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#Unbothered: Why The Overwhelmingly Whiteness Within Disability Advocacy Won’t Silence This Black Cripple

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Last week, I participated in a Facebook chat about the lack of racial diversity within disability rights & advocacy organizations, from the founders to Board members.  Some folks were surprised that many of these entities, especially the nationally known ones, failed to have at least 50% people of color representation.

You know who was not surprised at the lack of racial diversity uncovered?  *Raises both hands*

Why wasn’t I shocked & awed?  

The whole premise of me creating Ramp Your Voice! was out of sheer frustration that I did not see enough Black, Brown, Yellow, and Red disabled faces within the circles I was a part of.  I got tired of being the only “brown sugar” speck, and being used as the “token” Black disabled face and voice to get acquainted with disability organizations that did not care about what mattered to me.  

I am intimately aware of how overwhelming white this community is, and the failure to include the voices of those who look like me.  

I am incredibly “woke” to the fact that “diversity,” “intersectionality,” and “cultural competence” are hot trending terms in our society and within social justice circles – my Blackness, disability, and mere existence are more than catchy hashtags and slogans.  I was born Black; when I hop in my chair to get out of bed, I know I am disabled – this life is not going to end when the faux awareness becomes stale and is replaced with the next shiny new thing.  

I know that many of the organizations that claim to represent people with disabilities continuously fail to consider the lives, struggles, and realities of disabled people of color.  We see this truth from the historical creations of these entities to their resistance in discussing anything that is not disability-related.  During the chat, I made the statement that I do not worry myself about the lack of people of color involvement because I know these organizations were not built with me in mind, and sadly, some may never make the voices and experiences of people of color with disabilities a priority within their missions.  

With knowing that we are are being grossly ignored by these organizations and initiatives, what are we to do as disabled people of color?  We establish our own “Ramp Your Voices,” and have exclusive power over how our stories are told and shared.  We start supporting organizations, blogs, and advocates who look like us, and who challenge the status quo by unapologetically discussing the issues that matter to our livelihoods.  Most importantly, we band together and strategically go after the funding sources these bigger, and overwhelmingly white organizations clamor to acquire.  Why target funding?  Being involved within several disability entities has taught me one critical fact:  money matters to these organizations more than anything else we could humanly do.  When we start giving these non-diverse entities competition for the little funding available to create and sustain projects, jobs, and reputations, then they will begin to see that we have power, too.  Though we may feel smaller in comparison, we must realize that corporations and funders care about having a broad range of entities to financially support because it gives them bragging rights.  We have to be strategic in tapping into that corporate “ego” and build up our own brands so that those who are purposefully ignoring us will know that you cannot silence a group people but so long.  

Understanding these truths is why I remain unbothered by disability advocacy being so white.  Every time I meet a disabled people of color kicking ass in pursuing their passion, it gives me strength to keep going as an advocate.  It is not easy being the seemingly “only” or “only a handful” within this work, but knowing that I am not alone as a Black disabled advocate keeps the flame that was lit within me almost three years ago burning strong.  My voice matters; instead of asking for a seat at the table, I decided to create my own,  I am too proud and fierce to beg, and I damn sure won’t wait politely for my turn.  

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.

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