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Highlighting Black Disabled Histories and Futures

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

This Black History and Black Futures Month, The Center for Independent Living wants to emphasize the liberatory work, resistance, and joy of Black disabled communities. In the article that follows, we’ll reflect on the independent living movement and the ways it has failed to center Black disabled lives, we’ll offer an introduction to abolitionist community lawyer, educator, and organizer Talila “TL” Lewis’s work on the intersections of ableism and anti-Black racism, and lastly, we’ll highlight Black disabled educators and creators that we can all engage with at this time, and for all time.


Content Warning: The following section mentions racism, ableism, enslavement, and police and state violence, although without gratuitous detail. You may also skip directly to the section on Black disabled creators by clicking here.


Racism in the Independent Living Movement


As Vilissa Thompson, disability consultant, writer, and activist states, “The disability community has a very stark racism problem, and has a very stark issue with creating space for Black disabled folks and other disabled folks of color to understand disability that is not whitewashed.”

We witness this firsthand in the history of the independent living movement, a movement which benefitted deeply from the dreams, actions, and coalition-building of Black disabled people like Johnnie Lacey, Joyce Jackson, and Don Galloway; yet, their contributions are not remembered and celebrated by disability rights communities as prominently. When Black disabled activists are recognized, more often than not, the racism that they experienced within the independent living movement is erased. For example, references to Don Galloway, a Black blind disability activist, will include his involvement with The CIL as program staff and board member. In his oral histories conducted with Fred Pelka, however, Don recounts his ultimate dismissal from the board due to his efforts around racial organizing, recruiting and promoting Black staff, and pushing The CIL to make meaningful outreach to Black communities in Berkeley and Oakland, all of which are frequently left out in memorializations of Don. The CIL recognizes that over the last five decades there has been an underrepresentation of Black disabled leadership within our organization and our movements. Acknowledging this truth is an imperative first step to hold ourselves accountable, and begin the process of repair towards Black disabled communities. Meaningful and transformative change within our organization also calls for diverse voices in positions of leadership. With a current open Board and Executive Director position,The CIL is proactively reaching out to diverse candidates for these leadership positions. And in the meantime, we’re reflecting on ways our programs and organizational culture can shift to create safe and generative spaces for disabled Black and Indigenous staff of color to feel supported, and to thrive in all intersections of their identities.


Let’s Go Deeper: Ableism and Anti-Blackness


We wanted to highlight Talila “TL” Lewis’s work on the interconnected nature of ableism–the system of power which oppresses, devalues, and discriminates against people with disabilities–and anti-Black racism. Ableism deems some bodies and minds as normal, healthy, and valuable, and others as defective, worthless, and dangerous.


In TL’s Longmore Lecture, TL gives several examples of the ways in which ableism and racism intertwine. For instance, according to the Center for American Progress, in the United States, 50% of people killed by law enforcement are disabled, and are disproportionately Black and Indigenous disabled people of color. Similarly, people with disabilities represent almost 38% of federal and state prison populations.


Through TL’s articles, TL gives many more examples, from ableism and racism in the disproportionate suspensions of Black children in schools, to the ways that ableism and racism impact people of color’s ability to receive medical diagnoses, or which medical diagnoses they receive. TL notes that racism and racial terror cause stress and trauma that actually creates disabilities in Black people, such as anxiety, depression, heart conditions, and others. TL also gives historical examples of how Black enslaved peoples’ resistance to enslavement was pathologized–meaning deemed abnormal or violent–by white ‘medical’ communities of the time, through the diagnosis of ‘drapetomania.’ To desire freedom and resist the institution of slavery was considered a mental illness. In short, ableism and racism have had lasting negative impacts on all aspects of our lives–our political and cultural institutions, our work and workplaces, our relationships with others, and even our beliefs around value and disposability. The sooner we recognize, and engage with the inter-relatedness of disability and race, the sooner we can advance movements that meaningfully address systemic inequity. .


“The institutions, systems and structures we have been surviving and resisting through and that we are still up against are disabling by design. Our disabilities and our disability responses have held, kept and saved us for generations. Our individual and collective experiences have led to interdependence, innovation, and a quiet ultra-endurance that is at once a blessing and a curse.” - TL Lewis


Black Disabled Creators and Activists to Engage With


We wanted to end by highlighting the work of several Black disabled educators, activists, artists, and community members. This month, and every single month that follows, engage with their work and the work of other Black disabled creators, and pay them for their knowledge and their labor. You can also learn more about petitioning the state for reparations for Black people, as outlined in “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.


Ericka Hart

Bio: (pronouns: she/they) is a Black, queer, non-binary femme cancer-warrior, activist, writer, and acclaimed speaker and sexuality educator. Their work aims to make visible, and challenge, anti-Blackness and misogynoir in the medical industrial complex, in sexuality and sex education, and in other systems under which we live. Ericka’s life and work also centers Black rest, resilience, and joy. During Black History/Futures Month, Ericka is coordinating a “Black People Tell Black History'' segment on their Instagram platform. In addition, Ericka and their partner, Ebony, have a podcast, “Hoodrat to Headwrap: A Decolonized Podcast”, and Ericka has webinars on Gender 101, Racial and Social Justice 101 &102 available for purchase on their website. Lastly, Ericka can be booked to present keynotes or lead workshops at your organization, school, or community group. Their work is a liberatory gift for all times.

