Category Archives: race

The Largest Minority Round Table Discussion: Glee and Disability in Pop Culture

Last week s.e. smith and several other members of the disability community, including Alice Sheppard (a dancer with AXIS wheelchair dance company), TK Small (a lawyer and disability rights activist), Christine Bruno (who works with the advocacy group Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts), and Maysoon Zayidd (an actor and comedienne with Cerebral Palsy).

came together on the WBAI show The Largest Minority to discuss Glee and depictions of disability in popular culture. This particular episode of the radio show was inspired by s.e.’s post, A Very Glee Christmas.

You can download directly from their site: This is a direct download link to save-as. Alternately, you can play it on the WBAI site by going to their archives and scrolling down to Shared Timeslot Wednesday 10pm to 11pm on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 10:00 pm. Alternately, you can read the transcript.

The actual show itself doesn’t start until 3:52 in to the program slot.

It’s taken me a while to get the transcript of this done, for which I apologize. I did mean to get this up far faster than I did. I also should note that I had some difficulties always identifying who was speaking, and there are points in the program where the show’s audio cuts out terribly and I’m unsure what they’re saying.

Continue reading The Largest Minority Round Table Discussion: Glee and Disability in Pop Culture

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: The Awkward Lines of -ist Language

[The scene sets with OYD, a slightly pale yet never-the-less still quite indigenous woman, sitting down to her trusty Macbook Pro, a laptop named “Lappy”, who has seen better days. She sets down and opens up her “drafts” tab under FWD/Forward, where she notices that egads! she has been working on this book review for over a month, and Oh my! how it must have been a long time since she has completed one. She cracks her “double jointed” knuckles like she does it too often, tucks a strand of brown hair behind her ear. She drags the review out of “drafts”, dusts it off, reaches for anything caffeinated, and begins to type.]

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 1st edition cover. A black background with plastic toy figures of a cowboy and an indian, with the title and author's name in chunky green and white letters.I like media where I can consume it, enjoy it, and get a sense that I am experiencing something that touches on experiences that are my own, that seems real to me with out over-exaggerating them (mostly). I also enjoy it when certain traits about characters are touched upon as a description, as part of who that character is, but then they are not brought up as Huge Deals throughout the entirety of the book.

These are a few things that really endeared Alexie Sherman’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to me. Sherman created a protagonist “Junior”, who was born into the world with several oppressions, living on the axis of poverty, race, and disability. Within the first few pages of the book Junior gives a pretty good run down of how each of these things affects his life, and has always affected his life from the moment he was born. From never having quite enough to eat, to the way his “grease on the brain” has given him a stutter and seizures.

But that is where Alexie leaves the discussion about Junior’s disability. It is just a part of him, a description of his character. It isn’t some great obstacle he has to overcome. His disability isn’t some plot point, and it doesn’t help the other people around him become inspired about trying harder or appreciating their lives more. In fact, he goes into great detail early on, in those first few pages, to explain that the reservation kids often bully him. From an excerpt on NPR:

You wouldn’t think there is anything life threatening about speech impediments, but let me tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp.

A five-year-old is cute when he lisps and stutters. Heck, most of the big-time kid actors stuttered and lisped their way to stardom.

And, jeez, you’re still fairly cute when you’re a stuttering and lisping six-, seven-, and eight-year-old, but it’s all over when you turn nine and ten.

After that, your stutter and lisp turn you into a retard.

And if you’re fourteen years old, like me, and you’re still stuttering and lisping, then you become the biggest retard in the world.

Everybody on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day. They call me retard when they are pantsing me or stuffing my head in the toilet or just smacking me upside the head.

I’m not even writing down this story the way I actually talk, because I’d have to fill it with stutters and lisps, and then you’d be wondering why you’re reading a story written by such a retard.

Do you know what happens to retards on the rez?

We get beat up.

At least once a month.

Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club.

Sure I want to go outside. Every kid wants to go outside. But it is safer to stay at home. So I mostly hang out alone in my bedroom and read books and draw cartoons.

Then, he moves leaves it there. We know he deals with these things as part of his life, but they do not define his life. Even the most horrible and hurtful parts of his life with disability are not defining his life.

Some other things that are not defined by Junior’s particular disability:

  • His grades in school — He does well in school, and this point becomes part of the main plot, so I won’t give too much away for anyone who plans to read this book.
  • His ability to participate in sports — Junior plays many sports, including contact sports. He is a good basketball player, playing on the school’s team.
  • His ability to have romantic relationships — Despite his believing how shallow it is, Junior has a girlfriend, and as it turns out, she actually likes him! Imagine that!

