Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Black Lives Matter...
I have heard this numerous times in the past couple of weeks, it's now become so normal to hear, that I have to remind myself not to forget the reason why we are having this conversation. However, what I have noticed, is that a topic that is NOT being discussed is - "Black Disabled Lives" They too matter.
As an FYI: I personally do not like the word "Disabled" it's seems negative to me and connotes that something is inactive and faulty. However, for the purpose of this post, I will be using the word disabled to mean - a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person's ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions - Merriam Webster
Remember that disability includes not just hearing impairment (as is my case), but other physical impairments and mental illnesses too.
Due to the nature of my hearing loss, I consume a lot of information by reading. Twitter is the perfect platform for me, as it brings the perspective of so many different individuals I would not ordinarily have met to my Twitter feed. It has been a very enlightening and sobering couple of weeks to learn about the various ways racism has affected black people.
It was via Twitter, that I learnt black disabled individuals are also victims of systemic racism and police brutality. What's worse (and disappointing) is there is little to no awareness of this. Black Disabled individuals have to be twice as afraid for their life than an average black person with no disabilities, due to the fact they stand a higher chance of being victims of police brutality. Simply because they did not react in a way that is expected of an average black person.
When an African-American person is disabled and can't process a police command - with any luck - he'll end up in handcuffs, but most of the time, it's fatal," - Forbes
I, probably like yourself, did NOT realise this injustice. It was a bit naive of me, not to realise that people in America who are black AND disabled will face much more difficult circumstances than I have. Especially now I know, that it is estimated that circa 30 - 50% of police brutality victims have been disabled. Source: Disability and Police Violence - David Perry
Discrimination is an unpleasant thing I'm very familiar with. Whether subtle or overt. I know it.
Discrimination as a hearing impaired person.
Discrimination as woman.
Discrimination as a black person is something I am trying to fully grasp. It is always an unpleasant surprise to me when I experience it.
I, therefore cannot imagine the plight of individuals for whom this is their daily reality, considering they are very likely to be victims of police brutality if they find themselves in the wrong scenario.
Black Disabled individuals are probably one of the most overlooked minorities in the United States of America, overlooked so much that the black disabled victims they are not considered to be worthy of being counted.
According to this Times Article: There is no reliable national database tracking how many people with disabilities, or who are experiencing episodes of mental illness, are shot by police each year, but studies show that the numbers are substantial—likely between one-third and one-half of total police killings
The same Times Article article goes on to further state the following:
"By dint of how others react to their complexion, they are also nearly three times as likely as white people to be killed by police. The combination of disability and skin color amounts to a double bind, says Talila A. Lewis, a community lawyer and volunteer director of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Dead Communities. Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities(HEARD)"
Basically, If I lived in, or grew up in America, my life would continually be at risk just because I'm a black woman and hearing impaired.
I'd like to paint a scenario that I could very well find myself in, if I lived in the USA.
Imagine this: On a Saturday morning, I'm walking in a Southern American suburban neighbourhood in my joggers and hoodie to get something from the grocery store. Someone calls the police that there is someone "suspicious" (because I'm black and probably looking disheveled, it's Saturday morning after all) walking around the neighborhood.
The police then show up and are trying to get my attention from behind me. I don't hear them, because i'm lost in thought and i'm hearing impaired.
The police reach the conclusion that i'm ignoring them and then they pull their guns, because at that exact moment I decide to put my hands in my pockets, as i'm walking (not knowing the police are behind me and this is seen as a threatening gesture).
Somehow I sense people watching me and I turn around. Based on the shock of seeing guns being drawn at me, by the police, I pull out my hands out of my pockets very quickly or react TOO quickly. We know the rule of thumb when you see the police is react, VERY slowly. Before anyone knows what's happening, shots are fired by the police, because they "feared for their lives", as I did not respond to them as expected and I brought my hands too quickly out of my pocket.
The worst part... nothing would happen to these individuals, because It is what it is.
Thankfully... This is just an imagined scenario.
However this is a very real scenario that could potentially have played out in today's America for a Black Disabled Person.
"The danger for people with disabilities is also born of police departments’ “compliance culture. Anyone who immediately doesn’t comply, the police move on to force” The approach doesn’t work when police interact with someone who doesn’t react in the way they expect. Haben Girma, who is both Black and deaf-blind, says that for her, the danger is hardly abstract. “Someone might be yelling for me to do something and I don’t hear. And then they assume that I’m a threat” - Haben Girma - Lawyer and Activist
For context Haben Girma is a deaf-blind lawyer who graduated from Harvard (whom I greatly admire). She is a phenomenal black woman who has accomplished so much in life but has to deal with the reality of this horrible context. I would imagine that very average black disabled person and their families / loved ones in America, will face a significant level of fear and risk especially as their lives are not always valued by American institutions.
Currently, there is no legal requirement for local, state or federal law enforcement agencies to aggregate or collect the number, type, and result of violent incidents that occur between police officers and disabled people. Disability and Police Violence - David Perry
This has to change.
I've learnt a lot in the past few weeks and months, There are no words to adequately describe the despair I felt, learning about the plights of individuals who are deal with challenges of being disabled like myself. I feel incredibly sad, knowing that there's nothing I have done up until this point to help. I'm grateful for the modern world of information and I know that this will change.
I am still learning and unpacking the nuances that comes with being black AND disabled in America. I will not pretend that I am well-versed on this subject. I am not, but I am looking to change that. My goal is to be part of the solution.
My first step is bringing creating awareness in my own little way, by writing this post. I will work to find out more concrete ways of how I can make an impact and make it a life-long duty to do so.
If you know any resource that you feel would be useful for me to learn about on this topic, please feel free share them with me.
Until then, I leave you with the following: "Black Disabled Lives - Matter"