Instagram: @ihartericka Twitter: @iHartEricka Website: http://ihartericka.com/


Imani Barbarin

Bio: (pronouns: she/hers) writes, speaks, models and engages in disability activism from the perspective of a Black woman with Cerebral Palsy. Imani writes about queerness, Blackness, medical racism and ableism, the disposability politics and violences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so much more. Imani has started several famous hashtags, including, #AbledsAreWeird, #ThingsDisabledPeopleKnow, and, most recently, #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy, in response to the CDC Director Rochelle Wolensky’s ableist comments that it was “really encouraging” that the COVID-19 Omicron variant is only fatal for disabled people. Imani also has a blog, Crutches and Spice, and creates political and cultural content on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Tune into Imani’s work and pay Black disabled women, always!

Instagram: @crutches_and_spice Twitter: @Imani_Barbarin Website: https://crutchesandspice.com/



Leroy F. Moore, Jr.

Bio: (pronouns: he/him) is a writer, poet, hip-hop/music lover, and community activist who creates at the intersections of race, class, and police and state violence against people with disabilities, and has been since the 1984 police killing of Eleanor Bumpurs. Leroy is the founder of Krip-Hop Nation, a group for disabled musicians that aims to increase awareness in music and media of the talents, histories, and rights of disabled people in the hip-hop industry. He’s one of the founding members of Sins Invalid, a Disability Justice-based performance collective in the Bay Area, as well as a founding member of the National Black Disability Coalition. LeRoy also writes for POOR Magazine, a poor-people magazine and arts organization dedicated to providing revolutionary media access, arts, education, and solutions from youth, adults, and elders in poverty. His column, called “Illin-N-Chillin” started in the 1990s and continues to this day.


Vilissa Thompson

Bio: (pronouns: she/hers) is a macro-minded Social Worker and Disability Rights Consultant, writer, and activist and Black, disabled femme who unapologetically makes “good trouble to shake up the status quo.” Vilissa is the founder of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization focused on promoting self-advocacy and strengthening empowerment among disabled people. She generated the famous hashtag, #DisabilityTooWhite, to address the racist harms and lack of diversity within the disability community, and also created the Black Disabled Woman Syllabus, a collection of resources and writings about the Black disabled experience that centers women, femmes, and non-binary people.

Website: https://www.vilissathompson.com/ Black Disabled Woman Syllabus: http://www.rampyourvoice.com/black-disabled-woman-syllabus-compilation/








Works Cited

Bailey, Moya. “3 Questions: Moya Bailey on the intersection of racism and sexism.” MIT News, 11 January 2021, https://news.mit.edu/2021/3-questions-moya-bailey-intersection-racism-sexism-0111. Accessed 8 February 2022.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates.” The Atlantic, 15 June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/. Accessed 8 February 2022.

Lewis, Talila "TL". “Freeing Black Fates and Capturing Black Freedom: Reclaiming Our Humanity, Contextualizing Our Trauma and Honoring Our Resistance.” Talila A. Lewis, 4 July 2020, https://www.talilalewis.com/blog/freeing-black-fates-capturing-black-freedom. Accessed 2 February 2022.

Lewis, Talila "TL". “Longmore Lecture: Context, Clarity & Grounding.” Talila A. Lewis, 5 March 2019, https://www.talilalewis.com/blog/archives/03-2019. Accessed 4 February 2022.

Lewis, Talila "TL", and Cheryl Green. Deafness, Disability, and Incarceration with Talila Lewis. 1 May 2019. Who Am I To Stop It, Pigeonhole Podcast, http://whoamitostopit.com/pigeonhole-18-deaf-disability-incarceration-talila-lewis/. Podcast.

Galloway, Donald, The Independent Living Movement in Berkeley and Colorado: Blind Advocacy and Minority Inclusion, an oral history conducted by Fred Pelka in 2001, in Blind Services and Advocacy and the Independent Living Movement in Berkeley, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2004.

Swift, Jaimee. “Get Right or Get Left: Dismantling Ableism, Racism, and on the Radical Imaginations of Transnational Black Disabled Feminist Solidarities — Black Women Radicals.” Black Women Radicals, 7 March 2020, https://www.blackwomenradicals.com/blog-feed/get-right-or-get-left-dismantling-ableism-racism-and-on-the-radical-imaginations-of-transnational-black-disabled-feminist-solidarities. Accessed 8 February 2022.

Thompson, Vilissa. “Understanding the Policing of Black, Disabled Bodies.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 10 February 2021, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/understanding-policing-black-disabled-bodies/. Accessed 8 February 2022.

Vallas, Rebecca. “Disabled Behind Bars.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 18 July 2016, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/disabled-behind-bars/. Accessed 8 February 2022.


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