The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed, though I don’t expect every reader to view the same way, is that the Indian Reservation depicted has a lot of truth to it from my own experiences of having grown up on and around my own as a girl. Twenty, and even ten years ago, our reservation life was not so far off from the one described here, with the exception of perhaps the climate being slightly different, and perhaps I was too young to understand and remember anything about crime rates. But there was poverty, and then there was crushing poverty where I am from. There was alcoholism, though I would venture that perhaps it wasn’t the hot-button stereotype that I feel is portrayed at times in Alexie’s book. I don’t know. Every Native community is different, for sure, with their own unique set of problems. While I feel that there is a lot of truth to what Sherman Alexie has created, I also feel that there is a sweeping generalization. So, it hits and it misses, and I would encourage you to read it for yourself and decide what you think.

There are a lot of instances of language that I would not recommend in a progressive or social change setting going on here in this book. I see it being useful and very much achieving its purpose, for example, there is a very racist joke told by a white boy that Junior meets on his first day of school, using the “n”, which I will not repeat, but which is disparaging to Natives and Black people alike. Junior demonstrates an intolerance for it, without missing a beat, and in Junior’s point of view, the kid respects him for it. But, I have to wonder, is it because of how Junior addresses it, or because this particular student realizes that what he said was hurtful and wrong? The demonstration of how wrong racism is in YA literature is something I want to see more, but I question, sometimes, the ways in which we see it handled. There is almost no discussion or consideration of why this is wrong, just the very visceral use of very hateful words (like above, with the use of the “r” word in so casual a context). Just like using rape as a metaphor to show that a “bad” guy is bad, I don’t need to see or read -ist language for shock value to confront -isms. However, a well placed word could have the proper effect if viewed through the proper lens, but I don’t know if that is quite so obvious here. Junior simply reacts, saying he has to defend Black people, and Indians, but he doesn’t go into much else.

I will also note on the Wise White Person, or WWP, as I will. It takes a WWP living on the rez to point out all of Junior’s problems early on, and essentially Save Him! from the Rotten Destitution! Without a WWP, why poor Junior might be dead, the victim of a trailer fire started by grease from frybread, helplessly drunk and passed out.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is an excellent book, worth reading, for many reasons, but I caution you, gentle readers, there are many themes addressed, in very direct and raw ways that I am still not sure that I wholly approve of, and yet, as a non-white, Native American, woman, with a disability, I am not fully sure that fully disapprove of all of them either.

Oh, except for the sexist language. I found no use for that at all. I found no point where that taught any lesson, except where young boys were using it to show that “Hey!  Women and girls’ bodies are weak, so calling you a woman or a girl body part means you are weak! Har har!” You get no points there, Alexie. Misogyny wins again! Whee!

Deportation by Default, Part Two: United States Wrongfully Deports Disabled Citizen

In July, a study was released discussing disabled immigrants and revealing some alarming facts about who is in immigration detention in the United States. I wrote about it here, and the numbers were pretty astounding. The study uncovered the fact that 15% of the people in immigration detention in the United States had disabilities that impaired their ability to understand immigration proceedings. They were unable to defend themselves in court and unable to understand their legal rights. Some were kept for years in detention while officials debated what to do with them.

Immigration law is one of the most tangled areas of law in the United States. The system is complex and labyrinthine and it’s extremely difficult to navigate. It’s even harder when you’ve been held in detention for weeks, months, or years and you’ve been provided with inadequate care; being in confinement is stressful, and can exacerbate mental illness for some people, making it even more challenging to make your way through the court system. The ACLU set out some immediate demands in their report to get better protections for disabled detainees; as far as I know, those demands have not been met.

The report also documented cases of US citizens with disabilities who were deported because they were the wrong colour and they were unable to defend themselves in court. Just last week, I read a followup on a case I discussed; the American Civil Liberties Union is suing on behalf of Mark Lyttle, who was deported and left to fend for himself in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala for four months before he was able to get assistance from a US embassy. This case has been dragging on for over a year.

Lyttle is of Puerto Rican descent, but he’s lived in the United States his whole life. He only speaks English. The government knew this when they deported him:

The U.S. government admitted in April that it had wrongly deported an N.C. native, but newly released documents show that federal investigators ignored FBI records and other evidence showing that the man was a United States citizen.

At the time of Mark Lyttle’s deportation, immigration officials had criminal record checks that said he was a U.S. citizen. They had his Social Security number and the names of his parents. They had Lyttle’s own sworn statement that he had been born in Rowan County. (source)

His story started when he was briefly jailed for ‘behavioural problems’ in a home for people with mental illness. Officials referred his case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite being aware that he was a US citizen. ICE detained him, investigated, denied him legal counsel, and deported him to Mexico.

