From Access to Liberation (video and transcript)
Disability Justice and Racial Equity Forum
Video and CART transcript
>> EMILY: Okay. Let’s get started. Welcome, everyone and thank you for joining us for this conversation From Access to Liberation, the first of four events in our disability justice and the fight for racial equity forum. This is Emily Blum speaking. I’m the Executive Director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. My pronouns are she and her and an image description of me for those who are blind or low vision is that I am a white woman with brown wavy hair. I’m wearing brown glasses, a Black top, a brown sweater, I’m in my home office in front of an abstract yellow, blue, and green artwork. We sent out key accessibilities in Zoom and we have both CART and ASL interpreters with us today. If you have any challenges accessing these features, please connect with us via the chat box. My colleagues will be monitoring and responding. And for that reason, please keep the chat box clear for technical issues. Thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon including so many of Advancing Leadership Members and those who donated to support the accessibility of this program and series. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, we are a network of positive disrupters, all people with disabilities, including myself, who are using our power to create an equitable and inclusive society. And we believe our experiences, ideas, and leadership as people with disabilities are vital to achieving justice. Right now we are actively recruiting for our Leadership Institute, So if you are a person with a disability looking to make an impact, please visit our website and apply today at ADA25Chicago.org/apply. Our forum, which is a four-part series centering on in-depth and action-oriented conversations on the intersections of racial equity, Disability and Justice is presented with generous support from the following funders, The Disabilities Fund at the Chicago Community Trust, MacArthur foundation, Polk brothers foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation, and CDW. Thank you to all our sponsors and all of you who donated to support this work. We’re so glad all of you registered for today’s session but just a reminder, you need to register for each session separately. So if you plan to join us again, please register for each event separately and we certainly hope you will. So today we are thrilled to be joined by two friends at Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism, also known as CROAR. With us today is Derrick Dawson and Jared Sprowls. CROAR helps dismantle white supremacy. And for those of you who have worked with them or attended one of their workshops, you know how powerful and transformative their work is. We asked Derrick and Jared to lead today’s session to better connect the history of race and disability and the experiences of racism and ableism and the foundational work established today will provide a common understanding for the rest of our events in the forum. Before I turn it over to Derrick and Jared, I wanted to remind those who signed up for the post presentation breakout session that they will need to leave this Zoom meeting when we conclude at 5 p.m. central and rejoin for the breakouts using the additional link in the Know Before You Zoom email. Following the presentation, our partner in this forum, Andraea LaVant, will come on for directions for joining the breakout group. One last thing. Engage with us on social media, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, throughout the forum using the hashtag DisabilityPowerInfluence. And with that I’m going to turn it over to Derrick and Jared. Thank you so much.
>> DERRICK: Thank you. Thank you very much, Emily. I am Derrick Dawson and it is so good to be with you. I am going to start by talking a little bit about what we are hoping to accomplish during our time together. And our primary purpose is to explore the connection between race and disability and the histories of both those rights movements share. Since my time as a fellow at ADA Advancing Leadership, I have been deeply immersed in the work of justice for people with disabilities. And my work with Crossroads and Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism, I’m deeply immersed in issues around race and antiracism. And one thing I have been very much aware of in both of those spaces is how those spaces often intersect and how those movements intersect. And recently I’ve been made more aware of the history and the strong connection between the two, and I understood that many of us are not fully aware of that link. How can the history of race and racism in the civil rights movement inform our work in disability rights, and how can our work in antiracism be informed by the work that people are doing in the disability rights community? So our work today is to explore those connections and that history. So let’s dive right in and begin to think about the history with the brief introduction of the intersectionality of disability and race. And I want to start by this quote from Heather Watkins who was a writer and disability mom. She said Black disability history matters because without us putting our voice and very bodies on the line, the political and societal strides many of us take for granted would not have occurred. We put together this brief chart that actually talks about the history of both of these movements. Now, these are not meant to be comprehensive histories but these are some major elements and major events in both the civil rights movement and the major disability rights events. So I wanted to take a brief look at this and compare. Now, again, this is not meant to be comprehensive and certainly the civil rights movement in many forms started before 1954. Some would argue that the civil rights movement began with Plessy versus Ferguson in 1896 which is the case that said that separate can indeed be equal as long as equal accommodations are provided. However, many people believe that the civil rights movement actually started in 1954 with Brown versus the board of education. And then in 1963, the Gideon versus Wainwright case allowed any accused person to have a right to an attorney. And in 1964, of course, we have the passing of the civil rights act, which allowed for the protection and rights of Black Americans. 