July is ‘Disability Pride Month’. For most, disabled or otherwise, this is the first time that they are learning about such a celebration.
Disability Pride Month
A quick Google search shows that disability pride has been celebrated on and off in the US since the 1990s. Parades and events dedicated to celebrating disability in all its forms. And acknowledging and paying homage to those within this often ignored and meticulously marginalised group. From Boston to Los Angeles, these events sought to change the frequently negative thoughts and perceptions about disability and those that had them. Disability is very much a part of human nature and a sizeable thread in the fabric of human experience.
An Accepted Identity
I am still learning about the histories, legacies and lives of global disabled ancestors. A month dedicated to disability pride is not something I can claim to be familiar with, at all. For much of my earlier years, I spent a lot of time, brain space and creativity minimising my disability. Something that is rather difficult to do when you use a leg brace and two crutches. My disability was always a fact. I was, and always would be, disabled. For a long time, I was not okay with that. I resented that fact and used humour to distract from that fact.
I have become okay and accepting of this aspect of myself. This has certainly become an easier journey since the inception of the Triple Cripples. Having a partner in crime that just gets it has helped me come a very long way. And through the creation of this platform, it has lead me to learning more and researching more about disabled people. Something that I would have never imagined doing as a young disabled girl in school. It would have been counterproductive to find out more about a part of myself that I wished wasn’t there.
However, even with this acceptance, I still didn’t know that this identity was one in which one could feel pride. I am okay with being disabled. With each passing day, I have fewer and fewer issues with having a disability. I couldn’t say that I was particularly proud of it within myself. I feel an immense pride in being Black, in being Yoruba. But this never translated to disability, perhaps one day it might.
Finding Pride In The Disabled
I feel the greatest pride in the amazing disabled people that have done so much for me and mine. The truly astounding and incomparable Harriet Tubman, the most well known conductor of the Underground Railroad. Through much of what is written about her, so often her disability is left out. A giant of an ancestor, who did the impossible, over, and over, and over again with a disability. How could I possibly not feel pride in that?
For me, I am proud of disabled people. I am proud of all that they have done and continue to do. Their sacrifices made it possible for Kym and I to be bold and daring in creating the Triple Cripples. That is disability pride to me. We are, because they were.
There are so many disabled trailblazers that we are so fortunate to still have with us. We have Marsha de Cordova MP, a Labour MP, and Julie Jaye Charles, Equalities National Council founder and CEO. I am proud that these phenomenal women are ensuring the future is brighter for those who come after them. I find disability pride in us.
“Let’s be frank, Martha” Martha Thought She Would Much Rather Be Herself…
I have never felt part of any particular community, other than the global Black Community. So being classified as being part of any community always feels uncomfortable. Historically and presently, Black People have been overlooked for and excluded from all sorts of groups. From unions, to country clubs, to women’s circles, to political parties, to “at risk” intervention groups; there have been closed doors, and/or the entry qualifications required of us, exceeded what was reasonable or indeed humane. This was not accidental, but by design.
Blackness Is Expansive – Except When You Are Racialised As Black
Growing up with that knowledge and feeling the sharp sting of exclusion, otherness, by virtue of my racialised identity, meant that I could only identify with one common group: Black. Of course, as I grew older and began to understand myself and society more, the world became more nuanced. The broad category of “Black”, became coloured with layers. Sex, Gender, Sexuality, Religion, Ethnicity, Nationality, Education, Language, Accent, Locality, Career, Class, Colour, Phenotype and Ability. But the lines of difference were all woven together with the ever constricting rope of ‘Blackness as a polar opposite to Whiteness’. Blackness in the context of White Supremacy joined all of us together; as at every axis of difference was the pervasive stench of racism, whether or not we were conscious of its functioning.
“Go Back To Africa” And Other Classic Tales…
When The Triple Cripples first emerged a few years ago, it was interesting to hear people from the Disabled ‘Community’ comment about the lack of necessity for a space, narrative or voice like ours. The rejection of our experiences, sometimes of our conditions, and of our Blackness in a European landscape, was stated explicitly “If it is so bad over here, eff off back home to Africa”. As if somehow, racism experienced by Black People would be solved by leaving white majority nations – forgetting that racism is a function of white supremacy, a global system.
White Solutions To Racism Are Almost Always Bad…
Obviously the argument itself is full of cavernous holes. But what’s more interesting about this stance, is the idea that if you don’t like being bullied, abused, murdered, raped, erased, oppressed, tortured, cockblocked – you should ‘just’ move house. As if, that is a simpler solution, than the entity inflicting said behaviour ceasing. If we all moved back to our home nations after every breach of boundary, or affront – there would be nobody left in the UK. Think of the football hooligan exodus onto the shores of Spain, after every match! …But I digress.
Black + Disabled = Still Black
The point is, after 500+ years of being forced into one group and exclusion from all others, it is hard for me to feel safe or comfortable within any other group (as problematic as my group may sometimes be). So, though I acknowledge that being Disabled marginalises me in a unique way. I also recognise that I, and others like me, aren’t regarded as having the right to the narrative of Disability. As with all things, Disability is racialised.
From the late diagnosis for some things and over diagnosis for others. To the gatekeeping of certain social funds/resources reserved for the vulnerable. To forcibly being made disabled through the brutal savagery that was enslavement (yet being refused consideration or adjustments). To the complete denial of our existence through media erasure and more. Black disabled people are forever on the outside of the general Disability Community, looking in. Our survival has heavily relied on forming our own support networks, our own community of recognition, information sharing, and validation.
Black Women Had My Back Before I Was Even Born…
In modern Britain, Black Femmes like Julie Jaye Charles, Caroline Nelson and Michelle Daley have been at the forefront of curating these organisations, spaces and structures, for Black People with Disabilities. Of course, the groundwork was laid for them by our powerful ancestors who fought for freedom, justice & equity.
Ancestors like Queen Mary of St Croix, La Virreina Juana of Cartagena, Queen Njingha of Angola. Nanny of the Maroons, Ohemaa Yaa Asentewa of Ghana, Breffru of St Jan and so many more, around the world. Exclusion even from from truth itself, means that tales of Black Women & Femmes are often erased by a godawful, white supremacist, patriarchal lens (regardless of who has written it). We rarely get to be revered as part of the community of women of old, recognised for living breathtaking lives.
An Eternity of Spiritual Giants & Black Pride
So my pride is not in being classified as disabled, in a purposefully ableist society. Nor is it from being classified as Black, in an intentionally white supremacist, anti-Black society. But it comes from being part of a phenomenal gene pool of indomitable spirits. Goddesses who continue to make room for me and those behind me, in a world that continues to deny and actively attempts to erase our existence. Black Women, Black Femmes, are EVERYTHING. This month and every month, I honour US in ALL our wonderful iterations.
Header: Photo by Disabled And Here