Image Description: Actual banner advertising the first-ever #DeafEd twitter chat with a photo of a bunch of mixed age, but mostly youth signing in an open space at a university. in the middle of the photo, there is a white circle that says 11.25.14 @ 2 PM EST #DeafEd Twitter Chat. the attached Tweet is by @behearddc and says: don't miss our youth-led #DeafEd Twitter Chat Nov 25 @2pm EST! #Deaf #ASL #IDEA #LRE #Disability #EdRefomr @DkJLandis
Note: this blog post was drafted by TL & edited by the current core #DeafEd team: Mac Greenfelder, Heidi Givens, Lauren Maucere & Tamara Copeland-Samaripa. The author of the Daily Dot article had no knowledge or or involvement in the creation of this blog post.
Last week, the Daily Dot released an article that proposed to highlight the #DeafEd Movement. Unfortunately, the article did not capture the essence of #DeafEd and erased the contributions of countless DDBDDHH (Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing) Youth & educators.
#DeafEd has been a massive community-led and community-centered effort for two years. DDBDDHH Youth have been at the forefront of this Movement since its inception and they continue to lead, even now. For example, Derek Landis and a group of six students organized and hosted the first-ever #DeafEd Twitter chat; and Mac Greenfelder, a fourth-year DeafDisabled student, has served as host for the past two month's chats. Mac even hosts a physical space on NTID campus during chats for other students to learn the art of sharing their perspectives through #DeafEd. Importantly, Youth advocates have hosted at least one chat per semester, and have had a strong showing at every single chat. The erasure of DDBDDHH Youth leadership and centering of hearing individuals seen in this article is counter to everything that #DeafEd stands for and a misrepresentation of the #DeafEd Movement.
The author, who is d/Deaf, originally approached our core team---which is made up of five people, Mac Greenfelder, Heidi Givens, Lauren Maucere, Tamara Copeland-Samaripa & me--genuinely interested in covering the "#DeafEd Movement." The author even went so far as to interview four of our five core #DeafEd chat team members, so we were thrilled at the prospect of having a d/Deaf person write about this incredible Movement. Perhaps this is why the article, as edited and published, was such a let down.
After the article was published, it was revealed that the editor, who is hearing, made edits to the article without the author having signed off on those edits. The result was a feel-good, oversimplified article that centered hearing individuals instead of the fullness of the Movement. Look no further than the title to see for yourself: “Deaf education lacked attention—so this teacher started a movement."
After raising our concerns, the author admitted to having similar concerns and agreed to forward our concerns to the editor to see if modifications could be made to the article based on our feedback. The editor's response was troubling and demonstrated that the editor had no intention of going back to include quotes from the interview of our Youth core team member; of changing the title to attribute the Movement to the entire Community; or of centering the DDBDDHH community members instead of hearing community members. Here is the response in full (yes, the "editor" misspelled my name):
I'm [name of author removed]'s editor at the Daily Dot and [the author] forwarded me your email about your concerns. I'm sorry you were disappointed in how the piece turned out, but we believe the piece is factually sound and stand by it. Moving forward, however, we will be more conscientious about a balance in d/Deaf and hearing voices when publishing similar stories, because our intentions are for those marginalized voices to be heard.
In short, this response illustrates the problems inherent in having token representation of marginalized writers with little or no representation of marginalized in the editor's board room--especially when editors have not done extensive work to examine and unpack their own privilege and power. Not only is this editor unwilling to admit error and make changes to the article to reflect the truth, the editor has no problem with allowing a marginalized person to take heat for the editor's errors.
Despite a clear indication of the harm that these misrepresentations bring to our Community, this editor is more concerned about publication views than how the article misrepresents and possibly sets back a Movement that the publication claims it set out to honor. Instead, the editor resolves to, "be more conscientious about a balance in d/Deaf and hearing voices when publishing similar stories" while knowing full well that there will not be another opportunity.
In response, our current core #DeafEd team wants to set the record straight by sharing our responses to the author's interview questions so the Community can have a clear understanding of the origins of #DeafEd, the contributions of our diverse community members--especially those of our Youth and DDBDDHH educators, parents and professionals. This Movement has been a true, grassroots, youth-led and community-inspired and -driven effort.