1965 was the Voting Rights Act, and of course in 1968, the Fair Housing Act grants access to housing and transportation. Now, on the right side, we have major events from the disability rights movement. And again, the disability rights movement started way before 1918. But World War I is often cited as one of the major beginnings of the disability rights movement because that is when World War I veterans began to demand rehabilitation and government assistance. In 1954 I’m sorry 1945, after World War II, was when disabled World War II veterans demanded more. And of course, the president was a man— was the first president with disabilities and he also advocated for more rights for people with disabilities. Now, I’ve circled in red 1964 because in 1964, the people who were doing work in disability rights had been paying close attention to what was happening in the civil rights movement and decided to pattern the disability rights movement after the civil rights movement, particularly after the passing of the civil rights act. And then in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act did, indeed, provide equal opportunities for employment in federal programs. That Rehabilitation Act was directly patterned after the civil rights act of 1964. And of course, 1975, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, in 1990, was the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which is known as IDEA. And in 1990, the IDEA was transformed into the Americans with Disabilities act. And that’s when ADA became the law of the land. And that is what ADA 25 Advancing Leadership is named after …in 1990. Now, we can see that those that the civil rights act and the disability rights movement were interconnected and tightly informed each other. But primarily we want to make sure that we emphasize that it was the Civil Rights Act and Black people who were advocating for the rights of African Americans and other people of color in that movement that actually generated the work that was done to accelerate the disability rights movement. It’s also important to understand that both of these movements in the early years were geared towards providing access, equal access, for African Americans and all people of color, and the disability rights movement was geared towards providing access for people with disabilities. One question we’re hoping to ask today after we establish the need and the fight, the interconnected, intersectional fight for rights for people of color and for people with disabilities is what do we need to do to begin to imagine a future beyond accessibility and toward liberation. Now, I want to start just by naming some elements of the history of this by naming some people of color who were deeply involved with this movement. And I want to start with Brad Lomax. And I want to start with Brad Lomax because I’m embarrassed to say until my orientation as a fellow at ADA Advancing Leadership, I never had heard of Brad Lomax. And he is someone that we should definitely know. And I am ashamed that I had never heard of Brad Lomax. Brad Lomax was indeed a member of the Black Panther party. And as a member of the Black Panther party, he was active in the movement in Washington, D.C. And in 1973, he moved to San Francisco. And by the way, he was born with multiple sclerosis. When he got to San Francisco, because of his disability, his brother had to carry him to get on a bus. And because of this lack of access to transportation and housing, Brad Lomax as a Black Panther, got involved and got the Black Panthers involved with the disability rights movement. And he was also known as one of the leaders in the movement that was protesting discrimination against people with disabilities and was instrumental in getting the disability rights act of 1973, particularly the part called the 504 disability addendum passed which eventually led to the Americans with Disabilities act of 1990. Brad Lomax with the Black Panther party was one of the founders of the modern disability rights movement. I also want to name Harriet Tubman because this was something that I did not know until fairly recently. We all know Harriet Tubman as one of the freedom fighters during slavery. She ran and is known as being a leader in the underground railroad. What many of us don’t know about Harriet Tubman was that as a slave she was injured by a rock that was thrown at another enslaved person. And she was hit in the head. And because of this injury, Harriet Tubman suffered from epilepsy, which caused seizures and headaches, and she was also known to have narcolepsy. Harriet Tubman was a woman with a disability and still led the civil rights— the underground railroad. I want to mention Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo most of us know as an artist. Many of us know that her paintings and her work… As demonstrated in the painting The Broken Column on the right, was a woman who suffered from multiple disabilities as a result of a horrible car accident. One of the things that’s important to understand about Frida Kahlo is that as a woman with multiple disabilities, she was determined to always integrate her identities with her work and her art. It was very difficult for Frida Kahlo to do this because in many cases being a Mexican woman in her time, as a person with disabilities had a lot of stigma attached and she was determined to make herself visible and known in both her life and her work. I’m going to ask Jared if he wouldn’t mind coming in and talking about disabilities in the Native American community.
