Black History Month: Ends and Beginnings

February 5, 2021

The fight for racial equity and the fight for justice for those with disabilities don’t exist in separate vacuums, as reaching one goal cannot happen without the acknowledgement of the other. As we officially mark the beginning of this month of celebrating Black history – and set against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter rallies and protests taking place coast to coast – it’s important that we recognize that the here and now of racial injustice in America requires just as much attention and awareness as the heritage and history. Seemingly constant reminders of our society’s inherent inequity for minority groups saturate our timelines. And while Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, 1964’s Civil Rights Act, and 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act may have marked turning points in the long and tenuous fight for true equity in America, the threads of injustice and inequality remained sewn into our national fabric… reinforcing the bars, gaps, and chains necessary to keep parallel – but drastically different – societies for generations. As we carry through the rest of this time for recognizing and celebrating Blackness in America, we should talk about Tamir Rice the way we do Emmett Till. Kalief Browder should be the type of household name that Rosa Parks is.

The uncomfortable truth is that the concept of “society” on this continent was rooted, built, developed, and expanded through the exploitation of and disregard towards people who didn’t look, act, talk, walk, live, or pray like the white male power figures. In slaughtering indigenous people and kidnapping and commoditizing people from other continents, our nation was born. By forcing those with disabilities into confinement and exploiting them as lab rats and punchlines, our society’s biases were formed. The steps that have been taken to course correct in the generations since are worthy of celebration, but buying into the false premise that we live in an equitable society and the passivism that comes with it is completely divorced from the reality of the work being done by organizations like ours every day.

When we established our priorities for this year, we affirmed our commitment to work and advocate tirelessly where race and disability intersect. The disparities faced by racial minorities with disabilities will never be neutralized by using “equality” as an excuse to ignore the racial component of the problem. We must reprogram society to understand that equity is only achieved by recognizing and addressing these compounding factors in the search for a solution. We can’t – and shouldn’t – idealize a society that is colorblind, or that doesn’t see disability. We must foster a culture within ourselves and our communities that not only recognizes these factors but also understands the real world implications that come with them. Take time to recognize and celebrate the victories that have gotten us this far, but don’t stop pushing. We have so much farther to go.

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