The author asked each of us seven questions and we provided responses. Below are our unedited responses (note that Tamara was unable to contact the author for contribution in time for publishing but has since provided responses which we have included below). The questions from the author are in bold below and were labelled Q1-Q7 to mimic the format of Twitter chats. Our responses are just below each question in no particular order.
Our collected responses are long, but they are particularly helpful in understanding the #DeafEd Movement, and what it means to and for so many people. As such, we have decided to make this a three part series to ensure that it is digestible. Part One will include our responses to questions related to #DeafEd History; Part Two will include our responses to how the #DeafEd Movement has evolved; and Part Three will include our perspectives on impact the #DeafEd Movement has had and some of our goals, including, why people should continue to care & join the Movement.
Our responses are below:
Q1: Tell me about yourself and your affiliation to the #DeafEd movement.
MAC: I am a 4th year Deaf+ student at RIT/NTID, focusing in areas of Criminal Justice, Psychology, Sociology, and Visual Culture. I have grown up in a mix of different educational settings, although the majority has been in a mainstream setting. I now advocate for a more intersectional approach to Deaf Education and share my experiences where I can during #DeafEd events.
Note: Deaf+ (pronounced "Deaf Plus," and also known as "Deaf+Disabled") is an identity in which the person identifies as Deaf with other disabilities such as also having mental illnesses and/or another physical disability.
TL: I have taken to calling myself a social justice engineer because I do not know what else to call myself. I organize spaces in university classroom communities where hearts and minds are opened (my own included), but I do not consider myself to be a "professor." I am a recent law school graduate, but do not see myself as an "attorney." I have spent the past decade as a volunteer working to end mass incarceration, abuse of incarcerated deaf/disabled people; and to preventing and overturning deaf wrongful convictions. I am trying to do right by the world by using my privileges to end all forms of violence against multiply-marginalized individuals and communities. This brings me to the #DeafEd Movement (I love that you call it that!).
The volunteer work that I do (See #DeafAccessToJustice, #DecriminalizeDisability, #DeafInPrison & #DisabilitySolidarity) is inextricably tied to the #DeafEd Movement in ways that should stoke rage in the hearts and minds of us all. Mass incarceration literally feasts upon those who have been denied access to meaningful education and economic opportunity. At least 60% of adults and 85% of our youth incarcerated populations are functionally illiterate. Additionally, we find that youth with disabilities, including deafness are disproportionately represented in low and no income populations and in the foster care population.
During my first semester as a “professor,” I was searching for ways to engage course co-leaders (co-leaders is one of my words for “students”) in advocacy that would allow them to share their perspectives on issues of importance to them and that would serve them and our communities long after our semester came to an end. I had been active on Twitter for several years and thought that having students live tweet during class and for other assignments would be a good way to support them in gaining access to information and learning about and supporting different causes that were important to them. Course co-leaders had never used Twitter, so we started from the ground up.
Unfortunately, there were no accessible videos on how to use Twitter. This sort of unexamined hearing privilege is typical in our majority hearing society. I noticed that there were hundreds of education-focused twitter chats, but none related to DDBDDHH communities & decided (with the consent of the co-leaders, of course) that our end-of-semester projects should include three things:
1. A community-wide #DeafEd Twitter chat;
2. The creation of ASL signs for Twitter-related content; and
3. ASL vlogs to educate others in the community about how to use Twitter for social justice advocacy.
In preparation for this finale, I hosted course-wide Twitter chats on varied topics so we could all share our perspectives on federal disability rights laws, audism and other oppressions. The most important part of this journey was the fact that students were able to share their lived experiences & see immediate response and feedback from people outside the walls of the university. Each “like” or “retweet” signaled for these young people that people were listening and valuing their contributions—that their lived experiences were important. Co-leaders also joined other Twitter chats throughout the semester. By the end of the semester, they were thrilled (and anxious) about the prospect of having their own chat that would allow them to share their perspectives on a topic that would impact them and those who come behind them.