>> JARED: Absolutely. Thanks, Derrick. Hi, everyone. My name is Jared, and I, too, like Derrick, when coming on board, was quite disappointed in myself with the lack of knowledge and history that I had surrounding some of these topics, specifically around disabilities. And one of the things that was brought to my attention was the idea of disabilities really did not exist in this country with indigenous people. With all of the other things that colonialism brought, this idea of separating people in that way came as well. And so that’s what we show on the screen here, the Hiawatha Insane Asylum, a large brick building with a sort of sea foam green roof that was located in South Dakota, which was a place where indigenous people were sent and deemed insane because they were not conforming to the European ways of thinking and existing in what they saw as the colonies. And I was— saw this connection as well, this recognizing wholeness that is specified and highlighted and disability justice as something that was also shared by indigenous groups. And we’ll get into later how these ideas are constructed and how these labels are used in our society. And I’ll turn it back over to Derrick to finish this out with Alice Wong.
>> DERRICK: Thank you, Jared. Alice Wong is a friend of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, of course, and she has done much work, and she’s primarily known recently for starting an organization and a movement called Disability Visibility. You see on the screen a copy of her recent book, that she edited, which is a collection of dozens and dozens of amazing short stories of first world, first person narratives of people talking about their lives as people with disabilities. She’s known—she said that she created Disability Visibility Project to record the oral histories and archive them at the Library of Congress as a way for disabled people to celebrate and preserve their stories. This is vitally important, of course, because one of the experiences of those of us with disabilities is that we live in a society that is constantly trying to make us invisible and erase us. That is one of the reasons why the work up until recently has been involved with trying to grant access. It is hard to have access to spaces if you are not seen or if worse, you are seen as people who are problematic and need to be made invisible. And so Alice Wong is one of the— is one of the leaders in the disability rights movement as a disability activist. Now, that brings us to the question of what is ableism? What do we mean by ableism? And I want to I want to point out that sometimes we use the word disability and sometimes we use the word ableism. And there is a distinction between the two. When we talk about disability rights, we usually are talking about discrimination against people with disabilities, causing or allowing for lack of access, a lack of power, a lack of visibility. Ableism is slightly different. Ableism is not about what is lacking. Ableism is the way that we as a society privilege those who are considered to be able-bodied. And so the distinction between the two is very important. But both of them are part of our conversation, both disability and ableism. There is a definition that we sometimes use from an organization called Diverseability of ableism that we’ve got on the screen. Ableism is a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, excellence, and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti Blackness, eugenics, colonialism, and capitalism. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s appearance and/or their ability to satisfactorily reproduce, excel, and behave. Ableism. Now, you can see in this definition of ableism, the intersections between race and racism and ableism. We know that in the in this country, race is also something that is societally constructed with ideas of normalcy, intelligence and excellence and productivity. We can see that the notion of systemic oppression against people of color is very similar to the construction of systemic oppression for people with disabilities and their connection becomes apparent the more we think about it. Now, this is also in this definition, a lot of what we are seeing in this definition of ableism is power. Because in a system that places value on people’s bodies, there needs to be a group of people who have the power to place that value on people’s bodies and make it stick as the narrative. Well, that is also a similar analysis of power as it applies to race and racism. I’m going to ask Jared if he wouldn’t mind walking us through a framework for racism so that we can compare and contrast racism with ableism in order to do that power analysis that’s needed for us to understand both of these— both of these ideologies of racism and ableism. Jared, would you mind?
>> JARED: Sure. And Derrick, did we want to bring Alex in as well for Audre Lorde?
>> DERRICK: Yes, thank you, Jared. We just talked about this. Audre Lorde. Thank you. Thank you. Jared, would you want to introduce Audre Lorde?
>> JARED: I would.
>> DERRICK: Since I’m clearly moving too fast? Please.
>> JARED: No, it’s not a problem. Audre Lorde— we will be hearing her work. There is No Hierarchy of Oppression, and she, Audre Lorde, was a self-described Black lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet. And so in those intersectional identities and those multiple identities, I think that she so well understands that this work has to look at all of that in our trek towards liberation. And even at CROAR, we used to say that when we’re here talking about racism, that we sort of have to leave all of— or that that’s the only thing we’re talking about, that we almost have to leave other identities at the door. And that thought evolved into understanding that we cannot leave all of those other identities at the door, that we always carry those with us. And we have to welcome them in and have to see how they intersect and affect us differently in these conversations. So with that introduction, Alex, please come in and share with us. There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions.
>> DERRICK: Alex, before you start, can I say one more thing that I’d like to add about Audre Lorde because many of us don’t recognize Audre Lorde as a person with a disability or as a major figure in the disability rights movement. I wanted to share a quote that you said. Audre Lorde underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer. And after she did, she refused to wear a prosthesis. And she’s known as saying about that, “Either I love my body one-breasted now, or I remain forever alien to myself.” And so she would spend the rest of her life fighting oppression and integrating disability, ableism, and feminist theory. So I wanted to slide that in, Alex, before you share her work. There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions. Alex Perez-Garcia, please share.
>> ALEX: Hi. This is Alex Perez-Garcia speaking and an image description of me is that I am a Latina woman wearing a blue turtle neck, gold hoops and glasses. From There is no Hierarchy of Oppression by Audre Lorde. I was born Black and a woman. I’m trying to become the strongest person I can become to live the life I have been given and to help affect change for deliverable future for this earth and for my children. As a Black lesbian feminist socialist poet mother of two, including one boy, and a member of an interracial couple, I usually find myself part of some group in which the majority defines me as deviant, difficult, inferior, or just plain wrong. For my membership in all of these groups, I’ve learned that oppression and the intolerance of differences come in all shapes and sexes and colors and sexualities. And that among those of us who share the goals of liberation, and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression. I’ve learned that sexism and heterosexism both arise from the same source as racism. “Oh,” says a voice from the Black community, “But being Black is normal.” Well, I and many Black people of my age can remember grimly the days when it didn’t used to be. I simply do not believe that one aspect of myself can possibly profit from the oppression of any other part of my identity. I know that my people cannot possibly profit from the oppression of any other group which seeks the right to peaceful existence. Rather we diminish ourselves by denying to others what we have shed, bled to obtain to our children and those children need to learn that they do not have to become like each other in order to work together for a future they will all share. Within the lesbian community, I am Black. Within the Black community, I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbian and gays is a Black issue because thousands of lesbian and gay men are Black. There is no hierarchy of oppression. I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the friends upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination. Wherever they appear to destroy me and when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.
>> DERRICK: Thank you, Alex. Jared, would you help us understand what is systemic racism?
>> JARED: Absolutely. So Risa, if I could have the next slide with our equation. Thank you. On this slide we have an equation that we use, which is racism equals race prejudice plus the misuse of power by systems and institutions. And so we understand that all people hold prejudice based on the ways that society has labeled people and created constructs that we must live into or believe in. However, often a question that gets asked is, Well, can people be racist towards white people? And the answer is no, we can have prejudice towards that— Often prejudice is… a prejudice towards uh— you know— I’m not even going to say that. The answer is no because the misuse of power by systems and institutions is an integral part of this equation, that the race prejudice that white people hold against people of color is backed up by a system of power, and will be seen as legitimate. And so we see it necessary to introduce this equation along with our definition of ableism into this as we go into our discussion of center borderlands, which again, Risa, the next slide, please, so I can introduce Gloria Anzaldua, whose work we use, who was a Chicana and lesbian philosopher, scholar, cultural theorist, feminist theorist, queer theorist, and here we see on the slide a portrait of her adorned with gorgeous blue earrings, a fuchsia jacket, and a backdrop with red and green detail. One of the books that she wrote was called Borderlands/La Frontera. And here she set up a system where we can do a power analysis. And a power analysis is something that all of us do every day. For example, I work at a restaurant. And depending on what I need, I know which of my three managers to go to who will most easily give me what I’m looking for in that moment. So I’m doing a power analysis of which manager will help me and which manager will it be hardest for me to get what I need. And so the question that I will pose to all of us which is usually an activity that we do in the group, and so I hope that you ruminate on this for a second is who in our society is presumed to be good, normal, and of value. And on top of that, what people and what values are presumed to be good and normal in our society. As we go into this conversation of identities that are going to come up, I realize I did not do an image description for myself and I will bring in my identities that I am a white Jewish queer man who uses he him pronouns as well as any pronouns used with loving kindness, and I am here in my room back home