On the intersection of race & disability in discussing police brutality

Our society’s history of racism and ableism is eerily intertwined, ranging from the forced sterilization of disabled & black women during the American eugenics movement, to the Holocaust, to forcing people into segregated spaces, to modern day examples of systemic oppression. Both racism & ableism are forms of discrimination based on one’s body looking different than the majority– but that is not to say those of us fitting into only one of these two identities “totally get” the experience of the other. Because that is untrue. Racism and ableism are just different forms of oppression that often cross paths. The ableism I face because of my disability does not negate the privilege I carry because of my whiteness. The racism one faces being black does not negate the privilege they carry if they’re able-bodied.

Intersectionality is imperative to understand. Those who identify as both black and disabled experience the insidious intersection of both racism and ableism — and this is something that often goes unaddressed in both the Black Lives Matter and the Disability Rights Movement.

This intersection is a much larger conversation to unpack, but in this post I want to draw attention to police brutality. According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, fifty percent of those murdered by cops were disabled. Fifty percent. Disability is defined broadly in this sense: mental health conditions, physical disabilities, chronic conditions, blindness, deafness, etc. And according to Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, black people are more likely to experience disability. (This is due to environmental and institutional barriers to healthcare, socioeconomic disparities, the psychological effects of discrimination, and a number of other factors).

People of color are far more likely to be stopped by the police than white people. If you are a black person in America, it is likely the police will already think you look suspicious for merely existing. Then on top of that, if you also happen to have some underlying condition that affects the way you relate in the world, you are deemed even more suspicious.

(Trigger warning for following paragraph: specific examples of scenarios disabled POC can have with law enforcement.)

Consider the following scenarios: A black person in an encounter with the police gets asked to put their hands up, but cannot because of a physical disability. A black person in an encounter with the police does not hear the command to turn around because they are deaf. A black person in an encounter with the police does not stay perfectly still because they are blind and cannot see the gun aimed at them. A black person in an encounter with the police does not respond quick enough to their liking because of a cognitive disability. A black person in an encounter with the police has an uncontrollable reaction because their PTSD was triggered by the sirens and yelling.

How many seconds do you think it takes to try to get caught up & explain? How many seconds do you think they’re granted?

Stephon Watts was a black, autistic fifteen year old that was murdered by the police. Laquan McDonald was seventeen. Quintonio LeGrier was nineteen. Kajieme Powell. Ethan Saylor. Brandon Bragg. Jeremy McDole. Tanisha Anderson. There are countless other black people that had underlying physical, invisible, and/or mental health conditions that have died at the hands of law enforcement. I can go on.

Recently, some in support of the police force were attributing George Floyd’s death to his ‘underlying condition,’ implying that someone ‘healthier’ would’ve survived the eight minutes with someones knee pressing down on their neck. Apparently in America we blame people for their own death, all the while circulating videos of them lying on the floor begging. Screaming that they couldn’t breathe. In America, we apparently use ableism to justify racism.

We are tired of hearing stories like this. We are tired of black disabled lives being treated as if they are disposable. If your disability rights or police reform discussions do not include the intersection of race & disability, that is not justice.

As allies we help educate others on these matters– but we must be mindful to not take these stories away from those affected & profit/gain notoriety off of their struggle. It is 2020 and we have no time for white saviors. We are here to share the stories people want the public to hear, join the fight alongside them, and spread awareness in whatever way we can. Recommended next steps for you, my dear readers:

  • Find readings on the intersection of race & disability here.
  • Check out & follow these Instagram accounts run by disabled people of color: @rollinfunky | @Aaron__philip | @wheelielovely | @theseatednurse | @janiralisbeth | @shelbykinsxo | @she.is.rish | @girlschronically_rock | @crutches_and_spice | @youlookokaytome | @fidgets.and.fries | @capricekwai | @itslololove | @garrisonredd | @keah_maria | @itswalela¬†
  • Check out & follow these blogs/websites run by disabled people of color: Ramp Your Voice |Black Disabled and Proud | Black Disability Coalition | Disabled POC tag in the Disability Visibility Project
  • If you are aware of more accounts/websites/readings, comment below & share.

