If We Cheat…

Posted: July 22, 2019 in Entertainment, Politics
Tags: , , , ,

It has been quite a July and we have not even made it to ADA Anniversary yet.

For me ADA Month usually means a packed schedule of events, recognitions and a regular parade of older officials claiming that they wrote the ADA. The past few weeks have proven even more intense than usual as discussions of racism and ableism have taken center stage for two of disability’s most visible organizations. Now, I am far from uninitiated to the terrible crossover of disability and racial discrimination that exist in our community. Usually this is just another Thursday, but the events of last week, have been a lot to handle.

Racism and ableism hit very close to home while I was at the Netroots Nation conference in Philadelphia. I was excited to be facilitating a panel on the unique intersection of Blackness and Disability. My panel – made up of Black and African individuals with disabilities sought to discuss the hurdles faced while attempting to manage both Black and Disability identities and find effective methods to be active in both communities which seemed to have difficulty accepting the whole parts of our identity. During our session, however we found ourselves interrupted and disrespected by Netroots Staff. Our panel started late due to a previous protest, was asked to wrap up early – not because of a scheduling conflict, but because they wished to take the lift that Neal Carter was using to access the stage. Netroots staff interrupted me as I was facilitating to give me the choice to speed up the session so that they could remove the lift, or to continue but leave our colleague without means of leaving the stage. After explaining that neither of these choices was acceptable, and that we would end our session at the planned time, conference staff verbally insinuated that we were keeping other people with disabilities from participating in the conference, (as if we had the only lift in the building), and resorted to heckling before I was able to regain control of the conversation.

Now this sort of ableism was not a surprise. This was not the first conference where I have seen individuals with disabilities being told they have to move on, or stop talking due to a lack of accessibility. What stung however was that Netroots Nation boasts itself as a progressive space where the voices of individuals who are looking to create a more inclusive America is a value. Their behavior toward my panel, and their attempt at misdirection when we did not immediately bend was not an illustration of the safe space of which they claimed to be providing. The staff’s attempt to move a group of individuals with disabilities and people of color because they did not adequately prepare for accessibility is not justice and the desire to silence them because they would not cower is not righteousness.

So that was last weekend. Next, we were met with exposure of Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi’s deplorable comments about the mental health and blatant bullying of her own employees with disabilities, and her belief that her organization is what can save disabled people from a life of couches, porn addiction, and mental illness. Mizrahi’s comments while terrible are not a surprise to the number of advocates of color who have found themselves bullied or had their work appropriated by Mizrahi and her organization only to find themselves disbelieved and marked as troublemakers by the greater DisCo. It is important to take a moment to note the courage of the young queer disabled activists of color who shone a light on this deplorable behavior. We owe Allilsa Fernandez for her bravery.

This alone would be enough for a big week of disability news, but there also has been the video of Bruce Darling, a leader for ADAPT and the National Council for Independent Living. In a video taken while at a legislative strategy meeting, Bruce Darling is seen discussing tactics and issues that will be put forward at the upcoming NCIL Conference to promote the DIA. In the video he discussed his plan to motivate engagement on the DIA by promoting the idea that Congress cares more about immigrants at the border than citizens with disabilities inside of our country. Regardless of what you believe about his intentions, this plan to promote disability engagement at the cost of vilifying immigrants being placed in concentration camps at the border should be distasteful to anyone who calls themselves an advocate of inclusion and justice. There have been many instances that have proven that you cannot create peace with the implements of war, or as Dr. King said, “one cannot use hate to drive out hate – only love can do that.” Using the plight of an underrepresented people to further promote our own engagement and rights is not a tactic that any of us should be comfortable with. It is even more despicable as many of these folks are also people with disabilities — our people.

The National Council on Independent Living and ADAPT must take stock in their leadership and the tactics that have been used as of late to promote their specific agendas. I do not envy the work that lies ahead to promote leadership that fits in with true inclusion and justice for all individuals with disabilities.

So what should we be taking from all this?

Some of the folk in the community will say that the events of the past week are tantamount to infighting. They will say that rather than being overly sensitive, we should pull together to work on the DIA and handle this behind the scenes as “family business” while maintaining a united front on the outside.  Others will rightly note that these events – though shocking to some – are not new thought the attention shone on them is, and that this is indicative of a disability community that marginalizes the voices of people of color and a mainstream community that equally silences disability advocacy. We as a community must come to terms with the fact that while we face discrimination, we do not have the market cornered on righteousness. We have as much as a responsibility to provide the inclusion that we demand from the mainstream community.

Should we burn down all of these organizations wholesale? The answer is: maybe?

One cannot create an inclusive community while excluding people of color or using tactics that are specifically designed to be divisive. While the actions taken by leadership were indeed terrible, I do not believe that the total destruction of NCIL or ADAPT is for the benefit of the disability community. At the same time, one cannot give a pass to leaders who blatantly violate the trust of multiple parts of our community. In the three previous events one could take a look at all of the work that has been done by Netroots, Mizrahi or Darling in the purpose of promoting disability and even attempt to justify their actions. In this context, they would be noted as one time faux as or slip ups that are not indicative of the greater good and service that they have done or could continue to do for the community. If we do that, however we provide a justification to their actions and not only communicate the loathsome idea that the ends justify the means, but also that certain groups of individuals with disabilities are disposable in order to make justice for others.

We cannot allow ourselves to take the easy road on creating a better world for people with disabilities. We cannot allow ourselves to cheat or hustle the morals of inclusion, justice and access for all. If we cheat, we not only cheat ourselves of the opportunity to do the job right, we cheat a generation of Americans who need these inclusive spaces to be created and maintained for all. This will not be an easy road. Sometimes we will have to reevaluate our actions, question our motives and even ensure that we are promoting actions that will do best for all individuals with disabilities.  While not cheating seems an easy concept in theory, this is not always the case in action. When a lack of funding, support and engagement block your way even the most seasoned advocate may be tempted to compromise. This does not mean that they are the devil incarnate, or have allied with the forces of evil, but what it DOES mean is that they are no longer fit for leadership in our community. If we find ourselves in a space where leaders are using racism, exclusionary tactics and bullying, to promote the disability agenda, we must press for their removal and re-evaluate how they can continue to work for inclusion. If leaders in our community regularly deride certain disability groups and seek to create sexist smear pieces on women in leadership, they must be called out. If a leader in our community uses the tools of racism to maintain their platform they must be pressed to step down. If a leader finds themselves in this role, it is an excellent time to take a step back, re-evaluate, and regroup, and if need be – Resign.

This has to be a key part of the leadership in our community because if we cheat, good loses.

The Tea

Experience of Allilsa Fernandez – https://m.facebook.com/514508459/posts/10156602139398460?s=637129383&sfns=mo

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