Lessons on Empowerment from the Disability Intersectionality Summit
November 29, 2018 | Maya Branch and María Antonella Pereira
What do you get when you put over 100 disabled people in a room together? We found out at this year’s biennial Disability & Intersectionality Summit. Both disabled women of color ourselves, we know too well what it’s like to be more punchline than human being. While recently, academics and social activists have inserted “intersectionality” into the lexicon of masses, it seems few actually internalize its meaning. Despite our shared struggles and humanity, we tend to center our own vision of what progress looks like, ignoring the plights of others. Yes – we have crawled our way into the Capitol, led more sit-ins than one could count, and waited patiently as non-disabled folks prioritize their convenience over our needs. We have been spoken over just because we couldn’t get our thoughts out fast enough. But we too, have failed to be inclusive.
So, the two of us, with all our pain, pride, and perspective flew into Boston and at DIS, learned several things:
1. To let your body move however it wishes
Too often, our black, brown, indigenous, queer, disabled bodies are policed. Along with increasing stim-friendly spaces, we can resist by embracing the songs and dances of our people. These are disabled art forms too; we must reclaim them, just like Jean-Luc Pierite, Tunica-Biloxi member, who started us off with a song from his tribe, or Kerry Thompson, who teaches Deaf and blind people how to dance. Even more, Alice Sheppard enchanted everyone as she performed a contemporary dance routine with her wheelchair.
2. Listen more, especially to youth
Disability justice started in the past but belongs in the present and future. Kayla Shanks and Kiana Teixiera broke down the intersections of being young and disabled, reminding everyone that both identities lack agency. Often, medical and educational decisions are made without kids’ consent, threatening their independence, a pillar of disability justice. Likewise, we shouldn’t just listen to others, but also listen to our own language and its implications. Izzy Kaufman demonstrated this quite beautifully when they discussed how sex is viewed as charity when it comes to disabled people, or even how we can say “sexual debut” instead of “virginity.”
3. Don’t let the world pathologize or dichotomize your being
ChrisTiana ObeySumner shared how Western medicine tends to ignore cultural differences when making diagnoses. Simultaneously though, they mentioned that maybe some things aren’t “either or, but yes and.” This re-entered our minds as Timotheus Gordon Jr. spoke on how harmful anti-vaccine viewpoints can manifest in the Black community, but how we can’t address that bigotry without also addressing the fear behind it, considering how people of color have been subjected to many non-consensual medical experiments (Tuskegee Syphilis, the experiences of Henrietta Lacks, forced sterilization, etc.).
4. We are all oppressed and privileged.
We have all been victimized and we have all been oppressors. We need to acknowledge that to move forward. Even when we oppress others unintentionally, we must learn of these microaggressions to combat the “isms” we might be unintentionally strengthening. This came to mind with Dawn Welter’s presentation on audism, through which humanity is linked to speech, and hence Deaf people are dehumanized. Understanding and promoting sign language amongst our multicultural, multilingual communities is a must.
5. As long as there is the sun, we will be here.
Jean-Luc Pierite started us off with a song from his tribe and said that its meaning was that as long as there is the sun, there will be indigenous people. We can and must say the same thing for all of us. It is an act of resistance. We will not be erased. Our stories will not be erased, and sharing them, just like Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha does in her new book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, is most important and an act of self-care. We need to pass our stories to each other and intergenerationally. As long as there is the sun, there will be people with disabilities.
We shouldn’t have to have these conversations on the margins. However, it was empowering to meet just amongst ourselves.
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Maya Branch and María Antonella Pereira are 2018 alumni of the AAPD Summer Internship Program.