by Imani Barbarin
As we honor and recognize yet another Black History Month, we cannot underestimate the toll the last year has taken on the Black community—specifically those with disabilities. As advocates for the disability community, we cannot gloss over the emotional and physical toll that racism and ableism takes or how it has manifested itself in the Black Community. This type of constant discrimination creates sustained psychological harm for its victims while access to mental healthcare is stigmatized and services are scarce. This all too often leads to horrific outcomes such as police brutality or incarceration when family and community members were only reaching out to law enforcement for assistance. It is an endless cycle that we as disability advocates must have a hand in ending. We do not achieve justice while those within our community are still marginalized due to race. All means all.
As a Black disabled woman, I have seen the disconnect between disability and racial equity advocacy. Often, they are seen as separate goals for two distinct communities. In reality, we cannot have one without the other as historical barriers and discrimination have led to high rates of disability within the Black community. Likewise, the Black community must address the stigma from within that keeps us from speaking about disability and how it affects our everyday lives.
When we look at the disproportionate number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color who have died because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inequality demonstrated by vaccine distribution, we must not forget the thousands of people who are now living with newly acquired disabilities and chronic illness. Already rightfully mistrusting of government systems and the medical system, they will now be required to navigate disability services, legislation, and discrimination.
Services like those offered by us, at Disability Rights Pennsylvania and other disability services agencies, are necessary but are most powerful when we take into account the needs of those of differing racial and cultural backgrounds. I personally encourage members of my community, the Black community, to engage in disability advocacy. You can apply to become a member of DRP’s Mental Health Advisory Council and help shape our priorities beginning next month as we reach begin our public forum process to shape our priorities for the coming years. I would also ask that disability advocates reach out to grassroots organizers furthering racial justice initiatives and support organizations at the intersection of racial and disability justice such as Be HEARD and The Harriet Tubman Collective. Lastly, when we speak about furthering the rights of the disability community, we must recognize that we cannot do so without creating a community with one another. We are all connected in the pursuit of justice and equality as part of the civil rights community.