|[Photo: Black person at outdoors demonstration holding two signs.
says, “Black, Autistic, Proud” with the Black Power flag
and power fist.
The other says “Black Disabled Lives Matter.”]
Each July, hundreds of people participate in the Chicago Disability Pride Parade, where Chicagoans see the living history of the contributions the disability community made in Chicago. It’s also where participants can enjoy meeting fellow members of the disability community, and display their pride in their community. July 23rd of this year was my second Disability Pride Parade; I marched on behalf of the Chicagoland Chapter of Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN).
My co-chapter leader, Amanda, made a few signs for the parade; one of them had a message on each side. On one of the sides, it reads: “Black Disabled Lives Matter.” I marveled at the sign and I carried it with my right hand. I also happened to carry a sign on my right hand, that says: “BLACK, ÂûTISTIC, PROUD.” I paraded around with both signs, showing them to the curious audience and media. Quite a few people took pictures of my signs and posted them on Facebook, where a lot of Facebook users commented or liked them.
Two days later, I shared a picture of the “Black Disabled Lives Matter” sign on my personal Facebook account. While a good number of Facebook friends like it, the post became a breeding ground for mini-dispute. On one hand, someone wrote, “All Disabled Lives Matter,” and another agreed. Another person attempted to briefly explain how mentioning “All Disabled Lives Matter” is reactionary and is used to discredit those who say “Black Disability Lives Matter.” I had an itch to immediately respond. However, I postponed explaining “All Disabled Lives Matter” and “Black Disabled Lives Matter,” until now. I needed a little more time to investigate some things.
My solution: create a Twitter poll to see which of the two phrases/hashtags appear more problematic. According to the results, 92% of the 38 tweeters who responded to the poll thought #AllDisabledLivesMatter is problematic. Just 8% said #BlackDisabledLivesMatter is problematic.
[Photo: Screenshot of pinned tweet poll from The Black Autist
saying, “#DisabilityPride Before I write today’s post:
have a curious question to ask: Which hashtag sounds more problematic?”
Beneath that, 8% selected #BlackDisabledLivesMatter
I absolutely agree that #AllDisabledLivesMatter and should matter. I don’t want what happened in Japan to happen to anyone in the disability community, including my friends and allies in that community.
Disabled people are four to ten times more likely to face violent crimes than the general population, including police violence, sexual assault, hate crime, bullying, robbery, and murder. According to the recent Ruderman report on media portrayal of police violence towards people with disabilities, at least one third to one half of all police violence cases covered by the media involves the disability community. In fact, half of the 375-500 U.S. victims of police brutality each year have mental disabilitie, as mentioned in a 2015 ACLU brief on San Francisco v. Sheehan: a case where police shot Teresa Sheehan five times, though she was having a “psychiatric emergency.”
We live in a society where only the abled-bodied and the neurotypical survive, and the disabled are either locked up, kept at home, institutionalized or slaughtered. Just like any other disability rights/justice activists and advocates, I envision a world where the disability community can work, live, procreate, defend themselves, pursue dreams, and enjoy life & freedom as they please.
All disabled lives matter, if and only if people generally care that ALL disabled lives matter. For instance, you would be just as willing to march and protest against the police murdering an innocent black autistic person from the inner city as you would with police brutality towards an innocent white autistic person from the suburbs. Like with #AllLivesMatter responding to #BlackLivesMatter, however, #AllDisabledLivesMatter can be used only in haste and retaliation against #BlackDisabledLivesMatter. You can assume that with the latter, the person is not considering other people. Or if you want to reach for a possible deeper meaning, it leaves out the white disability community or it reminds the privileged white ruling class of their role in the violence towards black disabled people.
#BlackDisabledLivesMatter actually reads Black Disabled Lives SHOULD Matter, not Only Black Disabled Lives Matter and F*** Everyone Else. Black disabled people affected by violence are seldom mentioned in the media, or they are mentioned only by name but without any mention of their disability (there are instances that the disability is reported afterwards). The black disability community, including myself, are scared for our lives. Recent victims of police brutality, such as Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray, were not only black but also had a disability of some sort. Certain police officers can get away with murdering black disabled people; just take a look at the two officers who got away with murdering Stephon Watts in cold blood. We are also subjected to bullying, filicide, murder, sexual assault, emotional/psychological abuse, child abuse, theft, police profiling, and manipulation from negative influences daily.
To make matters worse, our own black community is inaccessible and doesn’t have many resources to go to. African-American culture seems to have been fearing disability for centuries; starting with slavery when the disabled slaves were discarded or killed because they were unfit to perform on the plantation. That fear still carry on to today’s world, where disability in the black community is taboo (especially mental disabilities). We are either viewed as angels or devils, not just mere humans who want to explore the world and enjoy life just like abled-bodied and neurotypical people. Also add these following things to the mix of things that plague our community: lack of disability awareness/acceptance, underfunded public special education programs, lack of adequate services for the disability community, extreme unemployment/underemployment, and a scarce amount of black disabled role models.
#BlackDisabledLivesMatter is personal to me because I am that black and disabled person who is under immense pressure and constant attack from the mainstream society, as well as black (abled-bodied and neurotypical) community. Despite pursuing a Ph.D degree, holding two post-high school degrees, and a certificate in web design and development, I only managed to work in part-time jobs, summer jobs, and internships. I haven’t had full-time work yet, though I am more than capable of doing work and I have the talents to back it up (i.e., writing, research, media, a little bit of web design, photography, basic graphic design, public speaking).
In fact I get scrutinized a lot for “picky eating,” seeing the world in various perspectives, my passion for geekery, preferred choice to be alone, and sensitivity to certain sounds and temperatures. I used to get bullied throughout my childhood. I have difficulty keeping friends and romantic relationships because of social miscues. I have been stopped by the police before because I “looked suspicious” walking on campus at night, was falsely accused of a crime I didn’t commit, got robbed at gunpoint, and almost got shot for getting hit by a car after I got spooked by a cyclist riding through the bushes (the white guy who pulled the gun on me thought I was jumping in front of the car for the hell of it, but the cyclist saved me by telling him what really happened).
Eeyup! That’s a lot for a black disabled person like myself to go through in a lifetime; I’m just 28 going on 29 in October. And I’m not the only one: There are too many similar stories in which black disabled people have been harmed, exploited, and shunned by their ethnic community, religious centers, schools, family, peers, the state, law enforcement, caregivers, etc.
In a nutshell, #BlackDisabledLivesMatter because we are the black sheep that are aching to be heard by ANYONE, especially the mainstream media. Our voices have been muted for so long, but thanks to social media and the rise of the black disability community, we are slowly but surely trying to speak out. We want to be heard, we want respect, and we want equity!
So the next time you want to use #AllDisabledLivesMatter in conjunction with #BlackDisabledLivesMatter, double check to make sure you’re really fighting to make sure that all disabled lives matter, including black disabled lives. Get to know various facets of the disability community; learn about the plights that black disability community faces daily; do something about the attack on black disabled lives and lives of disabled POCs in general. Otherwise, you will be viewed as just reactionary or racist. Your activism will continue to be out of touch and you will miss the intersections of disability and race, class, gender identity, etc., if you just throw #AllDisabledLivesMatter around.