice.
If your automatic response is to search for exceptions to those upholding these systems (ie. The good cop) you have to look inward at why. Why would you want to take the conversation away from demanding justice and mourning the loss of another human being and center something that isn’t relevant? Good people are not relevant right now, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. The center of conversation must be justice.
And this next thing, I need you to remember that the person typing these words dreamed of growing up to be a police officer. That is all I wanted for my life. So, remember that as I tell you that the police are a system of oppression designed originally to protect personal property. The personal property in question? Slaves. Police were designed, and written into existence in our country, to catch and return escaped slaves. Reform is not an option because the root of policework is in slavecatching.
When people suggest that police be abolished, that probably brings up a lot of red flags. How could we as a society exist without the police? We need to be protected. Meanwhile, primarily white neighborhoods and cities do exist without police and patrolling and crimes are very low. These same neighborhoods have resources for domestic violence, child abuse, drug rehabilitation and such that are managed by organizations not run by the police. This is what people want when they say they want to abolish the police. People need organizations to serve and protect them that do not have roots in slavery.
At this point in time, tensions in our country are very high. Responding to never ending violence with peace has not worked, and so we are witnessing the shift to responding with violence. Previous civil rights movements did not exist without violence.
I’m not asking for much of you, rather inviting you to the conversation. And by conversation, I mean a constructive, welcoming, and self-reflecting conversation. I am not here to challenge your personal beliefs, because I do not believe that anyone I have a relationship with comes from a place where they believe someone should die because of the color of their skin. And I view each and every one of you as a person who cares about your neighbors and your loved ones, and believes that they too should be able to leave their homes or watch tv in their living room with the same comfort as a white person.
I will not engage regarding topics of looting or good cops vs bad cops, I am however very open to conversations addressing white privilege, weaponizing of whiteness, various systems within our country that serve to oppress others, and how we as a collective can move forward and fight for justice for people who are wrongfully killed in our society.
Want to focus on learning? Here’s a few books to get you started.
Lifting As We Climb
Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement