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Black and Disabled: How Racial Discrimination Is Amplified by Ableism

Collage of images of Jay Justice, Shiquana Campbell, Teighlor McGee
From the doctors that are supposed to save them to the police that are supposed to protect them, black people face deeply ingrained racism, the consequences of which can sometimes even be fatal. Photos courtesy: MIT University, Shiquana Campbell, Trista Marie Photography.

Inclusion

Black and Disabled: How Racial Discrimination Is Amplified by Ableism

‘Being black and disabled, we get treated like we are disposable.’

Individuals with disabilities make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers, according to a report by the Ruderman Family Foundation analyzing data from 2013-2015. The risk of facing violence at the hands of law enforcement authorities is also significantly higher for the African-American community compared to all other race groups. 

Even within healthcare, racism creates disparity in the quality of medical intervention that black people receive resulting in them being sicker and having shorter life spans. From the doctors that are supposed to save them to the police that are supposed to protect them, black people have to face deeply ingrained racism, the consequences of which can sometimes even be fatal.

What does life look like at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities? We asked three black disabled people* about their fears and experiences facing the compound discrimination of racism and ableism and the challenges of dealing with police violence. 

[Editor’s note: *Our interviewees prefer identity-first language. Interviews have also been edited for length and clarity.]

Jay Justice, 34, costumer, editor, consultant and advocate, New York City

Image of Jay Justice on grey and black stripes

Jay Justice believes that although disabled white people may face ableism, for disabled black people it is compounded with racial discrimination as well. Photo courtesy: Tony Ray

My race is always seen by others before my disability. Able-bodied white people immediately assume I am pretending to be disabled, or don’t care that I’m disabled, they just want me out of their way. I have been physically assaulted by racists as they attempted to harm me and damage my mobility device. I know that white disabled people also experience [similar] ableism violence, but the difference here is that I am subjected to violent racism and ableism at the same time, and can never feel safe in public spaces because white people don’t treat black people as human or equal.

My disability does not add to the challenges created by racial injustice. The institutionalized ableism and state-mandated poverty, that is inexorably linked to disability because of the policies enacted by our government, is what adds to the challenges created by racial injustice. 

My fear [about the police] is that they will shoot first and ask questions never, as they have with so many black people before me. They are shooting protesters in the head. There are videos of police deliberately spitting on people during a pandemic. It’s not safe for any of us anywhere. We’re not even safe in our homes. I don’t know that I will ever feel safe again. 

Shiquana Campbell, 32, stay-at-home mom, Virginia 

Image of Shiquana Campbell on grey and black stripes

For Campbell, her own experiences of facing violence at the hands of the police have created fears about the safety of her children. Photo courtesy: Shiquana Campbell

“I was stopped in my wheelchair because I fit the description of a suspect. They tried to arrest me for noncompliance but I couldn’t hear them.”

I have been racially profiled, while being in the car with my brother, my cousin and a friend. Shortly after pulling out of the parking lot, we were profiled and pulled over by the police. They yanked me out of the car first into the snow, I tried to explain I was disabled and hard of hearing. I was told they didn’t care about any of that, they said the car was stolen and they were looking for guns and [drugs], and unless I gave information I would be arrested. They then started searching my body and said they would strip search me, [I couldn’t hear it then but was told later by my cousin]. And then they tried to arrest my brother and his friends for a ‘stolen car’ that wasn’t stolen.

In another instance, I was stopped in my wheelchair because I fit the description of a suspect. They tried to arrest me for noncompliance but I couldn’t hear them. The only thing I had in common with the suspect is that we were both black. 

As I am part of so many marginalized communities, I feel very unheard, it all comes down to inaccessibility, being black and disabled, we get treated like we are disposable. 

We get neglected by the medical system, targeted and murdered by police and failed by the system. I have children and I’m terrified for their safety. If anything happens, we can’t call the police for help as they will target and hurt my children for the colour of their skin.


Also read: #BlackLivesMatter: Resources for People With Disabilities


Teighlor McGee, 22, political coordinator, Minneapolis

Image of Teighlor McGee on black and grey stripes

As an autistic person, McGee strongly feels that the police lack the necessary training to safely engage with people with mental and physical disabilities. Photo courtesy: Trista Marie Photography

My entire life has felt like a series of instances of being racially profiled. It has been so normalized to [be asked] about it without understanding how prevalent these traumatic experiences are. 

The police perpetually harm deaf, autistic, and mentally ill black people. This knowledge directly shapes the landscape of my life, it impacts the choices I make and the places I go. I live with this fear, it is a part of me. 

Law enforcement lacks the training necessary to safely respond to calls regarding disabled folks and the mentally ill. They allow their personal biases to run rampant and are perfectly comfortable murdering disabled and mentally ill black people because they do not view their lives as worthy or sacred. 

The caption for Teighlor McGee’s image has been updated to reflect identity-first language. 

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