Women of Wednesday: Keah Brown on Creating Visibility for Disabled People of Color and Nudging the World

WOMEN OF WEDNESDAY is a micro-interview series featuring women of color in various industries and walks of life, focused on highlighting their pursuits and making it easy for readers to support their endeavors. If you would like to be featured, please submit your answers to the below five questions here.

Keah Brown, 25, Journalist/Writer (Western New York)

1. Tell us about the work you’re doing and why it’s important.

I am a black disabled woman who is a journalist and writer. I am also a disability rights and representation activist. The work that I do in my essays, fiction, and nonfiction particularly is influenced by my blackness and disability. As a journalist, I enjoy telling other people’s stories and the stories of your favorite characters on TV and movies. As a writer and activist I am ready and eager to tell my own stories. I recently created #DisabledAndCute on Twitter that began as a celebration of my journey to finally liking myself and to my surprise, quickly went viral. People with disabilities from around the world started sharing their stories with me via their favorite pictures of themselves and it became a space were disabled people could celebrate themselves for themselves and not anyone else. The work that I do is important because in mainstream media disabled people of color are almost always invisible. As disabled people we only get one narrative and that is sadness or pain, and often the person portraying a disabled person is able-bodied which leaves disabled actors out of the opportunity to tell their own stories. Still, the portrayal of disability in Hollywood is always white, mostly male, and the only type of disability involves a white person in a wheelchair.

2. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in pursuing the work that’s important to you?

My biggest challenge so far has been access. I don’t live in NYC or California (yet: I hope to one day) so it is a lack of proximity to the places where disability organizations are and where writing opportunities are. I also consider the invisibility of disabled people of color, especially black people, a big issue. So often within the disability community we are not invited on panels and our concerns about the racism within the community go unaddressed. There is a dismissal of the isms within the community in favor of a blanket definition of disability — it stunts the growth of us all. A lack of visibility and opportunity are the two biggest challenges.

3. What do you need in order to continue your work in the way you envision?

I know that there is an immense amount of privilege in being able to create and write/ do the things that I love the most. I am privileged in that aspect. I need monetary compensation and opportunity. I would love a full time job with health benefits so that I can leave SSI and still be able to survive. I need to make sure that regardless of all these things I still do the work because it is important and because I love it. I also need to stop downplaying my successes and behaving as though I didn’t work damn hard for everything that I have.

4. Where and how can we support you to make #3 happen?

One of the biggest ways to help me is to share my work and if an opportunity arises that anyone thinks I would be perfect for, send it my way. I would say just to give a black disabled woman a chance to show you all that I can do.

5. What is your favorite quote?

“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” -Tom Stoppard

I love it because it perfectly encapsulates what I hope to do in my career. I want to nudge the world in the right direction, in the direction of inclusivity and positive and proper portrayal for all disabled people but especially disabled people of color.