So lately I have been thinking a lot about the politics of ableism and normalcy and how it is a form of invisible oppression for people with disabilities. Actually it is not invisible for those of us with disabilities who deal with with this type of oppression every day. Our bodies and minds as people with disabilities are constantly being compared to the able-bodied model. It is an unsaid moral law in our culture that everyone should strive to be like the able-bodied model or a close approximate. It is also an unspoken law that for those of us who are not actively conforming ourselves to the able-bodied model will be reprimanded and chastised until we do. The fact that “normalcy” and able-bodiness goes unquestioned in today’s Western society has to be challenged at all times.

In this society people that go against our dominant culture are almost always met with some form of oppression,  whether it is the micro-aggressions of being verbally corrected of how our bodies and minds should act, or being locked away in rehabilitation institutions or group homes, or being out and out murdered for being unable to meet the standard dictate on how our bodies are supposed to be. The populace is programmed to ignore our suffering and our assertion against our sufferings as the ramblings of people of no consequence. Our culture is getting more rigid in how we police our bodies that does not fit the norm, most notably in the incarceration and the extra-judicial murder of black and brown people by police. In addition to state sanctioned violence, people with disabilities also endure additional oppression and violence in the forms of community seclusion, stigmation, verbal and physical abuse.

That is why it it is my aim to apply and attend the Anthropology and Social Change program at the California Institute of Integral Studies to obtain a doctorate studying how people with significant disabilities can gain and assert social power successfully in the communities that they live in. As history shows us, oppressed communities only gain freedom and equality from their oppressors when they have comparable social powers. I feel with all the technological advancements in society now it is the time for people with disabilities to find our moment in the sun. We also need to define what the new normal will be.

Recently I have the opportunity to watch a video of Dr. Jeremiah Wright speaking at an anniversary celebration of my church. I was not able to attend due to being out of town that weekend, but I was able to purchase the DVD of the service. I wanted to see Dr. Wright preach because he has always spoke a prophetic word from God about love, understanding, and acceptance. I also greatly admire the man for standing by his principals during the unjust media character assassination during the 2008 presidential election. In his verbose sermon he preaches that everyone should be allowed acceptance in the kingdom of God no matter their race, gender, creed, nationality, and sexuality.  However, he didn’t stress that those of us with diverse abilities have a right at the kingdom table. Though he didn’t mean to exclude us, his omission reveals a challenge in the black community regarding perceiving people who have disabilities. The willful or unconscious negation of people with disabilities in the African American psyche is across the board from the black intelligentsia, black community leaders, black advocates, black entertainers, and regular black people.

There is a very obvious disconnect between the black disabled community and the rest of the black community. The hypothesis I have for a cause of this division is that since slavery the African American community has fought the stigmatization that their bodies and minds had defects and thus inferior to their European American counterparts. So the black community has spent four centuries of time and energy to prove their humanity to the dominant American culture. A by product of that is a hidden fear that those who do not succeed in this culture whether due to physical, cognitive, psychological, moral, or financial challenges would show a bad representation on the rest of the ethnicity. So when they come across people in their own community that cannot conform to the dominant body archetype they cannot accept it.

The origin of the African American fear of the disabled body is derived of course from slavery. On the plantation the master used to value his slaves on how well they were able to produce for him. The dominant European culture invested time and energy to create a false narrative of their superiority over the African people that they subjugated. The African American community also inherited the dominant culture’s alienation with its disability community, so as the dominant culture have an history of shutting out its disabled, the African American community emulated this trend. So before the intervention of the Disability Rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s people with disabilities did not occupy public spaces and was not on the public’s radar. Also the disability rights movement was considered a white led movement and didn’t get on the African American radar as a concern. As a result there was no critique within the African American community on dealing with people with disabilities.

Specifically when African Americans look at those of us in the community who are physically, developmentally, or psychologically disabled they do not know what to do with us. To recognize us in their community as full human beings complicates the liberation narrative that the African American constructed that they are worthy to become American citizens because are as physically strong abled-bodied, as intelligent, as psychological whole, as emotionally together as their white counterparts. Since this proof of worthiness is so ingrained in the African American psyche they cannot see those that does not fit within the dominant American narrative of what a body should look like. The community has been so focussed on the liberation of the African in America that they neglect the liberation struggle of other communities that intersect with theirs.

For the African American community dealing with intersectional identities has always been a challenge. The fact that an African American can be both down for African liberation and also be for women’s liberation, LBGTQI liberation, but especially liberation for people with disabilities is a cause of contention in African American culture. Disability for the African American community is a private matter with the individual and not a social construct to organize around. This is why our community needs to be educated in disability justice. The practice of disability justice asserts that everyone has something valuable to offer and that communities have a responsibility to ensure that each of us can fully engage in our communities no matter how our bodies function. It is a practice that fully acknowledges the intersectionality of an individual that encompasses a person’s ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, creed, and ability. In accepting the practice of disability justice the African American community can acknowledge and accept all its members no matter how their bodies are constructed. Our community can then see how being disabled is just a normal part of life.