As he drifted homeless and penniless through Central America, he was unable to access the medications he was taking to treat his mental illness. Unstable environments contributed to a deterioration of his mental state. He considered suicide. He was imprisoned by multiple sets of officials and deported a second time when he managed to re-enter the United States. Finally, after reaching an embassy, his family was contacted and he was brought safely back into the United States.

There are layers of problems with this case. There’s the documented issue that ICE fails to serve people with disabilities in immigration detention, making it impossible for undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants, and wrongfully detained citizens alike to make their way through immigration proceedings; it’s pretty much impossible for anyone to self-represent in immigration court, let alone someone who is disabled, isolated, frightened, and not getting adequate care. It’s clear that a better system needs to be put in place to screen people when they enter detention so they can be provided with adequate services, if we are going to be detaining people at all.

And there’s the problem, not restricted to people with disabilities, of deporting people simply because they appear to be undocumented immigrants. If you have brown skin, if you ‘look Mexican,’ whether or not you are, whether or not you have documentation, there is  a potential risk of deportion. ICE raids in workplaces across the country have swept up legal immigrants along with US citizens, including some people who have never been outside the US. Despite ample documentation, these people have been deported. Because they look wrong.

Cesar Ramirez Lopez, a San Pablo truck driver, won a $10,000 settlement in 2007 after he was held for four days by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents even after his lawyer convinced ICE investigators that he was a citizen.

Rennison Castillo, a Washington state man who was born in Belize but took his oath of citizenship while serving in the U.S. Army in 1998, who spent seven months in an ICE prison in 2006. He is suing the government with the help of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.

Some longtime observers of the immigration agency say that, while citizens make up a tiny fraction of the roughly 400,000 people who pass through ICE custody each year, such cases occur with some regularity. The problem is exacerbated, they say, by the fact that immigration detainees, unlike those in the criminal justice system, lack the right to legal counsel and other due process protections. (source)

One of the cornerstones of the legal system in the United States is supposed to be the premise that people are innocent until proven guilty. Yet, in the case of deportation proceedings, people are…guilty until deported. Denial of basic legal rights to people in immigration detention is a travesty and a human rights violation. People are intimidated into complying with deportation proceedings:

The young man was bullied into signing a form authorizing his voluntary deportation, except that it wasn’t made clear to Delgado that by affixing his John Hancock he was okaying being shipped off to Mexico. His belief was that he would be allowed to return home in Houston if he just did as he was told. (source)

This is a problem that goes far beyond the issues with disabled detainees in particular. The current state of our immigration system is a travesty that needs to be addressed; it is a foreign policy issue, it is a human rights problem, it is a fundamental violation of everything the United States claims to stand for. Providing basic legal rights to all people in immigration detention should be an immediate priority for the United States, because this has got to stop.

Recommended Reading for 26 August 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Westborough News: Marines shoot calendar for male breast cancer research

They are the few. The proud part has been a bit more of a struggle.

“Most guys don’t want to reach out, don’t want to tell anyone they’ve got a woman’s disease,” Pete Devereaux said yesterday as he talked with fellow male Marines who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.

INCITE! Blog: Reflections from Detroit: Reflections On An Opening: Disability Justice and Creating Collective Access in Detroit

We would not just think about disability as separate from class, age, race, queerness, family, children, gender, citizenship, violence, but we would understand it as intimately connected.  We would think, not just about “conference and workshop time,” but we would also think about social time and what social spaces were accessible and how we would make sure no one was isolated or left out.  Because in our movements much of the relationship building, socializing and bonding is done in very inaccessible ways in very inaccessible places—we know this all too well.

New York Times: When Battlefield Humor Backfires (Extra Trigger Warning)

And so the doctor’s determination not to lose a contest of wills undermines the opportunity to have successful discussions about treatment. The patient instantly senses that the doctor distrusts and dislikes him, and this, coupled with the patient’s lack of respect toward authority figures, leads to a rapidly deteriorating situation, often ending in a discharge against medical advice — much to the team’s relief.

NPR: Administration To Appeal Ruling in Stem-Cell Case

The Justice Department said an appeal is expected this week of the federal judge’s preliminary injunction that disrupted an entire field of science.

Judge Royce Lamberth on Monday threw the research community into disarray when he said a federal law invalidated Obama administration guidelines on human-stem-cell research. He concluded that two researchers challenging the Obama stem-cell policy stood a good chance of success as the case moved ahead in the courts.

The judge said any scientific projects using human embryos required their destruction, which flouts a longstanding federal law.