We wanted our chats to be fully accessible, so students created ASL vlogs for each question in addition to the typical English question format. Others created their responses to questions in ASL in advance of the chat, while others created infographics that they created on #DeafEd. Derek Landis (@DkJLandis), a co-leader of one of the classes who did not have a Twitter account at the beginning of the semester, brilliantly served as lead host for that first #DeafEd chat. We sat in my office during this first chat. He led and I supported. Witnessing all of the work that he and the co-leaders put into that final (& first) chat, and seeing his sign of relief and smile at the end of that first chat was, for me, the most gratifying moment of #DeafEd history. They knew that they had created something great—something greater than themselves. That was November 25, 2014.
Soon thereafter, a brilliant educator from Kentucky named Heidi Givens contacted me asking when the next chat would be. After sharing that this was an end of semester project with our classroom communities, Heidi asked if she could keep the chats going. The rest, as they say, is history.
DDBDDHH Youth advocates from my courses have been deeply involved with each chat—often taking the leading roles with planning, promoting or hosting. Mac, for instance, has hosted and storied the past two chats.
HEIDI: For 21 years I taught deaf and hard of hearing students, most of those years in Kentucky where I am now. Two months ago, I transitioned to administration in a new school district in KY as the Director of District Student Services. I am still a strong advocate and ally of the Deaf community and Deaf education. Last year I served as the moderator and co-organizer of the monthly chats working collaboratively with Talila Lewis. This year, the co-organizing and questions development is done by TL, myself, a few other teachers who are regular contributors, and a Deaf college student.
LAUREN: A Deaf by-product of a hearing education system, I am currently a high school teacher at Marlton, a day school for the Deaf in Los Angeles. In 2015, I was asked to join the #DeafEd Team by Heidi Givens as a host moderating on a topic related to ASL Literacy. Since then, I have continued to be part of the organizing team to provide direction. I will be co-hosting the upcoming January #DeafEd chat with Heidi.
TAMARA: My name is Tamara Copeland-Samaripa and I am a Literacy Coach for the high school at the Texas School for the Deaf. I have been in the education field for over 13 years in various positions from teacher’s aid, instructor, department chair, and now teacher support. I am what is considered late-deafened, though my hearing loss most likely began from birth. I was diagnosed with a unilateral loss at the age of 3 (deaf in one ear), then gradually lost hearing in the other ear. I grew up in the mainstream environment where I was the only deaf student in my school. I grew up speaking and listening. I didn’t wear hearing aides until I was 13. I learned sign language in high school and met many deaf friends through Jr. NAD. That was when I started to understand what it meant to be culturally Deaf. Through my involvement in Jr. NAD, I decided I wanted to learn more about ASL and Deaf Studies. I double majored in Deaf Studies and Psychology at Boston University. I immersed myself in Deaf culture and spent time studying interpreting. I continued my studies in Deaf Education at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. I realized I’m still not proficient enough in ASL to choose interpreting as a profession, so I answered the call to become a teacher.
I became involved with #DeafEd after meeting Heidi on Twitter. I mentioned to her that I hope the #DeafEd Twitter chat was something that was going to continue. I started to attend frequently and becoming very “vocal” within the chat. I naturally became a part of the team as I shared my ideas and even hosted a discussion on how Deaf Professionals can partner with Deaf Ed programs.
Q3: What is the origin of #DeafEd and how has it evolved into what it is today?
MAC: My understanding is that #DeafEd originally started as a safe space for DDBDDHH college students (from a course that TL was co-leading) to gather to share their experiences, ask questions they might not have otherwise been comfortable with regarding their education, and to share resources on what has been a great role in getting them to where they are today. This has spread into a large resource of its own, in which parents and professionals are able to learn from the actual experts of Deaf Education as well as share tips from their experiences.