visiting my parents in DC if you want to imagine a young gay boy’s bedroom behind me. And so even in my own introduction of identities, one can start to hear which of those identities may be centered, may be presumed as good or normal. And if I could have the next slide. We ask this question to people all over our country, and we get a pretty consistent list. And although this is somewhat abbreviated and this list could go on and on, I will take just a moment to read some of these that have been highlighted time and time again, as ideas that are centered, values that are seen as good and normal in our society. Nationalism. City on a hill. Official history. Law and order. Binary thinking. Female and male. Black and white. Gender conforming. Straight, white, cisgender male. Christian heteropatriarchy. Capitalism. Consumerism. Healthy citizens. Mind and body and ablebodied. Hyperindividualism. Self-sufficient. Documented citizen. Neurotypical. Barbie and Ken standard of beauty. Higher education. Full-time employment. And again I want to highlight that these are not ideas that you or I think are good or are right. But this is what society has deemed to be normal and has centered. And when Gloria Anzaldua calls that the white dominant center so inversely thinking about these terms and I hope all of you again could continue this list on and on yourselves what is therefore labeled as not normal about identities and values that are seen outside of that in what Gloria Anzaldua would call “the borderlands.” And so Risa, I’ll ask for the next slide where we see a gray box in the center of a white circle where we’ve written white center of dominance. And around it we have a few differently colored words. In a dark fuchsia we have some identities that exist outside of the center, which are nonwhites, the disabled, LGBTQIA, women, elderly. And in blue we have some language that we often see come up in what we call sort of “grant language.” It can be coded language to mean something different than what we’re actually saying, which is urban, economically disadvantaged, underdeveloped, terms that we often used to talk about communities of color. And then in black again we have more terms that are values that are seen outside of what is good and normal, which is illegal, at risk, violent, sexually loose, dependent, terrorist, unassimalatable, lazy, angry, exotic. And so having, using this framework, we then ask: how do these relate to each other? And part of one thing that comes up is that the center is able to has the power to take those terms and label people and to change the meaning as they see fit, attach certain values to certain identities without that being based in any sort of fact. And even if people in the center show those show those values legitimately, if someone in the white dominant center is lazy, they have the power to say that that is not true. They have the power to dictate what that language means. What other power do they hold? Well, they see the borderlands as something to be fearful of. So they survey the borderlands, the white dominant center polices the borderlands. And they realize that the borderlands are rich in resources. So they abuse the borderlands. They reap the benefits of its resources, taking them away violently. And so similarly and so then inversely we can ask, well, then how would the borderlands see the center? And they too view the center with fear. But their reaction may be different, that it’s something to perhaps be avoided. Perhaps it’s something that they have to listen to and to dictate the ways in which they behave, knowing that they are always being watched. And we say this not just we understand that the borderlands are rich in culture and resources, but it is this narrow white dominant center that oftentimes the borderlands have to go into to gain access to those resources and therefore, they have to show that they are qualified under the terms that the white center of dominance has set. When Gloria Anzaldua talks about this wall around the white dominant center as having a barbed wire that can rip the clothes and skin off of people who try and move in to access it. And that even moving out of the center to return to your borderland identity again leaves scars, that this is a painful act that has to happen. And so no wonder communities in the borderlands are left traumatized and left in pain, by trying to gain access to the center. And something that we also want to specify is that often in this conversation of access, it is easy to think that we want to make this narrow center larger and have it have greater room in the center for all of these identities that exist in the borderlands. But frankly we have seen people able to access the center. I being a white man even with identities of queerness and Jewishness that live outside of that can more easily access the center. But there is still harm being done, and it is not simply the access to the center that we should be fighting for, but it is actually the dismantling of the center altogether. Because no matter— Derrick often calls it a “day pass” that we can get into the center if we are deemed qualified, if we are deemed good, if we are deemed valuable. But time and time again in history, we have seen that politics and those who hold the power can just as easily rip it away and take that away from us. And Derrick, with that thought, that I’m taking from you, I’d love to welcome you in to add on anything else about the center borderlands that we need to discuss before moving into institutions.