Something More Than Sides: Dear Doctor: Actually, I *Am* Sick

Let’s completely ignore the actual health concerns in exchange for shaming a young girl. Classy. And let’s not forget the fact that, were I suffering from an eating disorder, this is not the way to broach the subject. I left that appointment feeling shamed and humiliated, and with no answers.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for August 17, 2010

Sarah Fenske at the Phoenix New Times: ‘Til Death Do Us Part: They Got Married. Then Everything Changed

This is a love story, albeit one with a medical twist.

Unbeknownst to anyone — including Kevin himself — there was a tumor the size of a Granny Smith apple pressing onto Kevin’s brain.

Kevin didn’t need therapy. He needed surgery.

Patient C: Pain: Attitudes

Often, before I even mention pain to others, I have to overcome classic attitudes I have internalized, the largest being “is this important enough to bother someone els[e] with it?” followed by “am I being a wimp?” I have found that the fear of wimp-dom keeps many people from talking about their pain at all, or at the very least only to those people that are trusted. If I do not trust you, I will never bring it up at all, or I will bypass a pain related issue by making a weak overall health generalization, if forced (which I hate, thank you very much).

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: Just Who You Callin’ White

My interlocutor poked me: “Your mama white?” All thoughts of positive interaction slipped beyond my grasp. I knew that we weren’t actually talking about race and yet. Yet, I answered her question literally. My English accent returning more strongly than usual, I talked about my white father and my Afro-Caribbean mother; I spoke bitterly about the loss of Spanish and Creole-speaking family members and English as the language of acceptance. I gave her the history full and square. “Now,” I demanded, “do you think of me as white?”

In FWD-Contributors-Elsewhere news, our own s.e. smith is currently guestblogging at Bitch Magazine’s Social Commentary blog! The series is called Push(back) at the Intersections, and you can read the intro post here. An excerpt:

Feminism has a problematic history. A profound lack of awareness about this history means that we engage in the same dynamics over and over again. For example, the failure of many nondisabled feminists to recognize the history of eugenics in the reproductive rights movement means that it’s hard to understand why disabled feminists feel marginalized by the mainstream feminist and reproductive rights movements. Likewise, a lack of awareness about the history of transphobia in the feminist movement leads many cisgendered feminists to stumble unawares into very loaded conversations.

You can keep up with s.e.’s series of guest posts over at Bitch Magazine!

And finally, my good friend Paolo Sambrano, an amazing artist, performer and writer whom I have known for many years, is looking for funding for his incredible solo show Bi-Poseur, in which he humorously chronicles his experiences with life, death, mental illness, and, in his words, “the quest to write the perfect suicide note.” The show premiered to rave reviews earlier this year, and Paolo is currently attempting to fund a month-long engagement of the show in the San Francisco Bay Area, beginning in September; donations will go toward things like renting theater space, printing programs, marketing the show, hiring a tech person, and more. Here’s some info about the show:

Bi-Poseur [is] a pop-culture encrusted, kinetic look at the intricacies of trying to hang oneself with a Playstation controller, possibly being bi-polar, full scholarships to exclusive Bay Area prep schools, psych wards with twelve year old white supremacists, finally grieving the loss of a parent, motivational speaking, to live tweeting your own funeral. And push-ups. Among other things.

If you’d like to learn more, purchase tickets to the show or make a donation, you can visit Paolo’s Kickstarter page, or his website. I urge you to donate if you can (some neat donation perks are offered at various price points), and go see the show if possible!

Recommended Reading for August 10, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: On the Cover [trigger warning for discussion of violence]

Regardless of how disability plays out in Aisha’s world, the vast majority of readers of TIME live in a culture that understands disability as tragedy. As shocking. As among the worst things that can happen to you (bar death). Mainstream American culture thinks it knows disability and knows how to read it. Ms. Bieber has a history of photographing disabled bodies[. . .]But the work she does in the Real Beauty series does not come through in this photograph — perhaps because of the context and placement of the image. Here she (and or the editor) uses Aisha’s disability to trade upon the readership’s sympathies and their horror: this and other unknown kinds of disability are a direct result of the US departure from Afghanistan. This is not about Aisha; it’s about the message of the article.

Cripchick at Cripchick’s blog: tell me who i have to be to get some reciprocity?

don’t feel the way white supremacy creeps into your life and plops itself in the center?

in the last wk, white ppl have:

  • told me how to rearrange my words as to be more approachable.
  • made my need to have ppl of color time about them.
  • asked me invasive medical questions about my body.
  • thanked me over and over for teaching them about oppression.