HEIDI: A few years ago I joined Twitter as a way to connect with other professionals and to increase my access to professional learning. I participated in some education chats which were so educational. At the time there was not a #DeafEd chat and not many people were even using that hashtag for sharing information. It was sporadic. Then November 2014 I see a tweet advertising a #DeafEd chat being led by students at RIT/NTID as part of a course culminating project. The experience was exhilarating and I wanted more, but because it was a final project, there weren't plans for future chats. I reached out to the students' professor Talila Lewis about continuing the chat. With TL's support and from feedback from people on Twitter, we created a monthly #DeafEd chat with featured hosts each month who were experts in specific topics. We have had participants from across the U.S. and even from some other countries as far as Saudi Arabia. IN fact, the teacher from Saudi Arabia started her own #DeafEd chat in Arabic, though they have only had one chat. There are participants who show up each month and those who are sporadic depending on the topic and their availability. The great thing is that the hashtag is being used a lot more throughout the months as a way for people to connect, share resources, showcase their student's work and learn from each other just like most other educational hashtags.
Part II will be released tomorrow, November 11, 2016.
For centuries, community builders, social justice engineers and freedom fighters--most of whom are multiply marginalized--have been doing exhausting and traumatizing life-changing & life-saving work with and for no money; with no sleep, health or mental health care; and with no institutional support.
This said, I would like us to engage in an open and honest conversation about the relationships between oppression, violence, capitalism, “advocacy” and erasure.
For years I have kept a running log indexing every incidence of erasure that I have experienced at the hands of organizations and individuals who claim to be working toward “rights,” “equality” and “justice.” Up until now, no one knew of its existence. This log has been my outlet. My companion. My therapist. My rage witness. My way of combating, what I like to call, altruistic oppression and benevolent violence against my communities and me.
Why the shroud of secrecy? After experiencing terrible misplaced backlash at the mere mention of the possibility of “respected,” “resourced,” “revered” organizations or individuals causing harm to me and others--particularly those they claim to serve--I decided it best to keep to myself the intra-”community” erasure, aggression, oppression & violence of these entities until I was better prepared to address all of this and the violence that stems from being guilty of actually naming all of this.
Because there has been no room to discuss this all-too-common phenomenon, those of us who are on the ground engaged in the most difficult, traumatic and emotionally taxing work have had to become our own silent witnesses to violence against ourselves and our communities by those who claim to serve our communities (who also happen to hold the most visibility, funding, and power). These entities and people are largely unaware of the [a/e]ffects of their violence because they have effortlessly managed to drown [out] everyone in their white, non-disabled, cis, “care” giver, parent, wealthy, non-incarcerated (and the list of unaware unaffected “experts” continues) tears.
I have held out hope that space would free up for these critical conversations for some time. However, now as myself and others are presently experiencing a deluge of erasure, violence and literal tears, like nothing I have experienced or seen before, even as we all quietly engage with unaffected “experts” behind closed doors, I have decided to carve out a space right now because this conversation can’t wait.
The toll of erasure on social justice engineers, the communities we serve and the movements our hands and hearts have built and carried is immense. Not surprisingly, those in positions of power, are largely oblivious to why their actions are detrimental to struggles for liberation. What’s more, they are impervious to constructive dialogue--even when they ask that we invest in yet more emotional labor to explain how they are messing up.
When called out, instead of cleaning up shop, they attempt to justify their behaviors by quickly rolling over (excuse me, I mean, rolling out) an affected person who is not a part of the ongoing erasure dialogue to demonstrate their allegiance to all affected persons-ever; reminding you that their great-great uncle three times removed also experienced another kind of oppression that was just as bad--if not worse!; or--my absolute personal favorite--hastily throwing your name in their “white” paper and thinking that you will pipe down for the patronization (pun intended).
Many are much less original, and prefer to outright deny or dismiss your “allegations” of their impropriety, naming you a mean and horrible human for making such cruel insinuations when “all they have ever done is fight for the voiceless.” Their counterargument: Well, they are a very good person, of course. Many people can vouch for this, they say. Always the considerate ones, these folks will often send along their handy dandy reference list of other unaffected “experts” who will vouch for their kindness and help lay all of this “erasure business” to rest.
By now, they have all but confirmed for me that there are plenty of people who are nice and racist, kind and ableist and sweet and classist. It is clear to me now more than ever before that we will not get free by prioritizing the hurt feelings of powerful/privileged people or by surrendering to their hushed respectability refrain: let’s discuss this another time; in another, you know, more appropriate, venue.