Dear other white people: Here’s what we can do to help fight racism

This is a horrifying time in our world. American racism does not stop for a virus. Police murdering black men in broad daylight does not stop for a virus. So those of us that can put on masks and head to the barricades, go protest. Those of us with financial means, go donate. Those of us that have a platform on social media, go write. We will spread awareness. We will have conversations with people who need to be educated on these matters. We fight, we fight, we fight.

I am further horrified looking at all of the ridiculous posts I see on social media from other white people. This is not a time to make about us. This is not a time to share your opinion of systemic racism, to use “black on black crime” to negate the issues at hand, or to argue that “not all cops are bad” and “not all white people are racist.” Do not say you’re surprised a cop killed George Floyd for no reason. It shows how out of touch you are with the reality of racism in America. Please stop, listen, and be humble. We have a lot to learn, and none of us are perfect or immune to this. An important and relevant quote:

It is exhausting to face oppression. It’s exhausting to educate people on why you don’t deserve to be killed by the police. It should not have to be the job of people being oppressed to go through the emotional labor of educating ignorant people on these matters. To the people being oppressed these conversations hit home. It is a matter of life or death. Meanwhile, we are watching from the sidelines, thinking we’re just engaging in a “healthy debate” on “politics.” This is unfortunately the view point many white people are coming from on these matters.

The American educational system reduced the civil rights movement (and most of our history, honestly) to what is palatable to white people. MLK “peacefully” protesting and Rosa Parks sitting down is considered to be the pinnacle of black activism to most of white America. They don’t teach you about the riots. They don’t teach you that MLK was the most hated man of his time. They don’t teach you that after he was assassinated, there were over a month of riots that resulted in bills finally being passed. They don’t teach you that oppression leaves you feeling like you’re running out of options. They don’t teach you that women didn’t get the right to vote until the suffragettes quite literally set off bombs. They don’t teach you that the Stonewall riots resulted in gay rights finally being acknowledged. They don’t teach you that disabled people didn’t have any rights until they took over an office building and refused to move for 28 days.

You want marginalized people to be ‘peaceful?’ Then listen to us. Don’t make us have to resort to this.

It is not enough to acknowledge the privilege we have because of our race. To be decent allies, we need to use our privilege only in ways that fight & make change. Activism takes many, many different forms. Here are just a few ways to help:

  1. Protest. If you have the time off from work / child care resources / physical means, go. The more numbers, the larger the message. POC have to worry exponentially more than us about being arrested and harassed by the police at protests.
  2. Donate. George Floyd fund. Ahmaud Arbery fund. Breonna Taylor fund. Community bail funds to help protesters. NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Further resources organized by state can be found here.
  3. Support black-owned businesses. Resource to find black owned bookstores, wellness companies, beauty brands, etc. can be found here.
  4. Join/read up on news from activist organizations. Some of many: The Movement for Black Lives. Until Freedom. Reclaim Philadelphia. Antiracist Research and Policy Center.
  5. Educate yourself. Again, it is exhausting for marginalized people to continually have to educate people on why they deserve basic human rights. Don’t expect the black people in your lives to always be ready to go through the emotional labor of teaching people how to not be racist. Learn genuine black history (not the stuff you learned in elementary school), and learn about how racism currently functions. You can access a plethora antiracism and educational resources here. Podcasts, articles, documentaries, you name it.
  6. Educate your family & friends. Have the difficult conversations. Share things on social media. Call out racism when you see it. We have a lot less at stake.
  7. VOTE. Elections are coming. Do not let your vote go to waste, please use it to remove racist and uneducated people out of office. Obviously most pressing is getting Trump out of the White House, but presidential elections are not the only ones that matter. Voting for local government is IMPORTANT. The right to vote took years to attain, and some marginalized communities are still fighting for it.

Please feel free to comment more resources that may be helpful, I will update the list as we move forward. May we work toward getting out of these horrid times. We stand (or sit) with you.