Cara at The Curvature: Disabled Student Assaulted on School Bus; Bus Driver Watches and Doesn’t Respond [trigger warning for description and discussion of severe bullying]

Most readers here who have ever ridden a school bus will have at some point been on at least one end of bullying and harassment. Many will have at different points throughout their childhoods and adolescences acted as both bullies and victims — myself included among them. Big news stories since I stopped riding a school bus have left me with the impression that little has changed. School buses are places where bullies, harassment, and violence thrive. And as all current or past school bus passengers know, students with disabilities, particularly cognitive or intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable.

Daphne Merkin at the New York Times Magazine: My Life in Therapy

This imaginative position would eventually destabilize me, kicking off feelings of rage and despair that would in turn spiral down into a debilitating depression, in which I couldn’t seem to retrieve the pieces of my contemporary life. I don’t know whether this was because of the therapist’s lack of skill, some essential flaw in the psychoanalytic method or some irreparable injury done to me long ago, but the last time I engaged in this style of therapy for an extended period of time with an analyst who kept coaxing me to dredge up more and more painful, ever earlier memories, I ended up in a hospital.

William Davies King at PopMatters: In Defense of Hoarding

To be sure, a special label like compulsive hoarding seems required by many of the heart-rending cases they recount, people neck-deep in the slough of their despond, overwhelmed by more whelm than can be weighed. But sadness and dysfunction are hardly rare or new. What is new is the social imperative to ram open that front door. Bring in the wheelbarrows, the commanding case worker, and the camera—especially the camera, which enlists us all in the drive to evacuate these cloacal dwellings. Reality TV rolls up its sleeves, puts on the rubber gloves, and hoards the evidence while [authors] Frost and Steketee stand alongside the labyrinth, notepad in hand, giving that Skinnerian nod.

Crude Violations: BP Is Dumping Toxic Waste In Low Income Communities of Colour

The Gulf oil spill that has been capturing the news cycle in the United States for the last few months finally appears to be under control, and now we’re faced with a common problem: We have a whole lot of waste from the spill and associated cleanup, and it needs to go somewhere. This includes crude oil, equipment used by cleanup crews, soiled booms, and all kinds of other spill-associated detritus.

According to a story published at Colorlines last week, nine landfills in the Gulf region have been selected as sites for disposing of waste. Waste management authorities claim the material isn’t toxic, which means that regular municipal landfills, rather than landfills specifically designed to handle hazardous waste, are being used. Of the nine landfills chosen, five are located in low income communities of colour.

This is not a coincidence. While it is true that there are a number of primarily nonwhite communities in the Gulf, and that many of these communities are also low income, thus making it statistically more probable that at least some of the waste would end up in such communities, this case is clearly an example of environmental racism. There is a very long history in the United States of pushing unwanted toxic waste into low income communities in general, and communities with large nonwhite populations in particular.

There have been rumblings over the last few months about where BP is putting the oil spill waste, and most of those rumblings have focused on outraged white communities. This distracts neatly from the far more serious issue, the fact that most of this waste would end up in nonwhite communities, and that these communities would experience serious long term consequences. Focusing on white communities also allows the media to completely ignore the overt racism involved in deciding where potentially toxic waste ends up.

From the start, the oil spill has disproportionately impacted people of colour. Many of the cleanup workers were people of colour, and BP also used primarily nonwhite prison labour in oil spill cleanup and tried to hide it. Now, with the spill cleanup winding down, waste from the spill is being dumped on nonwhite communities even as these communities struggle to recover economically from the impacts of the spill. They can look forward to leaching of oil and chemicals from their landfills  in the coming decades, and reports on the ground also indicate that the waste is already poorly controlled, with oil slicks and tarballs showing up around communities being used as dumping sites.

Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why were cleanup workers wearing protective suits? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why are people who have been exposed to  it getting sick? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why is care being taken to ensure it doesn’t end up in privileged communities?

Crude oil can contain things like benzene, chromium, mercury, sulfur, toluene, and xylene. These substances are known to have deleterious effects on human health; at the very least, skin irritation and difficulty breathing. The oil spill waste also contains traces of dispersants, known to be toxic. And the government wants to stand by the claim that the waste isn’t toxic? Dumping these waste in facilities poorly equipped to handle it will result in long term environmental repercussions, in addition to human health  problems.

I’ve written here before about how hazardous waste disposal methods tend to disproportionately impact communities of colour, and how they are most definitely a disability rights issue. Environmental pollution is a disability rights issue, and it’s a social justice issue. Toxic waste makes people sick. Making people sick is not ok, especially when familiar patterns of oppression can be seen in who is exposed to the greatest risks. If this waste is nontoxic, surely it can go in any landfill, and it would make sense to use landfills as close to the coast as possible, right? So the waste travels the shortest distance? What exactly was the selection process behind the nine landfills identified as sites for Gulf spill waste?