Let this be a reminder to all who have bought into these age old strategies: our health, safety, lives and movements are more important than millions of unaffected experts’ feelings and tears. Naming erasure and violence is a powerful act of revolution and love that will lead to our collective liberation.
So, here am I; after reminding myself of my duty to fight for my own freedom, naming erasure & violence.
There are “educated, “elite,” “erudite” folks in resourced organizations claiming to be doing work on issues they know nothing about for communities that they would not give a second thought to if not for the possibility of personal or organizational financial or reputational gain. When they are finally all said and done (usually “done” coincides with the ebb of trendy funded advocacy--of which no funding usually goes to those who have been engaged in real liberation work for years), what is left is yet more work for those who already had been engaged beyond trending topics.
This runs parallel to stealing my ancestors from our homeland, inflicting unconscionable violence upon them, treating them as literal chattel--branded, bred and beaten; separating our families at your whim; making millions from our blood, sweat and pain; cutting off our limbs when we talked, looked, wrote, ran; then suddenly rallying against the institution of enslavement that you created to fund a new “revolution”--that was only revolutionary to you because you erased all of the years of freedom struggle before you finally realized that we were right all along.
In fact, the revolution had begun eons before you finally came to the realization that your institution was unjust--during that time when you were charging us for freedom that was never yours. Yes, then. Oh but now, you could maintain your moral superiority because, you had courageously taken it upon yourself to “come to our aid.”
But, you see, capitalism has always rewarded commodification of that which already belongs to those it chooses to oppress: Freedom, land, life, humanity.
Indeed, you will find, wrapped up in Black and Indigenous-led movements against enslavement, genocide, poverty, mass incarceration here in the “United States,” centuries of erasure of the unremunerated work of freedom fighters--who paid for freedom with blood & life.
It takes very little time to identify the pattern: Create injustice and violence; monetize violence while criminalizing and monetizing any and all attempts at freedom by the oppressed; knight the oppressor who decides that the oppressed is right; monetize future work to “reform” the violent and oppressive institution; ensure that reform benefits the oppressor and creates new systems of inequity; erase all memory of oppressed insurrection; move on to the next “cause.” Repeat.
People in positions of power often pat me on the back and rail that I should be paid for the “good” work that I am doing. Truth be told, I do not have the slightest idea how to monetize this love. In fact, the very thought of finding ways to make money to soothe human suffering makes me mentally and physically ill.
The truth is, capitalism could not afford to pay me my worth. Even if it could, it would not dare. A funded me would be the death of it.
Alas, capitalism feasts upon those who pray upon it. Ask yourself: before money existed what payment was required to love, protect and care for another?
What does it say about us when a society establishes systems whereby it monetizes human suffering and commodifies relief from the same suffering? Where the only people who are able to receive relief are those who can afford it? Where those who provide support are held out as heroes and those who provide “funding” heralded as gods? Where the only ones who can afford to do the work are those who can get the funding & getting funding is premised on being beholden to the very system that created the suffering in the first instance?
It is not surprising then, that those receiving funding rarely look like those who are adversely affected by the institution; or that they are often so unaffected and out of touch with those they seek to "help" that they often cause more trauma through “reform” than would have occurred had they just left everyone alone.
I suppose, if capitalistic calculation were applied to social justice engineers, my net worth would be in the millions. Wealthy folks often look at me with dismay (and I also pick up a bit of disdain) when they determine that I have provided "hundreds of thousands, if not millions" of dollars of "free" information, service and support to attorneys, organizations, law firms, businesses, agencies; and somewhere in the same "ballpark" in services and support to those who are suffering at the hands of government and private corporations.
They are surprised, and seemingly disappointed that I have not monetized my mind and struggle. It is true. My body's labor inures to fiscal and reputational benefit of business & government all in hopes of physically freeing my people.
Sadly, this society has created systems that commit violence against the most marginalized among us and against the most marginalized advocates among us--effectively ensuring that those who are best situated to end the violence can never fully engage; thus ensuring that violence continues, largely unscathed.
And the cycle never ends.
I am here to name that all of the work that I have done for the past decade has been for free[dom].
