Neuroexpansive* Thoughts

Neuroexpansive (adj.): A rejection of the term “neurodivergent”¹ and the ideology that undergirds it².

*This term is specifically for Black disabled people.

Black disabled people’s efforts to create accessible and communal ways to engage in anti-imperial, anti-colonialist, and anti-eugenicist struggles have long existed within the imperial core and globally, prior to the existence of contemporary disability justice organizing. Black disabled organizers like Claudia Jones, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Marsha P. Johnson have used language to challenge intrinsic norms and conditioning within movements. Disability justice (DJ) has been almost two decades (16 years) in the making, rising to the forefront of independent living advocacy and universal healthcare movements. As disabled people continue to share their experiences, the more we’ve come to understand just how explicitly and implicitly ableism is woven not only throughout personal relationships and movement spaces but the entire world. TL’s thoughtful and thorough working definition of ableism has helped clarify my commitment to building capacity and care with and for Black disabled folks in my community. This definition has sharpened my understanding of where ableism comes from and how easily it is replicated in everyday relationships and manufactured through colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism [for me].

In August 2020, Talila “TL” Lewis published a blog post titled, “why I don’t use ‘anti-black ableism’(& language longings). What really called to me was the encouragement “to think and language and build and convene and discuss and challenge.”

“What word or phrase can be collectively created to explain how Black people experience a racially magnified or racially manipulated or informed ableism?”

— TL

While I have not come anywhere close to answering the question above, I did start thinking about language that might better describe conditions of debility, disability, and ableism for Black people.

Despite their prominence within disability communities, “neurodivergence,” “neurodiverse,” and “neurotypical” will never be able to accurately describe Black bodyminds³ because we have never been “neurotypical.”

Neurotypical: not affected with a developmental disorder and especially autism spectrum disorder : exhibiting or characteristic of typical neurological development. — Merriam Webster Dictionary

This is why I am inviting Black people (only and specifically) to explore “neuroexpansive.”

Neuroexpansive (adj.) : A rejection of the term neurodivergent and the ideology that undergirds it. 1) Coined by Kassiane Asasumasu 2) Whiteness is not the center of our [Black] experiences. We do not divert from any “norm” or “standard” of white nondisabled bodyminds.
Neuroexpansive (adj.): A rejection of the term “neurodivergent”¹ and the ideology that undergirds it².

I write this to encourage us to shift away from white, cis, hetero, patriarchal, sanist, definitions of dis/ability and bodymind experiences. Let me reiterate: The white nondisabled bodymind is not the “norm,” the “typical,” or the line from which we diverge.

Since the pandemic began, many adults have discovered that they may be neurodivergent, particularly living undiagnosed with ADHD or autism (or both). When this article was published in July 2021, a larger conversation was sparked around un/der diagnosed Black people of marginalized genders.

“Signs of inattentiveness or impulsivity, the two main features of the disorder, could be mistaken for laziness or defiance.” -The Washington Post “Black women with ADHD start healing, with a diagnosis at last”

Throughout the medical industrial complex, misconceptions of recognizing disability among these groups are extremely common and result in worsening symptoms (often criminalized and punished) well into adulthood.

We can see from the above example how colonized language impacts diagnoses, excluding and overlooking a large number of marginalized Black people to begin with. Language describing the idea or function of a typical or normative bodymind absolutely undermines access-centered language in the first place–this inherently alienates disabled people that experience anti-Blackness.

Disability does not show up in Black people the same as white people. We should meet psy-disciplines with skepticism because they are deeply rooted in anti-Black ideologies and other systems of oppression. These systems are designed to pathologize and erase Blackness while simultaneously legitimizing its functions within institutions, policies, and social behaviors.

During a global pandemic, we can no longer settle for being afterthoughts, waiting for someone less marginalized to consider what we need to survive. It has become hard to fathom how our collective liberation will rely upon allies or comrades when the disposal of Black trans disabled folks has become acceptable for the sake of making concessions within coalitions.