BP, like other major oil companies, has a long history of engaging in environmental pollution, including unauthorized dumping of materials known to be toxic. The vast majority of this pollution occurs in communities least equipped to fight it, and when oil companies are caught doing it, often the biggest punishment is a relatively small fine. In this case, BP isn’t being clandestine: the company is being openly invited to dump waste. The claim is that it’s ‘nonhazardous,’ but is it? Even if it’s not toxic, is it really the kind of thing we want leaching out of landfills and into waterways and farmlands?

These communities will be dealing with the repercussions of BP’s dumping well into the future, just like communities all over the world where people are sickening and dying because of toxic materials present in the environment. Just like communities where rates of chromosomal anomalies are skyrocketing as a result of exposure to toxic substances. Communities with limited support systems to help sick and disabled community members are the ones disproportionately facing an increase in chronic conditions and disabilities. A long term policy of dumping toxic pollutants on low income nonwhite communities and refusing to provide support for the consequences sends a pretty clear message to members of those communities, as well as to the rest of society.

We need to be talking about the connection between environmental pollution and racism and we need to be combating plans to dump hazardous waste on low income communities of colour, from protesting clearly racist environmental policy to working in solidarity with communities who are actively fighting toxic waste disposal in their landfills and on their sacred lands.

National Association of the Deaf Videos

When writing in my own space, I tend to make a lot of jokes about how much I enjoy doing “history in the future!”, by which I mean a lot of primary sources are on-line. Last year, for example, I randomly put the name of one of the people I was writing about into Google, and out popped a bunch of articles he’d written about his theories on Deaf people in the 1860s, which drastically changed my thesis.

For those of us who like to highlight disability related history, the internet can be a huge boon. Whereas as little as five years ago, reading Susan Burch’s description of the Hotchkiss videos for the National Association of the Deaf would have been my only way of learning about them, various video-sharing websites (especially YouTube) allow for us to see these videos, and get a better idea of their impact and importance, for ourselves.

Transcript, as provided by pdurr on YouTube:
Description: John Hotchkiss is an older white man wearing a suit and signing for the camera.

Excerpt of Hotchkiss discussing memories of old hartford from the NAD Motion Picture Project
translation of excerpt by P. Durr – NOTE translation’s accuracy is not confirmed.

“Another time Clerc called a boy who had passed by his house asking, “Please tell (name sign of bent L handshape going downward from top of lips to bottom of chin indicating a beard) S-T-E-W-A-R-D to please have wood delivered to me.” “My pleasure,” the boy replied and went on his way. But this boy completely forgot about this message as his mind was set on playing. Thus, it totally slipped his mind to inform Steward (name sign) of Clerc’s message of his need for wood and Clerc never received any.

A few days passed and again Clerc approached this boy, tapping him with his walking stick and holding him by the shoulders. “I told YOU to PLEASE tell Steward to bring me wood and you said, ‘Ah huh, Yes, Yes, Yes’ but instead you went off and completely forgot. Darn you for forgetting.” and he went off in a huff. As days went by, Clerc would continue to bump into this boy and would always say “Darn, you’re the boy who forgot” (hand at mouth) and stomp off.

The boy was embarrassed and became weary of Clerc’s insults so he decided to go to him and asking his forgiveness for having forgotten to deliver the message to which Clerc let out a joyful laugh and said “alright, you are forgiven, you are forgiven, be on your way.” And with that they departed.

Context, of course, is important. Hotchkiss is telling a story about Laurent Clerc, who is considered the father of the US Deaf Community – for certain definitions of Community, which I will get to in a moment. Dr. John Hotchkiss himself is a very important member of the Deaf community, having been part of the first generation of Deaf students to attend Gallaudet University. Once he graduated he took up teaching, and was a passionate advocate for the continued used of Sign Language in teaching Deaf children.

In the 1910s, the National Association of the Deaf began making several films of Sign Language masters such as Hotchins, and they toured the country. While they were mostly seen by Deaf students, there were hearing students who also saw these ‘silent’ films, exposing them to “the beautiful language” as well.

These films were created as a means of combating the oralist movement (requiring Deaf people to learn to lip read and articulate verbally, a movement that also attempted to ban Sign Language in schools), as well as recording the history of US Deaf people. Looking at the present, the increasingly easy access to video technology is leading to a similar growth in easily accessible videos by and for Deaf people, many of them on YouTube.