What would be great is if the African American community on the whole would get behind the disability community. Black advocates and artists with disabilities along with black disabled organizations can lead the way in building bridges between communities. We as a people should recognize that the liberation of African people in America is connected to the liberation of people with disabilities and until all people with disabilities are free and treated as full human beings in society we all are not free.

This is a poem I wrote after observing the Jordan Davis situation. Tell me what you think:

Who will protect the young black boys in the suburbs?

Who will protect us from you?
You who fear us,
because of our hoodies,
our loud hip hop,
our darker hue.
Our brash bravado
that does not bow to your whim,
your whip,
your baton.
Now our defiance is too much
that you cut us down which guns.

And we thought we were safe,
if we move our sons into a nice neighborhood.
If we gave them a good education
and got them into a good school.
We as young men would be accepted,
not be a threat to you.

But even if we get an elite Stanford education,
and some swagger in on step
you are quick to call us a thug
if our tongues become haughty for your liking.
Must be always even tempered and well mannered
less you deem us obnoxious.
Call us a gorilla
just because we turned up
in front of a prissy blonde white woman.
Are you for real?

You who have been killing us
every since we got to this place.
Overworked to death in those sugar and cotton plantations,
oil drenched whips left blood strained streaks
down our backs.
We would cry with outstretched hands
as our sons and daughters were ripped from our grasp
and sold down the river.

You who devised an apartheid system after slavery
just to avoid being near to us.
Where you made our men underpaid field hands,
our women domestic maids
and made our boys into alligator bait.
For real, you made them alligator bait.

It was like you became addicted to killing us
we became the bloodied strange fruit
swinging from southern trees.
You used to gather around
and watch the life
being strangled from us
right above you.

And no age was safe from your wrath.
Emmitt Till, 14 years old.
Beaten and pummeled beyond recognition
all because he whistled at a white woman.
Oscar Grant, 22 years old.
Handcuffed and pinned down
Between Messerly’s knee
And the Fruitvale Bart platform.
Murdered with a bullet shot in the back.
Travon Martin, just turned 17 year old.
Walking to his father’s house
With a bag of Skittles
Minding his own business.
When George Zimmerman
stocked him,
Accosted him,
Threw him to the ground,
And shot him dead
He said It was Travon’s hoodie
That made Zimnerman think he was a criminal.
Alan Blueford, 18 years old.
Was chased by the police
And was shot down in cold blood
On these cold Oakland streets.
All because Alan ran
the cop gave the excuse
That he was up to no good.
Then there was Jordan Davis, 17 years old!
Who Michael Dunn murdered
Just because  Davis played loud hip hop
In the car with his friends,
Dunn deemed them all thugs
and thought to kill them all
before they killed him.
Even though he was no danger
From unarmed teenagers
From the suburbs.

Not one of the murders
Of Emmitt, Oscar, Trayvon, Alan, or Jordan
Were convicted of first degree murder
In the trials right after the crime.
It beg the question
Why are you scared of us
when you kill us
without much repercussion.   
When you think about it,
The real monster to be feared
Was always you.

This is a poem I wrote to commemorate the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela. I hope you will all like it:

 

Father Madiba shook my hand

He shook my hand,
and as a nine-year-old boy 
my immature mind
couldn’t fathom
the rough surfaces
that scraped and scabbed
the hand I touched.

This hand that held
the knowledge of law books
as sledge hammers
that slammed against
the great wall of apartheid.

This hand that embraced and guided
the African National Congress
to express in words
what was on their people’s hearts.
Their desire for freedom and self-determination
from unjust white domination.

This hand that was handcuffed
for lashing out against the brutal state.
This hand that was made to break limestone
in an effort to break his spirit
to no avail.
Because this hand was still strong and firm
when he grasped my hand
after twenty-seven years of holding cold metal prison bars.

I shook the hand
that crumbled the remnant of apartheid
and then molded from his country’s earth
a democracy that all his people
could thrive and prosper in.

I shook the hand
of the man
honored and admired worldwide.
Now as he rests in peace
I feel honored and blessed
that he chose to shake mine.

            Nelson Mandela was a lion of a statesman and an icon for the struggle for social justice especially in South Africa where he served as the country’s first democratically elected president after the dismantling of apartheid. With his recent death this past Friday the world mourns a courageous leader who was a symbol of social justice, freedom, and democracy for his country and for the world. Even before he became president, Nelson Mandela, was a charismatic attorney and a leader of the African National Congress who was on the forefront of dismantling apartheid. For his defiance for the apartheid state he was imprisoned on Robin Island. After his release he took a tour of United States to raise support for the anti-apartheid and I had a chance to meet him on his stop to Oakland, CA in June of 1990 as part of the welcoming community at the Oakland International Airport. I was one of the lucky ones from the Bay Area to welcome him and say a couple words to this civil rights icon.

