One of the things that I’m most grateful for learning over the years is the power of not giving a fuck what oppressors think.
In my case, that means not caring about the opinions of: white people, light-skinned people, straight people, gay people (yeah I said it), cis people, binary gender people, thin/skinny/slim thick people, rich people, middle class people (hell yeah I said it), men, masculine of center folk, and yes, able-bodied and -minded people. That’s a lot of people to not give a shit about.
And you know what? No one’s perfect. As a significantly multiply marginalized person, I’m constantly contending with messaging – from family, friends, acquaintances, comrades, and social institutions – that would have me believe the many falsehoods about who I am and what I’m worth. Sometimes, despite my tremendous growth over the years, I still stumble.
One of the things I’ve found hardest to break from is the idea that disabled people are supposed to look, act, or live a certain way to be truly disabled. It’s particularly hard to adjust to considering I haven’t been disabled for most of my life. My disabilities have manifested in my life at different points, some well into adulthood. But beyond that, I’ve only been identifying as disabled for the last six years or so.
I sometimes find myself pivoting depending on my environment, including, but not limited to: bringing my cane with me even when I don’t really need it, limping a little more than necessary, not always sharing the moments when I’m happy (as someone with seasonal depression and PTSD) – all so that I’m more likely to be believed. And, of course, that’s still not guaranteed, especially as someone who’s also Black and fat.
When I don’t pivot, I worry that not being believed will deprive me of the accommodations that I need. I worry that my reality as a multiply disabled person will be denied, even by those my fat Black ass is supposed to entrust with my care. ((I’m lookin’ atch’all, doctors, nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, and physicians’ assistants.)
Over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that this experience is not unique to the experiences of disabled folk. In fact, when you actually analyze the histories (and presents) of any marginalized group – Native Americans, Black folk, immigrants, fat people, women, poor people, trans and non-binary people, queer folk (especiallybi+ [plus] folk), young people, the list goes on – there is a pattern of assumed untrustworthiness.
We are scammers. We are freeloaders We are deceivers. We are liars. By default in fact.
It’s part of what makes the colonized U.S. criminal “justice” system so corrupt and laughable. How can groups of people who lawmakers, judges, cops, witnesses, and jurors are less likely to see as honest possibly get a fair shake? Especially when the system was deliberately designed to deny us equity.
So this is something that I want folk, especially Black folk, and especially Black folk who claim to be pro-Black, to consider when they make assumptions about who is and isn’t really disabled.
What you’re claiming is that disabled folk can’t possibly know our experiences, even though we live in these bodies every day. What you’re claiming is that disabled people all have the exact same experiences, even though my previous column made clear that the thousands upon thousands of disabilities that exist make that literally impossible. What you’re claiming is that you know our limits better than we do, even though you’ve never taken a stroll in our shoes, wheelchairs, walkers, or with our canes.
There are people who have mobility issues who don’t use any kind of mobility aid; they’re still disabled. There are depressed people who go to work on time every day. There are wheelchair users who can stand and even walk. Most disabled people are notmurderers or rapists, despite what shows like the Law & Order franchise and Criminal Minds might sell you. You might think you do, but you don’t know what “crazy” looks like. Most of the time it looks exactly like you. Tuh…y’all are playin’ yourselves and I’m tired of it.
Disability and Blackness, while intimately intertwined, especially in the U.S., are not the same. I don’t believe in the white supremacist one-drop rule and all that other bullshit. I know a Black person when I see one. And if I don’t see it, then they ain’t Black. Simple as that. Disability, on the other hand, is much more complex. Five people can live with PTSD and it manifests in five different ways.
As disabled people, all of our experiences are valid. When you declare otherwise, you’re being ableist and buying into the white supremacist idea that marginalized people are inherently untrustworthy.
Believe disabled people, especially disabled Black folk, or get the fuck on. It’s as simple as that.