We should not wait on disability justice as an area of struggle to expand — Black disabled people need to have autonomous practices outside of this framework. Whether or not these efforts are used to further expand DJ or to create a new framework that better encapsulates our experiences, Black disabled folks needn’t feel beholden to struggling in spaces that aren’t working for them. Disabled folks deeply understand that often, community-generated knowledge can be life or death, liminal space included. There are many variations of cognitive, physical, visible, and not visibly apparent disabilities. We need better holistic practices to resist all of that fuck shit that the state subjects us to.

I’m curious what it would look like for Black disabled trans spiritualists to support with safety planning and community protection. What conversations and practices are possible when we can openly discuss Black spiritualists struggling with potential gifts outside of ableist communal practices?

We will need more guidance and support as we are untangling complicated relationships brought on by state conditioning. These things will take work that some of us have only begun doing. There is such a disconnect from Indigenous practices and relationships, I think there is so much wisdom we can reconnect with on our path to liberation.

I firmly believe that a disability justice analysis could be much more robust with a Black anarchist practice.

I offer neuroexpansive as one such example of this. Black autonomous movements are organically created by people who do what works best for them–not as individuals, but collectively. Some of the most impactful history that I’ve learned within DJ have been from Black Indigenous stories linking the impacts of colonization and white supremacy to ableism. Marginalized white people can do what they want. There is so much white supremacy to unpack there’s no way I’m helping shape their affinity to be in alignment with mine. It’s too much work. What can Black disabled people build, sustain, and fortify with one another? Our communities? What do conversations between Black disabled anarchists and electoral organizers resemble?⁴

Other types of power building and decision-making structures are blossoming and currently exist. I think these conversations could be generative insomuch as making space for opportunities to identify and acknowledge the autonomy that exists within specific communities already. State structures shame Black people because they refuse to participate in a particular kind of decision-making (voting), which is not okay.

Institutionalization and cops are not options and will never be solutions.

I have observed from Black electoral organizers that this denial of autonomy and outright paternalistic language and behavior reflects in organizing strategies directed towards Black and migrant communities. I’m simply curious about the types of strategies and affinity we could create if conversations sought clarity around Black autonomy and how to leverage power with Black disabled communities without being fixated around disability “rights” based language.

We cannot continue to think about liberation through colonized ideologies.

Non-Black disabled people are encouraged to engage in conversations with their communities to address anti-Blackness and ableism. Additionally, they are encouraged to engage in discussions with Black disabled folks if they intend to call themselves allies or practice solidarity with Black disabled folks (with consent, of course).

We know that colonized language will never accurately describe how we think, feel, and navigate an anti-Black world. This piece is an opening to start and continue conversations that thoroughly interrogate and analyze Blackness and disability, inspired by Therí A. PickensBlack Madness::Mad Blackness.

[1]: Coined by Kassiane Asasumasu, stemming from “neurotypical,” [see Judy Singer, 1990] also defined by Merriam Webster as “not affected with a developmental disorder and especially autism spectrum disorder : exhibiting or characteristic of typical neurological development.”

[2]: Whiteness is not the center of our [Black] experiences. We do not divert from any “norm” or “standard” of white non/disabled body/minds. Blackness and disability ruminate in these discussions as a supplement or inclusion. This is not a DEI term for disability studies or disability justice language, but a rejection of Othering.

[3]: Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction by Sami Schalk, (pg. 6)“the term bodymind can help highlight the relationship of nonphysical experiences of oppression — psychic stress — and overall well-being.”

[4] That is what I would really love to hear and struggle with (to an extent, I personally do not believe in electoralism) and still come together to build communities with Black disabled people to have outside of disability “rights.” Way outside of it. Like outside of the state. Explicitly abolitionist. I guarantee you, a number of people that identify as abolitionists, would interfere with Black autonomous efforts 8/10 times. This is something that specifically non-Black allies and comrades need to reflect on and navigate differently.

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Ngwagwa

Black disabled hottie.

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