            Growing up with the disability of cerebral palsy always made me set apart from my peers. Because of my severe mobility and speech disability I maneuver in a power wheelchair and communicate with an electronic augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. Since I transverse the world in a unique way it had led me to have a desire to advocate for myself and people like myself to have our own voice and our own self-expression. That was why I was so excited to meet Nelson Mandela because he dedicated his life to advocating for the freedom and equality that his people’s deserved and I wanted to follow in his foot steps and advocate for people that are in the same situation as I am.

            When my parents informed me that I was selected as part of the welcoming committee to greet Nelson Mandela I was extremely excited. Back then I was nine and did not know much about South African history and apartheid as I would learn when I grew older, but my parents informed me he was one of the main leaders fighting against South African apartheid, which to my mind put him on par with one of my role models, Dr. Martin Luther King. Even though I was just nine I still conceptualized that it clearly was a grave injustice for Nelson Mandela to be locked in prison for twenty-seven years since he advocated for all who inhabited the land that his ancestors lived for centuries have the freedom and democracy that everyone deserves in their home country.

            I spent over a week preparing what I was going to say to Nelson Mandela. I had my Dad’s help with ideas of what to say and with revisions. When I was finished I thought I had an excellent five-minute speech stored in my Touch Talker, at least to my nine-year-old self.  I waited with excited anticipation for the day I would meet the famed Nelson Mandela. Finally when the day came I went with my whole family to Oakland International Airport. I was ushered to the front of a large crowd that gathered on the side where Nelson Mandela’s plane was going to dock. When Nelson Mandela’s plane finally came and Nelson Mandela appeared with his then wife, Winnie, there was a great cheer from the crowd. I was so nervous I was worried when I finally met this famous high-powered couple I would not be able to push the right buttons on my Touch Talker to speak my prepared speech. When the time came and both Nelson and Winnie Mandela came up to me I was able to speak the prepared statement to the delight of the couple. I believed Mr. Nelson Mandela smiled after he heard what I said to him. I know for sure that Winnie gave me a hug and a few kisses on the cheek. Although I cannot quite recall what Nelson Mandela said to me, I will remember that encounter for the rest of my life.

            After our encounter Nelson Mandela of course led to him becoming president of his nation and helped build a thriving democracy.  The way he unified his country with his leadership after decades of racial divisions because of apartheid is definitely outstanding. During the death throws of apartheid the country was ready to tear itself apart, but under Nelson Mandela’s leadership he was able to unify the country under one national identity.  I was able to visit South Africa in 2008 and I saw first hand the populace’s acceptance of the country’s multicultural heritage, as being an integral part of who they are as a nation and it is an enduring part of Nelson Mandela’s legacy. I am just full of honor and joy that I met this phenomenal man that was such a positive influence to his country and to the world.

           

 

 

Here is a poem I recently wrote and performed at the Air Lounge last night. Stay tuned to when I perform at Air Lounge again:

Self-hatred

Why do you throw stones in your own reflection?
Trying to straighten out naps.
Squeeze noses down to size.
Use cake soap to lighten skin complexion
between Vybz Kartel and the late MJ.
While those with pale skin lay on the beach for a tan.

You who memorize the lies
coming from bobbing heads
from CNN or Fox, 
that you are a violent criminal,
welfare cheat,
deadbeat dad,
unfit mother.
Their images become ingrained in your psyche
you make their stereotypes of you come true.

Every time you see a labelled criminal on television
You cringe and hope you don’t have the same complexion.
You wear their shame as goosebumps on your arms.


As if their actions says something about your character.

You think if only they act more respectable
and spoke with good grammar.
Then they could make something of themselves as you have.
You who went to the good schools and obtained the good education.
You who have a good job and a good home.
You who think you obtained a piece of the American Dream.
They just need to work harder
and they can be just like you.

Well sorry to burst your bubble,
but they probably do not want to be you anyway.
Cuz you have not lift a finger to help them.
You hardly spend money in their businesses
so we can have money in our local economy.
So eager you are to be Eurocentric,
you forget the Afrocentric.

Our history chalk full
with pharaohs building the pyramids of Kemit,
the stories from the 15th century catholic kingdom of the Kongo,
or the glory of the Akan and Oyo empires’ kings.

Why do you want to identify with a culture who
beats you,
rapes you,
sell you as commodities,
steal your names, language, and history
and then ravages and pillages the very place
where you are from?

Think it may be time to wipe the lightening make-up from your face,
let the kink come back in your hair,
and spend more time in the community
among people that will be willing to support you.
Love the coco skin you are in
Because it is the only one you got.