What is not obvious from this one video but would be if you went seeking out the rest of the National Association of the Deaf videos from roughly this time period is that “the beautiful language” that they’re preserving is pretty much the beautiful language of white men with the means to attend Gallaudet University. Gallaudet accepted one class of women pupils, and then refused to accept any more for over a decade. Even afterwards, women pupils were discouraged from attending, because they risked “stealing” jobs from more-deserving men. As well, there was a great divide between white and non-white/people of colour in terms of Deaf education. There was a segregated Deaf school system in parts of the US, and Black Deaf schools developed their own form of Sign Language. You can read a bit more about this at the Black ASL Project. Historians like Susan Burch make it very clear that there was no attempt by white Deaf leaders to support Black Deaf people, and only limited support in the non-segregated school system of the North and Western US.

I like to highlight some things in disability history because I find it frustrating that, if you want to learn about the history of disability in a non-specialized context, you’re probably only going to learn the tragedies. I’ve taken classes that have talked about forced sterilization and the eugenics movement, both in North America and abroad, but never had a class that dealt with the foundation of the Deaf press, say, or the National Fraternal Order of the Deaf – even in classes that were about Fraternal Orders in the US. I’ve taken classes that have focused on the resistance of marginalized people, but somehow fail to mention decades of resistance by people with disabilities, and often fail to mention even the success of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We have a history that is more than tragedy, that is more than the last 20 years of fighting. It is not all brave plucky fighters, and it is certainly not all wonderful people who had no prejudices and only celebrated good things. People with disabilities are people, and I think talking a great deal more about this history is part of the way we fight against stereotypes and the boxes people put us in.

Commenting note: I am, as I said, on Thesis Time right now, which basically means I’m hardly at all around. If you decide to comment, please keep commenting policies in mind, and I’ll do my best to keep up with them.

CDC Study Reveals Poverty as Major Contributing Factor for HIV Infection

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States recently released a study showing that in heterosexual communities, people living in poverty are five times more likely than the general population to be infected with HIV. For impoverished communities, where people are living above the poverty line, but not living well, people are two and a half times more likely to be infected.

This just in: Poverty is bad for your health.

Just so we’re all operating on the same page, the current poverty line in the United States is set at an annual income of $10,830 USD for a single person, $22,050 USD for a family of four. There’s a reason I was gravely concerned about the AIDS Drug Assistance program recently. This study shows that people living in poverty aren’t just less likely to be able to access HIV/AIDS treatment, they are also more likely to need that treatment in the first place.

Guess who is most likely to live in poverty in the United States? Black, Native American, and Latin@ populations. People with disabilities. Young people and older adults. We’ve known for a long time that all of these groups are more likely to have health problems as a direct consequence of living in poverty, and this study shows us that poverty is also a key factor in HIV infection rates among these groups. In 23 US cities, we are looking at a ‘generalized epidemic’ in the heterosexual population; that’s a fancy way of saying ‘this is not going away unless we do something about it.’

One obvious solution would be outreach and education programs. Provision of medical care. Access to safer sex supplies. Community education provided by people actually living and working in these communities who can provide that education in an accessible format.

Yet, there are a lot of barriers to doing this. There’s the furor from US conservatives opposed to any kind of community education, outreach, and healthcare when it comes to anything even tangentially related to sex; after all, if we hand out condoms, that’s like saying it’s ok for people to have sex! As Cara Kulwicki points out at The Curvature, there’s also a serious stigma against sex workers when it comes to funding for HIV/AIDS work. Not only do we not want to help sex workers, we don’t want to provide funding to any organisations that work with them.

At Racewire, Kai Wright notes:

Today’s CDC study establishes that the U.S. epidemic is instead best understood as two separate epidemics–one in poor neighborhoods and one in the rest of the nation. That’s because HIV prevalence is a shocking 2.1 percent among heterosexuals in the poor neighborhoods CDC studied. These are explosive findings that ought to fundamentally redefine our understanding of the U.S. epidemic and its gravity.

This study is a stark illustration of intersectionality in action. If we’re going to talk about disparities in HIV infection, we need to talk not just about poverty, but about race, the social structures that cause certain classes of people to be more likely to live in poverty, and the way these systems intertwine.

What the CDC is telling us is that people who live at the intersections of oppression are much more likely than the rest of the population to be infected with HIV, and that this is, in part, our collective fault, for failing to adequately serve vulnerable populations. For failing to address the tremendous class disparities in the United States and for choosing to ignore the clear intersections within those disparities; there is absolutely no reason why entire classes of people should be more likely to live in poverty than others.