I have been directing an-all volunteer organization full-time on top of full-time law school plus part-time work, then on top of full-time professorship; on top of losing my life partner; on top of studying for bar exams; all on top of serious mental health conditions and a great deal more tribulations and violence that I will not get into here.
I am also here to name that I have been managing all of this while coping with violent theft of my intellect and derivative work, and erasure and commodification of my labor and my communities’ unspeakable suffering.
I am here to name that this and other violence by and through resourced organizations and individuals sets back the ground gained by efforts of the few of us who actually infuse heart, mind, body, blood into this struggle.
Those same organizations and individuals are happy to refer people who need actual support to me and our handful of volunteers to high heaven unless and until media or funding calls. Then you will find their faces plastered in print with worthless commentary on matters of life and death about which they know less than nothing because they forgot to care when it actually mattered--that is, when no one was watching, filming or offering reward.
I am here to name the terrible physical, mental and emotional toll this violence continues to have on me, my kindred, our unborn; and how it stymies our work toward liberation.
Very kind, well-intentioned, unaffected experts say to me all the time, “we have to find a way to get you some funding.”
The reality is that that thinking, is precisely why we are here.
I am not interested in continuing this fight. Free[dom] fighters are here now and always have been here for liberation. No amount of funding or accolades will remove the chains that bind my people. When “good” people are as enamored with and excited about freedom as they are about funding, there will be no need for heroes, gods, funding or saviors.
Until then, I will nod vacuously at those “nice” people and continue to heed my ancestors’ call.
I hear them clearly as they sing to me:
we gotta find our way to get us free
we gotta find our way to get us free
we gotta find our way to get us free
[Video: For more context about this video, please review the "info" section at the YouTube video link above. The video abstract, which also provides info about the varied identities of the signers in this video, can also be found here: goo.gl/HG4mxL. Still shot of a Brown South Asian Deaf man with short black hair wearing a navy shirt standing in front of a gray wall with the following words: Even though people with disabilities are just 20% of our population,]
When a Black Disabled person is killed by the state, media and prominent racial justice activists usually report that a Black person was killed by the police. Contemporaneous reports from disability rights communities regarding the very same individual usually emphasize that a Disabled or Deaf individual was killed by the police — with not one word about that person’s race, ethnicity or indigenous roots.
In the wake of Charles Kinsey taking a bullet marked for Arnaldo Rios this week, I am renewing the call for Disability Solidarity. Disability solidarity means disability communities actively working to create racial justice, and [non-disability] civil rights communities showing up for disability justice.
Arnaldo Rios is an Autistic Latinx adult who likely belongs to various race, ethnic, gender, disability, and other communities (I am maintaining gender neutrality here because I do not have first-hand information from Arnaldo about their gender and I want to honor and respect their identity). Charles Kinsey is a Black behavioral therapists who was supporting Arnaldo during what seems to have been a sensory overload or emotional crisis that landed him stimming with a toy in the middle of the street.
According to the police union, we have only the poor marksmanship of a North Miami police officer to thank for Arnaldo and Charles not being lost to us. The union could give some credit to Charles Kinsey’s swift thinking, calm demeanor and intense emotional labor in the most traumatic of conditions for their lives being spared. But hey, I guess that may be asking a bit too much.
All I know for sure is this: two people were grounded at an intersection. They posed no threat. A police officer shot at one, hit the other, & traumatized both for life.
I also know that this happens time, and time, and time again to Deaf and Disabled Black, Indigenous, Latinx & brown people. And somehow, police are never held to account.
Now, as much as I want to address how irresponsible, inappropriate and incorrect media and activists have been regarding even the most mundane information they share about disability and autism, I simply do not have the capacity (i.e., spoons) to do so. Seriously, the fact that in 2016, people continue to refer to an autistic adult as a child; and continue to equate autism with mental illness, and sensory overload with suicidal is beyond astounding and exhausting. Alas, our society and institutions are wholly run by able-bodied, neurotypical people. So it comes as no surprise to disabled and neurodivergent people that ableism abounds in reporting on, responding to and organizing around disability. But it is utterly exhausting.
Radical societal ableism also explains why police officers and alleged 911 callers do not understand the difference between homicidal and suicidal. Here’s a hint: too often cops are the former, and those killed at their hands, the latter.
