Videos of a white wheelchair user during the Minneapolis Uprising, have been circulating the internet. Different angles show the wheelchair user, apparently called ‘Jennifer’, at the door of a Target store. Other people in the videos can be heard saying, “She’s stabbing people.” Now, this right here is not the narrative we hear about disability, nor about those within the community.
Humanised Disability Is Always White
Disability is often associated with vulnerability, lack of autonomy, decreased earning power, social isolation, and lower social capital. It is seen as a state which disempowers, rendering those within the experience victims; innocent and by default, morally balanced – due to a lack of options to be any other way.
How could someone in a wheelchair feel ‘A’ or do ‘B’?
Someone seen to be mean, or unreasonable towards someone disabled, is often swiftly chastised and reprimanded. They are implored to have some humanity, especially if the person they are talking to is in a wheelchair, Often, the recipient of this public defense is white or white-presenting. That is not to say that they should not be advocated for, should they receive ableist treatment or harassment.
However, it is to make a very important point regarding white bodies: White bodies, no matter their presentation, are understood to deserve protection. Even when the owners are unreasonable, antagonistic or even violent – such as was the case of the white disabled person in question. There is always grace and understanding for a disabled white body, because ultimately, they are white.
Disability is often represented, marketed and sold with a white face. It is exactly because of this that the Triple Cripples platform was created. The only time disability and brown skin seem to collide in campaigns, is in poverty porn. Specifically those of children in countries that colonialism has ravaged – the imagery is used to line the pockets of charity payroll bigwigs.
But humanised disability; disability with emotion, disability with independent thought, disability that is deserving of social participation, autonomy, empathetic understanding, love… is reserved solely for white bodies.
White Womanhood Is A Powerful Tool In Minneapolis & Elsewhere
It is this fact that makes disabled white people as capable (sometimes even more so) of participating actively in white supremacist rhetoric, acts and reinforcement. It makes them capable of being racist in ways that are equally as dangerous as their non-disabled counterparts. Someone’s health state does not automatically make them an ally. A racist in a wheelchair is still a racist. Neither their need for, nor their use of, mobility aids negates this.
The Minneapolis uprising is an example of the danger of this conflation of issues. Unaddressed discrimination within the disability community is often overlooked in social justice conversations, and that needs to end. Now you’re aware (as we’ve always been), that a disabled white person is more empowered than the average Black person on any given day.
It is empowerment that allows someone physically vulnerable to feel safe enough in a chaotic environment, to commit attempted murder in broad daylight. Having complete assurance that the world is yours, that the people and institutions within that world are there to protect you – no matter what. The knowledge that your life is deemed and will be viewed as more valuable, more valid (even with the social inequities that exist as a disabled person).
You cannot remove these acts from their social or historical contexts. White womanhood has been and is consistently weaponised against people of colour on a DAILY BASIS. It is used as both a dagger and a shield, to harm and justify harm against Black people. It is very possible to be empowered by this understanding as a white disabled person. You could get drunk on the intoxicating fumes of a societal potpourri of institutionalised racism and anti-Blackness. You’re then able to package it within the ignorant ableism that deems you ‘less capable’, ‘less dangerous’….
The Weaponisation Of A Wheelchair In The Minneapolis Uprising
Truly, only a white person could weaponise disability in this way. Black disabled people experience reduced participation in all key life areas, they also experience racism, as well as every other ‘ism’ associated with their intersections. For Black people, disability provides no safety net, no buffer against the harsh realities of this world. And it definitely does nothing to protect them against white supremacy.
It was not accidental that the femme-presenting white person made sure to be in their electric wheelchair as they enacted violent, racist aggression, during the Minneapolis uprising. Optics matter. The wheelchair was operated to run people (specifically Black People) over. However, due to culture and socio-historical context, any form self of defence would paint those that the ‘white woman’ was trying to previously stab, as the aggressors.
The edited footage, will show a ‘disabled white woman’ in a wheelchair being attacked by a group of majority Black people. That wheelchair was necessary to create and further this narrative. Through the powerful media, white supremacy will lap at this clearly divisive and incendiary content: ‘Black bodies enacting violence upon a defenceless and disabled white woman’. A ‘white woman’ who video footage appears to show, had been carrying a knife. However, in the court of public opinion, Black people are always in the wrong.
Some people have made ableist comments about the assailant being seen walking in a different video. Please note: Ambulatory wheelchair users exist. To quote our good sis Vilissa Thompson:
2) There are wheelchair users who can walk. I am one of them. We do exist. We are not “faking.” It’s called being an ambulatory wheelchair user.
Check your ableism while getting crippled racists together.
— Vilissa Thompson (@VilissaThompson) May 28, 2020
The Triple Cripples Is For The Often Ignored Majority
There will likely be a rewriting (or complete erasure) of the actions of the white wheelchair user in the Minneapolis uprising. This, unfortunately, is to be expected. But we must recognise that the presumed outpouring of support for them on social media, would never be offered if they were not perceived to be white. An example of this would be Sarah Reed, a mixed race British woman who suffered and died at the hands of a racist institution and state. Sarah Reed was denied this same care, gentleness and understanding from both individuals and institutions. There are many awful tales such as this. And they will continue until cultures and societies are shifted to do what is right. Doing right by everyone, not just by those that are white.
Living at the intersections of race, ability and gender means facing a myriad of -isms from within and out of our communities. But the Triple Cripples need everyone to note this: We are first and foremost Black. We are here for ALL Black people, in all of our wonderful iterations.
White supremacy is dangerous. It is a danger to every living being. It is dangerous in a wheelchair, and on crutches. White supremacy that communicates via sign language is dangerous. When it needs specialist adaptive equipment, it is dangerous. White supremacy that wears a hearing aid or requires other mobility aids is dangerous. White Supremacy is dangerous, in all its forms.
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Header: Photo by marianne bos on Unsplash