»

Recognizing Black History Month as a Disability Rights Advocate of Color

Leave a Comment

Black History Month 1

February is Black History Month, and as a Disability Rights Advocate of African descent, it is my duty to shine a spotlight on the significance of this observance.  Being a triple minority – African American, female, and disabled – has impacted how I view the world, and interact within it.  Each of my identities molded me; I would not be the person that I am if I did not belong to each group.  I am very proud of my racial identity; my pride is seen by being an African American Studies minor during my undergraduate years, my affiliations with historically black organizations, as well as the creation of Ramp Your Voice!  Being an African American woman with a disability has not been an easy life to live, but I have learned to use every barrier and obstacle to my advantage.

African Americans with disabilities make up over 14% of the disability population in America, but we are virtually invisible within the subpopulation and mainstream.  Our experiences as double and triple minorities need to be shared in order to empower African American children, youth, and adults with disabilities.  I have harped on the importance of representation in several articles on Ramp Your Voice!, and I am passionate about making the voices of African Americans advocates, along with other minority groups, heard within the disability community.  The disability community has a tendency to shy away from talking about race; being of color and disabled are my unique experiences, and I should not have to “choose” an identity to share, just to appease some who may be uncomfortable.  Disability advocacy organizations have a responsibility to create accepting and empowering atmospheres for people of color with disabilities to feel welcomed and comfortable to discuss the unique challenges they endure.   Such challenges include healthcare disparities; limited access to culturally appropriate educational, community, and social services; limited participation in policy formulation; disproportionate rates of under-employment and unemployment, and the high rates of criminalizing those with development disabilities.  Being denied the opportunity to openly discuss these barriers with the hopes of improving our status and quality of life will further perpetuate these obstacles, and we will fail to reach the desired goal of ameliorating and extinguishing them.

Black Woman Reading Book 1Today, I wanted to share a few books and articles that tell what it is like to be a woman of color with a disability (both visible and invisible disabilities).  On Tumblr a few weeks ago, I asked Trudy, founder of the blog Gradient Lair, if she was familiar with any books/articles that discussed being of color, female, and disabled.  The resources Trudy provided were just what I needed, especially since I aim to propel the voices of women of color with disabilities over the course of the year.

Here are several fiction books Trudy mentioned that dealt with invisible disabilities:

  • The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara.  (Depression and suicide ideation.)

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  (Depression and severe anxiety.)

  • The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips.  (Depression, anxiety, hallucinations caused by sexual abuse.)

  • Home by Toni Morrison.  (Depression, anxiety, PTSD.)

Trudy also listed some great articles that I have been reading that focused on visible/physical disabilities:

Reading these books and articles will shed greatly needed light into the experiences of African American women with disabilities.  We need more of these pieces of literature to exist to dispel myths about being of color and disabled.  Our voices matter, and we should not have to fight to be heard, and taken seriously.  That is why I started Ramp Your Voice!; I got tired of fighting to make people take notice of my life, and what I have to say.  I took action by creating my unique space in this movement, and I dare anyone to try to silence me.  I will RAMP MY VOICE until I am hoarse, and even then, I will use my writing to thrust my message forward.

What books about being of color and disabled are you familiar with, that was not listed in this article?  Share them with me in the comments section below.

(Featured images:  Courtesy of BlkWomenArt & Wednesday Night Service.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

Leave a Reply