I digress. Arguably more important than the media and activists making flagrant errors when they finally decide to discuss disability, is the particular penchant both have for wholesale erasure of [inconvenient] identities of multiply-marginalized people who experience violence at the hands of the state. This, when we know, that the recurring tragedy is not found on one side of the road or the other. It is death at the intersection.
An intersection that far too many actively circumvent. The intersection that Arnaldo and his therapist occupy day in, day out. The intersection they occupied this Monday, when both of their lives were mere moments from vanishing into thin air —just like those of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones who occupied that intersection before them.
Thousands have been profiled, criminalized and killed by the police simply for existing at the intersection of their own disability and race or indigeneity.
Here is the cold, hard, inconvenient truth:
Over half of those killed by law enforcement annually are people with disabilities. These murdered disabled individuals also are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and people of color.
And so, I am here to remind us all that erasure of disability in reporting and advocacy is the height of irresponsibility in journalism and activism. Regardless of intention, erasure only serves to further delay the end of state violence against racialized people and people with disabilities.
All of this being said, I have very little hope of news media abandoning its long-standing and deeply-ingrained divisive, dismissive and destructive reporting tactics. And so, I pen the note below to my comrades in the struggle for collective liberation — as a warning that these single-story narratives stand in the way of everything we are fighting for. This is our reminder that freedom is nigh, and that our shackles come undone only when we move as one.
Why can so many of us effortlessly engage in nuanced discussion of white supremacist capitalist cis hetero patriarchal imperialism and yet be completely incapable of identifying ableism?
If you are attempting to dismantle white supremacist capitalist cis hetero patriarchal imperialism without actively engaging in anti-ableism work, you are doing it all wrong. Ableism, together with other more commonly discussed oppressions within social justice circles, undergird every institution. Indeed, racism, sexism, classism and transantagonism depend on ableism.
And so, our journey of unpacking privilege can not end with race, gender identity/presentation, socioeconomic or immigration status.
If your liberation journey ends short of disability justice, you too are complicit in perpetuating violence on and within your own community. Though rarely discussed, disability is represented across race and ethnicity, socioeconomic class and gender identity. Notably, and for reasons that are a matter for another piece, Black, Latinx and Indigenous people; low and no income community members; trans* and gender non-conforming individuals, and womxn, are all disproportionately represented in the class of disability.
We all lose when we are unaware of or dishonest about common and overlapping experiences of marginalized communities in education and income inequality; police brutality, wrongful arrests and convictions; and mass incarceration and rights violations in carceral settings. More to the point, we will never get free if we reduce people or communities down to a single identity for political, reporting or activist convenience.
Disability is the tie that binds. And so, it is impossible to achieve justice without achieving disability justice. Thus, if you are not naming and addressing racism and ableism in your actions, you are fighting a losing battle.
Our communities experience common and overlapping oppressions that require an advocacy framework that cuts across identities & movements. Here are just a few examples of common and overlapping oppression our communities face in the criminal legal system:
Similarly, incarceration statistics for incarcerated Black and Latinx people also are grossly disproportionate. Black and Latinx people make up a quarter of the US population but represent nearly 60% of the incarcerated population.
Our jails and prisons are quite literally overflowing with people of color with disabilities.
Or, take disenfranchisement: States across the country have passed measures to make it harder for black people and people with disabilities to exercise their "fundamental right" to vote. For instance, felon disenfranchisement laws mean that today, 2.2 million Black Americans — and many millions more with disabilities — are prohibited from casting a ballot despite having completed their sentences. Moreover, although it is rarely discussed, disenfranchisement of people with felony records and people with disabilities can often be found within the same section of law. The exclusion of one group is often used to defend the exclusion of the other.
I could continue, but I will stop here because the pattern is the same within every institution.
Simply put, it is impossible to address the crisis of state violence without addressing the systematic failure of the state to provide equal access to education, employment, housing, and resources for people of color and people with disabilities — who, for myriad reasons, often are one and the same. These inequalities are inextricably linked.
Narratives and statistics make clear that the important and necessary conversations on racial justice that are occurring now cannot be fully had without disability justice at their center.