>> DERRICK: Yeah, Jared. I think you explained it very well. I appreciate that. I do think when we’re talking, one thing that came to mind about borderland identities accessing the center is— especially when you talked about the cost of accessing the center and that barbed wire fence— this whole construction is just dehumanizing to all of us. And I was thinking about the line that Audre Lorde said when she talked about… when she said, “Either I love my body one breasted now, or remain forever alien to myself.” And I think about that defiant act of loving her body as resisting this construction. Most of us, many of us with borderland identities spend much of our lives trying to access that center. And as long as we are spending all of our time and our energy as borderland identities trying to access the center, we never have the freedom, the creativity, the space, to even think what comes after access. Liberation. I remember in particular when I first went through a series of amputations and went to the doctor to be fitted for a prosthesis, I’ll never forget that my one request was: “Doctor, I need you to create a prosthesis that will allow me to walk without a limp.” I needed to be invisible. Because I knew that as a Black, gay man with borderline— —borderland identities, that my ability to seamlessly move into the center was going to be absolutely required for my survival. What I did not understand at the time is what Audre Lorde said, that having that provisional access while not learning how to love my body as it was, was always going prevent me from seeking the liberation that we all deserve to seek. So I appreciate, Jared, for you walking us through that. It is important to say something about institutions, and the reason for that is… that institutions are a huge part of our lives. Risa, would you mind turning to the next slide, please? Yes, thank you. Institutions are important because as Jared was walking us through that center borderlands construction, it is easy to think of ourselves as individuals in that. I am a person with a disability. I am an African-American person. I am a queer person. What we often don’t understand, that those very identities are created and promulgated and placed on us by institutions. Institutions are an important part of this power analysis. Institutions create, manage, and distribute the resources that we all need to do life. They give form and function to the values of dominant society. Now, what does that mean? That means that it is our institutions that tell us what a normal body looks like. Our institutions tell us who deserves access to these spaces or who doesn’t. When we try to enter a building or a space and there is no ramp, an institution has decided whether consciously or unconsciously that we are not normal enough to deserve access to that space. Institutions provide a means for people to act collectively. It is institutions in which we meet Our institutions give us power beyond ourselves as individuals. Therefore, the individuals tell us that we are normal or that we are not normal as individuals. And so it’s important to think about how does this construction work based on our collective lives, based on our groups that we have been assigned to by systems and institutions. This is not a conversation about us as individuals, even though as individuals, we have a lot of power and position in our institutions. One of those things that Jared mentioned in that white dominant center is the lie about individualism and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and all of that crap that we are socialized into believing. But just like systemic racism cannot be dismantled without focusing on our systems and institutions, the same is true for ableism. I don’t care whether you think I am ugly or deformed. But if the institution decides that my body is not worthy of access to this space, then we have a problem. Institutions is where we need to focus if we are going to address disability rights and ableism. And that is the way that we will find ourselves thinking about liberation and moving beyond access. I think, Risa, we may have a few minutes for questions and answers. I know that Jared and I have given you a lot of information, and we are going to actually ask you to have a conversation. But before that conversation, perhaps we have time for a couple of questions that may have come into the chat.
>> ALEX: Yes, hi, this is Alex to read the first question from Anna. Thinking of the blue font and related words on the center/borderlands diagram, what are other words we could use for underdevelopment, underdeveloped, underprivileged, at risk?
>> DERRICK: That’s a good question. And I would also say that it is important not to just focus on the word that may be problematic. One of the reasons we put those words there is not just because they are highly problematic, but it is the it is the framing and the implication of the words. Urban, for instance, is there in blue. Urban is one of those descriptions. But that word urban is not meant to say living in a city. The word urban has all kinds of other meaning, mostly negative meaning, attached, because as Jared said, the power of the center is able to say urban means Black or brown or dangerous or criminal. The word itself is ambivalent. Right? If you look at the word in the dictionary. Urban, it does not say anything about Mexicans being rapists and murderers. It just says an urban environment, a city, a big city, something like that. What we don’t understand is when we write grants and use words like underdeveloped and urban, we are attaching very powerful negative meanings to those words. Let’s take the word disabled, for instance, for, for instance. The disabled. I am only considered to be disabled when compared to somebody that the center has labeled as normal. When I am in my apartment, in my wheelchair going about my work and my business like I’m sitting talking to you on this Zoom call, there is nothing abnormal about me. I am perfectly fine the way I am. And I love my body. But the moment I step outside my building onto the street outside, the center deems me as abnormal. It is then when I can’t get access to transportation. It is then when people stare at me or diminish me or ignore me. It’s not the word that’s the problem, except for the meaning that’s attached to it. Any word can have negative connotations attached if the white dominant center deems that an issue. There’s nothing wrong with the word… …let me think of another one… Underdeveloped, per se. It’s just a word. But it has meaning attached to it as compared to developed or first world and third world, et cetera.
