The Reconciliation of My Own Identity

September 21, 2018 | Maya Branch, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Most days, I’m like Bojack Horseman. There are very few moments in which I want to be alive. In fact, my continued existence is borne out of sheer stubbornness rather than enthusiastic will.

A four-panel image with screenshots from the TV show Bojack Horseman. Across the panels, Bojack says, "I don't understand how people live. It's amazing to me that people wake up every morning and say, 'Yeah, another day, let's do it!' How do people do it?" Image via Pinterest

A four-panel image with screenshots from the TV show Bojack Horseman. Across the panels, Bojack says, “I don’t understand how people live. It’s amazing to me that people wake up every morning and say, ‘Yeah, another day, let’s do it!’ How do people do it?” | Image via Pinterest

As a queer Black woman, I’ve learned that the most crucial form of resistance is survival. And I want to claim the same pride encoded within my melanin in all aspects of my identity, including my disabilities. But sometimes, it feels like right at the accessible entrance of the disabled community, there’s a sign (press for audio) in large print and Braille that reads “Whites only.” That’s not to say there’s an active and maliciously formed effort within the disabled community to gatekeep who can claim pride in such an identity; however, it is to bring attention to the fact that White people are allowed to be disabled in a way that most ethnic minorities are not.

There are probably a thousand ways I can demonstrate this: with the finding that students with 504s are “overwhelmingly white [and] disproportionately male,” by illustrating the extent of medical racism with studies that affirm how Black people experience more disability and worse outcomes, or even with the recent, candid accounts of Serena Williams and Queen Bey. Instead, I’ll present this: epigenetics has shown that inherited PTSD, particularly in Jewish, Black, and indigenous populations, is real — but because of the propensity someone from these communities has for developing a disability, resources are often not provided because the nature of disability is so normalized. In other words, racism is normalized and can cause depression or other mental illnesses, but because most ethnic minorities will experience racism at one point, the consequences are accepted as the standard of living even if those consequences affect one’s ability to sleep, think, concentrate, or even breathe.

You’d think this would mean the Black community is a strong advocate for mental health needs, but society has created these archetypes like “the strong Black woman” that are seemingly positive, yet actually strip us of vulnerability, of humanity. It feels, then, that to be a Black woman in America is to be traumatized and held hostage by your own strength, to be told that accepting trauma quietly is a token of your womanhood. Yet, the matter of fact remains: bigotry, misogynoir in particular, is disabling.

With respect to mental illness in particular, there are increased barriers to proper care for Black Americans, and both Black folks and disabled folks are disproportionately incarcerated. When you confound these marginalized identities, you get a unique form of oppression, a fear in living similar but different than that of White people with disabilities.

I have lived at this intersection of these oppressive systems and generally, my Blackness, queerness, and disability were depicted as being at odds, but somehow, I have finally put them back together in a way that feels authentic. However, if I’m ever able to share my story the way others have, I just want people to know: I’m not inspirational. I’m traumatized.


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Maya Branch is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned in the Office of Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Colorblind: The Sins of Our Past

August 22, 2017 | Chakir’ Underdown, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

The crumbling remains of the Crownsville State Hospital, 22 miles south of Baltimore, sit atop coveted real estate. Developers have placed bids on the land to transform the location into various structures, from a parking site to a shopping center. However, another struggle is connected to this site, which was first known as the Maryland Hospital for the Negro Insane. This was one of many segregated institutions around the nation and a dark mark in the history of mental healthcare and black history. Some research on Crownsville focuses on the atrocities against black patients, while other research sheds light on the disparate treatment of mental health patients during the era of institutionalized care. I do not author this post in order to critique the credibility of either perspective, because both discourses are important.

The erasure of offensive and discriminatory history is not a novel concept in the tapestry of the United States. If the history of Crownsville is not shared, we risk enabling ignorance towards the treatment of mental health patients and people of color. Eugenics and “separate but equal” cultures still exist today, so our work as advocates is not finished. Educating the general public on this history, and demanding its incorporation into school curriculum, honors and respects the memory of a challenging and emotive past. We can not allow assumptions of a post-racial society or the golden age of the ADA generation to preclude sharing of vital historic accounts.

Interview with Paul Lurz, Crownsville State Hospital

I would like to thank Paul Lurz for agreeing to speak with me about Crownsville’s history. Paul worked at the hospital for 40 years, and he and others work to preserve the stories and memories of the institution. I also credit Vanessa Jackson, LCSW, for her paper “Separate and Unequal,” and Zosha Stuckey for her work “Race, Apology, and Public Memory at Maryland’s Hospital for the ‘Negro’ Insane,” published in the Disability Studies Quarterly. Please also see Disability Incarcerated, edited by L. Ben-Moshe, C. Chapman, and A. Carey. Finally, thank you to Janice Hayes-Williams, a historian and columnist who also works to preserve the memory of the lives lost at Crownsville.


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Chakir’ Underdown is a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern placed with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). This post originally appeared on Chakir’s blog, Kinky Summer, on August 6, 2017.


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