To be sure, disability and deaf communities of color are disproportionately impacted by state violence. Even still, most resourced disability rights organizations refuse to take action to end the crisis of racialized people with disabilities dying in our schools, streets, homes and prisons; whilst resourced non-disability civil rights entities dishonor the lives of the same people by failing to uplift their whole humanity. This, even when these resourced entities claim to be fighting for justice “in their name.”
Accountable advocacy demands more. It demands that we engage in activism that cuts across identities, communities and movements — that we understand and engage in disability solidarity wherein all of us are working toward racial justice, economic justice and disability justice.
This is not an easy task but it is necessary for life, love and liberation. I have come up with some questions for racial justice activists and for disability justice activists to help you on your journey.
If you engage in social justice actions to bring about racial & economic justice, ask yourself:
We can begin here. This will lead us to a place where deaf/disability justice activists and racial justice activists become one and the same. This is critical intersectionality. This is Disability Solidarity.
Will centering disability make your advocacy a bit more intricate? Yes.
Will you have to be more critical about your use of ableist language during your actions? Absolutely.
Will you have to ensure that your actions are universally accessible? Of course.
Will you be uncomfortable with your privilege(s) for a while? Likely so.
Give thanks. This is the gift of accountability.
You will come away with a deeper understanding of structural oppression, state violence, radical inclusion, others, yourself and your role in the movement.
We will come away with our freedom.
So, the next time you are having a nuanced discussion of white supremacist capitalist cis hetero patriarchal imperialism, please include and be honest about ableism, audism, sanism and your privilege(s) as related to each of these.
And the next time someone asks you who Tanisha Anderson, Paul Castaway, Freddy Centeno, Ezell Ford, Norma "Angie" Guzman, Milton Hall, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Natasha McKenna, Jamycheal Mitchell, John T. Williams, or Mario Woods are, tell them the truth.
Tell them the whole truth:
These are our kindred — our Black, Indigenous, Latinx Disabled kindred.
They were killed by the state.
Their lives mattered.
This summer I created and taught a course entitled Disability Justice in the Age of Mass Incarceration: Perspectives on Race, Disability, Law & Accountability. Here, I am providing my course syllabus to serve as a resource for all. There is so much I wish to share about the co-leaders (aka, students) and about my experience. Will save that for a bit later. . .
I have too many thoughts & emotions surrounding “law enforcement” killing#KaydenClarke; his subsequent (and continued) misgendering by news media & most every “community” to which he should have had a home (and received support) in life; and the legitimate outrage presently being expressed by folk who, for years, did not show up for (and still are not showing up for) countless Lives that have been (and are being) snuffed out at the whim of “law enforcement” across this country at alarming rates.
I am here for this:
Identity politics & single-issue advocacy efforts kill. Literally.
Kayden is just one of many examples of why #DisabilitySolidarity is critical to all of our liberation. These examples, hashtags, bodies will continue to mount until all of us commit to radical change in the way we go about “advocacy.”
If after thousands have been murdered by officers, it requires the murder of someone with whom you can perfectly identify to begin your righteous condemnation of police violence, you need to begin self-work straight away.
Accountable advocacy looks like showing up for all who are being oppressed, abused, killed--especially when you [think you] do not identify with those individuals.
Newsflash for the "justice will prevail when the truth comes out" folks: While you were busy looking the other way (or, more often than not, watching and sitting idly by), law enforcement perfected the art of killing innocents & getting away with it, so please stop it.
You want to know what will happen to guilty parties here? Ask the families of:
And all the others.
There is no "justice" when the state kills your loved one. Just an ever-present void and painful reminders of our collective failure to prevent injustices when we had every opportunity to act.
Justice would be life. Life & no more death.
If you are ready to end divisive, dismissive and destructive "advocacy" that ignores intersectionality, get at me. Everyone else should unfriend me immediately because you are no friend of mine.
Important edit to define #DisabilitySolidarity: disability communities actively working to bring about racial justice & civil rights advocates showing up for disability justice. Review this chat for more information: sfy.co/teF5
I dream incessantly of justice. Hoping to calm my mind & stir yours through this freedom space.