>> JARED: Derrick, I’m evening thinking about reactions that I’ve heard from people lately around the term person of color or people of color. And some people of color responding to that and saying sometimes that term is used when we’re actually talking about Black people, when we’re actually talking about Latinx people. And so again a term that was used to try and be inclusive or to try and find the best way to talk about people who are not white, the center can even take a term like that and say, oh, okay, perfect. That’s a perfect way for us to just talk about everyone who is not white and to take that term and turn it into something different than maybe the initial even purpose of it was. Or for people to now feel not included in the term people of color, or that we’re not actually talking about what we’re talking about sometimes when we use people of color, so I don’t know… Even a term like any— anything can be, can be shifted.
>> DERRICK: Thank you, Jared. Yes.
>> ALEX: Hi, this is Alex again jumping in with another question. From the audience. Wes asks how does one navigate the notion that the center of dominance is allowed to freely express anger without consequence? What do we have at our disposal that doesn’t require self repression and protects us from retaliation?
>> DERRICK: I think the first thing that we have is the ability to develop an analysis exactly as you named. I think the first thing that we have to do is understand that that is the truth, that that center of dominance has the power to do that, and also understand that it is a corrupting— that it is a corrupting power. What Jared talked about is the fact that that center is not good for anyone. It is a deafening stripping down of all humanity. And that power is a corrupting force. What happens is for those of us in the borderlands, we end up emulating those kinds of behaviors in order to be seen as welcome in the center. To make that “day pass” that Jared talked about last a little bit longer. The only real answer to what you named is by dismantling this entire construction so that none of us have to live into these false binaries of good and bad, of light and dark, of able bodied and disabled. The only way to get through this is to deconstruct this altogether so that our language does not have to be pejorative or good or bad and all of those things. This construction creates a binary that has all kinds of side effects. It has white folks in the center believing they are good and impervious, but it’s a corrupting force. I think about the kind of cruelty that we see in our society now. I also think about people who think they have a secure place in the center. And I ask people if you think as a young white woman that you have a secure place in the center, all it takes is one divorce or approaching the age of 50 to find yourself ejected into the borderlands very, very quickly. And so what we have to understand overall is that this entire construction is toxic, including the place in the center that has told ourselves that you will be secure and well taken care of if you live into that center. If you transform yourself into a creature that your grandmother would not recognize and then the behavior that comes with that follows.
>> ALEX: Great. I do have one more question and then want to pivot at around 4:55 to our close, and then the breakout groups. The last question is from Lashawn. In a quest to gain more access to health care for a disabled group of individuals, what is the best way to disrupt power collectively? When we take into account who makes decisions and the people seeking change, what is the best approach given that the majority of this group is Black or brown?
>> DERRICK: Hey Lashawn, how are you? I think the quick answer to your question is to organize, just like the Black Panther party did. Just like Brad Lomax did, you organize. The fact that we may be Black or brown does not mean that we don’t have any power. And the fact that others may be white does not mean that they don’t also have the ability to use their power to make change. Our work at Crossroads is around helping individuals as part of institutions create institutional change. How do you work together collectively to look at the policies, the programs, and the procedures? To help everyone in the institution understand that this is not working for any of us and then organize a way using developed tools and strategies to make change in the long term. But it takes a lot. It takes an understanding that this has been happening for 400 plus years, that our institutions have been created based on values that are attached to that white dominant center, and an organized longterm strategy of change is going to be necessary to do what you’re asking for, Lashawn. It can be done but it has to be done with care and deliberateness and organizing ends up being the key. How do you bring multi racial, multi ability coalitions together? That’s one of the reasons that we’re talking about the connection between antiracism work and disability rights work. How powerful would it be if those of us who do antiracism work and those of us who do work around disability rights understood this connection and work together to make change in our institutions? How powerful would it be if the gay rights movement and the feminist movement and all of our movements work together to dismantle systemic racism, ableism, all these things within our institutions. That is the answer. Not fighting with each other or falling prey to the divide and conquer strategies that that white center is encouraging us always to engage in. That is what will allow us to move towards liberation.