One of the reasons I wanted to do this series was to capture the diverse lives of Black disabled women. Very few spaces have given us the opportunity to discuss what it is like to be a triple minority, much less by someone who possess those same identities. Providing an environment where people can be candid about the obstacles they face while navigating the world and embracing who they are is an important part of my advocacy work.
Keah Brown is a 25-years old entertainment journalist, writer, and essayist from Western New York. She recently created the #disabledandcute hashtag that went viral in February. This hashtag allowed disabled people to proclaim and display the diverse beauty that exists in our community. Keah is a dynamic writer and friend, and her presence in the community cannot be ignored.
Here is Keah in her own words about learning to accept herself and using her work to empower other Black disabled women:
VT: Tell us about yourself.
KB: I grew up a very loved and nurtured child. I have a very close knit family. I am a 25-year-old journalist with a focus in entertainment and I’m a writer. I grew up loving to read and make up stories about my stuffed animals when my twin sister, older brother and I weren’t playing outside. I wanted to feel whole in my body but I never did. As a person with cerebral palsy, and as the only one I knew, that aspect of myself was a tough thing to deal with.
VT: Why does writing about disability matter to you in your work?
KB: I am a black woman grew up longing to see herself properly represented in mainstream media. I never got that representation, but I want to be that representation for young black disabled girls now. Right now, black disabled women are invisible in almost every aspect of society. By writing about myself and championing other black disabled women, I feel like I am helping to make us visible which is something that I have always wanted.
VT: How does your perspective as a Black disabled woman shape your writing?
KB: Well, most of my essay work is about how I navigate the world as a black disabled woman, so I would say that it is the bones of my work. I am more than my disability and blackness, but as they stand, they shape my writing both fiction and nonfiction in that I write about people who look like me, I tell their stories and my own.
VT: What are the obstacles Black disabled women face in society? In our disabled community?
KB: There are so many. As I stated earlier, we are invisible in mainstream media. We simply don’t exist yet; I hope to change that. In the disability community, we are stepped on, unsupported, and in my case, called a few racial slurs the moment that we bring up race and intersectionality within the community. The biggest obstacles we face in society and the community are the same. We need to be seen, heard, and respected. We need to be afforded the same opportunities. It really is as simple as that.
VT: How can our community support/uplift Black disabled women? What does that look like for you?
KB: For me, it looks like championing and sharing our work. Uplifting us by giving us opportunities to grow,
VT: How did you come into your Black disabled womanness? What struggles have you experienced, and are still conquering?
KB: It took me so long to get here. I hadn’t really known another black disabled woman well until I met a few online in 2014. Before meeting them, I hated myself and my disability. I thought I was too ugly, too broken, too wrong to ever matter to anyone. I thought that I didn’t deserve anything but misery. So, I came into it in 2014, but I didn’t love or like myself. That would come at the end of 2016. I have a lot of self-esteem issues that I have to work through, old habits to break and depressive holes not to get back sucked in to.
VT: What does it mean to be a Black disabled woman in America?
KB: It means that you are at once invisible and expected to shoulder the burden no matter what it is or who is carrying it. We are at once tossed aside and asked to participate in movements and in the revolution without credit. I know these words are harsh but it really is hard being a disabled black woman in America. In order to cope, I lean on the people I know care.
VT: If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
KB: I would tell a younger Keah that she is beautiful, funny, and smart. I would tell her how little high school and crushes on silly high school boys matters in the grand scheme of life. I would tell her that we are going to do great things later in life and that we are going to be happy and smile at the reflection in the mirror one day. I would say to my younger self that even though we are not in a romantic relationship yet, the love of friends and family is a beautiful thing and that it will get us through some really tough times. Keep on keeping on, you’re doing great.
VT: For the Black disabled women who may read this, what words of wisdom/love would you want to share?
KB: Please know that I am working so hard to give us the representation we deserve, I am working to tell our stories, all of them. I know it is hard out here for us but we are magic and we are worthy. Even if no one else has your back know that I do and I am rooting for you. We are enough on our good and bad days. Keep creating. The world is better for having you in it.
VT: What’s a little known fact about you?
KB: I like to eat pepperonis out of the bag and I love watching HGTV.
* * *
As you have read, you can gather why I appreciate Keah’s voice being so unapologetically Black and her sister’s keeper to Black disabled women. To learn more about Keah and her awesome work, you can find her on Twitter: @Keah_Maria, and on her website, keahbrown.weebly.com.
The response to this series has been amazing – I am very appreciative of the level of support for a project like this. These women represent five different lived experiences and their voices are undeniably influential in the work that each of them are passionate about. In each of their stories, I see myself, and I hope that other Black disabled women came away with similar sentiments from reading these captivating journeys.
Black disabled women matter. Black disabled women’s struggles and successes are important to understand. Uplifting Black disabled women is a priority; not an afterthought. Protecting, validating, and loving Black disabled women cannot be optional; it is a requirement in order for us to be seen and treated holistically and equally. Black disabled women are here and we will continue to fight against the “-isms” that seek to harm and belittle us. To paraphrase the late Maya Angelou, who was disabled herself, still, we rise. Black disabled women will steadfastly rise and shatter misperceptions about what we can achieve. Black disabled women, we are more than the stereotypes they try to box us in, and from the stories you read this month, we possess the ability to redefine the rules and proclaim the facts regarding our existence.
No one has us but us, and I hope that you realize you are unconditionally loved and worthy.