From Access to Liberation: Race and Disability, Racism and Ableism
Disability Justice in the Fight For Racial Equity Day 1 Recap
Speaking authentically about race and disability requires courage and intention. Featuring Derrick Dawson and Jared Sprowls of Chicago ROAR, the first session of our Disability Justice in the Fight For Racial Equity forum explores the strong connection and history of race, disability, and the intersectional justice movements that have advanced the rights of people of color and people with disabilities.
Intersectional Historical Figures Involved In the Disability Rights Movement
During his presentation, Derrick put the spotlight on three prominent people of color with disabilities who have made a profound impact on social change.
- A member of the Black Panther party, Brad Lomax was a Black man with multiple sclerosis and was instrumental in getting the Disability Rights Act of 1973—in particular, the 504 addendum—passed.
- A freedom fighter of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman was a Black woman with epilepsy and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom during the American Civil War.
- A world-renowned artist and political activist, Frida Kahlo was a Mexican woman with multiple disabilities who intently integrated all of her identities into her work, as seen in the example of her most well-known self-portraits, The Broken Column.
The Broken Column
The Broken Column ( La Columna Rota in Spanish) is an oil on masonite painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, painted…
There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions
After introducing the late Audre Lorde as “a self-described Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet,” and “major figure in the disability rights movement,” Derrick and Jared brought Alex Perez-Garcia (Advancing Leadership’s Associate Director of Communications) to do a reading of Audre’s piece: There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions. A stirring excerpt:
“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 fronts 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.”
Read the piece in its entirety: There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions.
Borderlands / La Frontera
After introducing Gloria Anzaldua as a “Chicana and lesbian philosopher, scholar, cultural theorist, feminist, queer theorist,” Jared breaks down her philosophy of social and cultural “borders” (as described in her semi-autobiographical work, Borderlands / La Frontera) surrounding the white dominant center, where presumed notions of what is “good,” “normal,” and “valued” live. After detailing the many issues and traumas that the borderlands versus the dominant center brings, Jared emphasizes what we should all strive for in order to live harmoniously.
“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 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.”
From Access to Liberation
Concluding the conversation, Derrick leaves the audience with a lasting statement on the importance of intersectional unity.
“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.”
Next Up In Our Disability Justice and Racial Equity Forum
- Session 2 — Building Intersectional Movements— 10/14 , 4–5:30 p.m. CST
- Session 3 —Setting an Equity Agenda: A City Hall Perspective — 10/22, 4–5:30 p.m. CST
- Session 4—Mapping Our Paths Towards Liberation—10/27, 4–5:30 p.m. CST
ADA 25 Advancing Leadership envisions people with disabilities leading with power and influence for full participation and equal opportunity as a vital part of our civic fabric. Our diverse network of leaders with disabilities are using their power to create a just, equitable, and inclusive society. To learn about becoming a Member or Fellow, please visit https://www.ada25chicago.org/applications.