Phill Wilson, writing at the Black AIDS Institute, underscores the importance of viewing race and poverty as interconnected, not separate, issues when evaluating the results of this study and the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a whole:

So, the question is: Is race or poverty the driver of HIV in Black communities? We believe this is essentially a difference without a distinction. In America, Black people are disproportionately poor. Almost 25 percent of Blacks live in poverty, compared to 9 percent of Whites. According to a study by U.S. Department of Agriculture, nine out of every 10 Black Americans who reach the age of 75 spend at least one of their adult years in poverty. The uncertainty about why Blacks are disproportionately infected has never been about biological or genetic determinants–or for that matter even difference in levels of risk behavior. It has always been driven by social determinants of health: socioeconomic status, high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, high rates of incarceration, man sharing (knowingly and unknowingly) due to gender imbalances, lack of access to healthcare, lack of a regular health provider and low HIV literacy. These overlap significantly with the issues driving the AIDS epidemic in poor communities of all races.

This study challenges a lot of assumptions about how HIV is understood in the United States. It clearly shows that by focusing on injection drug users and men who have sex with men, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to other communities at profound risk for HIV infection. HIV has been stigmatised from the start, it dovetails very neatly with a number of social oppressions in the United States, and our chickens are coming home to roost now.

Publicity and the Taser: When Stories Get Told (and When They Don’t)

Last night, a young Black man with epilepsy was admitted to a hospital in Louisiana after a suicide attempt. He declined to don a hospital gown and ‘attempted to leave his examination,’ at which point security stepped in. According to witnesses, security officers punched the young man in the lip and pulled out several of his dreadlocks before pulling out their Tasers and shocking him, causing him to have a seizure.

His family members state that although doctors present were aware of his seizure disorder, they indicated that it was ok for security to Tase him.

This is not an unusual story. In fact, Tasers and seizures have a long and sordid history:

“While we’re not able to comment on the details of this case, we are certainly concerned to hear that a person in apparent medical and emotional distress was subjected to the taser.” (Manchester, England, 2010)

The most recent report involves a Michigan man with epilepsy, who, when experiencing a seizure, apparently was unjustifiably tasered, clubbed, arrested, jailed and committed to a psychiatric facility for violent offenders — all based on non-threatening behaviors caused by a seizure. (Michigan, US, 2006, content note, describes police brutality)

A local family is questioning why a woman having a diabetic seizure would have to be tackled and shocked by police. (Portland, Oregon, US, 2007)

When the EMTs asked the cops to help them move Lassi from where he was lying on the floor, Lassi says, one of his “arms flailed during his diabetes-induced seizure, striking one of the LaGrange and Brookfield defendants. At no time did Mr. Lassi intentionally strike or offensively touch any of the LaGrange or Brookfield defendants.”

Lassi says LaGrange Park Officer Darren Pedota responded by Tasering him 11 times, for nearly a minute, as he lay helpless. (Chicago, Illinois, US, 2009)

A Texas man who called 911 to request medical assistance for a diabetic seizure earned a tasering from local cops for his trouble, the Waxahachie Daily Light reports. (Texas, US, 2007)

“Freddie was a law abiding resident of the United States of America. During his lifetime, he was never involved in any criminal activity. The records are there for everyone to see…He was the quintessential model son, grandson, nephew, grandnephew and cousin.” (Georgia, US, 2004, content note, describes police brutality)

The Taser is a ‘nonlethal’ electroshock weapon which has become highly controversial, for a lot of reasons, including the fact that people of colour are far more likely to be Tasered than white folks. The Taser is being adopted by more and more police departments, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Taser-related deaths are going up. The people most likely to be killed with a Taser in the United States are young Black men, and Tasers are especially heavily weaponised against people with disabilities, most particularly people with mental illness, seizure disorders, intellectual disabilities, and autism.

Fortunately for the patient in Louisiana, Taser use didn’t kill him. His family is, according to news reports, in the process of transferring him to another facility, where I sincerely hope that patients are not Tased.

What is remarkable about this case is not that it happened, but that I read about it. The only reason the media picked up the story of a young Black man being Tasered into an epileptic seizure is because of who he was: Derek Thomas is the nephew of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and according to the media, Justice Thomas is not happy with his nephew’s treatment.

I am very happy that Derek Thomas is being transferred to another facility, where he will hopefully get more appropriate care. I’m also pleased that he has supportive family members who are also influential and willing to fight for him.

Reading his story, though, makes me think of the scores of similar cases that I am not reading about. Justice and humane treatment should be available to all people, regardless of who they are, who their families are, and the colour of their skin. Tasing patients should never be deemed an appropriate treatment. This case angers me, and I am equally angered by the scores of similar cases taking place in hospitals across the United States right now that I will never know about because the media isn’t interested enough.

I would really like to see the mainstream media in the United States use this story as a starting point to explore the use of Tasers in hospitals, mental health facilities, and institutions, and to examine particularly closely the racial disparities in how, when, and where Tasers are used. This is an opportunity for some really terrific investigative journalism. Will anyone follow up on it?