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Ableism Enables All Forms of Inequity and Hampers All Liberation Efforts

Ableism has been used for generations to degrade, oppress, control and disappear disabled and nondisabled people alike.

View of demonstrators during the Non-March For Disabled Women inside Grand Central Station in New York on January 19, 2019.

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As I’ve continued to think more about the phenomenon of “disability,” I am compelled to rethink “ableism” beyond a hegemonic system that specifically applies to those who are deemed disabled. In other words, I have begun to rethink how ableism is broader in scope and how it undergirds other forms of oppression.

In this engaging interview, Talila A. Lewis argues that ableism has deep implications for every other marginalized identity. In short, ableism, according to Lewis, is at the root of other powerful hegemonic sites — from race and class to colonialism and nationality. In this way, they uncover the ways in which ableism insidiously operates across space and time. As an abolitionist community lawyer, educator and organizer, Lewis has focused on abolishing the medical-carceral-industrial complex and highlighting the inextricable links between ableism, racism, classism, and all other forms of oppression and violence.

Lewis desired that I preface the beginning of this interview with their voice: “Before I begin, I want to note that I do not have a disability studies lens or lineage. The information I share is borne out of and continuously refined through critical conversations and analysis of my, my loved ones’ and ancestors’ lived experiences; long-term engagement in principled struggle with other multiply marginalized people across time, continent and movements; intentional and incidental learning with others who are engaged in principled struggle; and other knowledge commons sources (including Black/Indigenous liberation, disability justice, economic justice, queer/gender/reproductive justice struggles, among others). Naming my communities and ancestors as central sources of knowledge is an anti-ableist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist practice that seeks to recenter the People — to remind us of our inherent wisdom and power, and to reaffirm our capacity to dream up, self-determine and fully deliver on our collective liberation.”

George Yancy: When I think about what constitutes ableism, I think of a system that problematizes people who are disabled. Yet, there are plenty of people who are problematized in terms of their race, sexual orientation, gender, economic status, citizenship status, you name it. Such individuals are dehumanized, marginalized, deemed ersatz and disposable. One can think here of Black people, Indigenous communities, those who are stereotyped as “undeserving” immigrants, etc. My sense is that your conceptualization of the oppressive structure of ableism expansively impacts those who generally don’t think about themselves as having a disability. Elaborate on how you understand ableism in this more radical sense.

Talila A. Lewis: Disability and ableism have been remarkably misunderstood, downplayed, erased, ignored, or manipulated in discussions of past and present social inequity and oppression. Specifically, disability is often misunderstood as an objectively defined static identity, and ableism misunderstood as an oppression that can only be experienced by disabled people. But these conveniently and strategically limited conceptions of disability and ableism create, enable and exacerbate all forms of inequity, and hamper all liberation efforts.

In truth, disability is one of the most fluid and complex marginalized identities; and ableism the oldest, most radical, and one of the least understood systemic oppressions. Since we live under racial capitalism, settler colonialism and white supremacy, ableism in the united states has never solely been about disability. Ableism here has always been about at least race, gender, labor/productivity/capital, and dis/ability. In fact, ableism has been used for generations to degrade, oppress, control, and disappear disabled and non-disabled people alike — especially those who are Black/Indigenous (e.g., scientific racism). Relatedly, all oppression is rooted in and dependent on ableism — especially anti-Black/Indigenous racism. Not only is all oppression rooted in and dependent on ableism, but as your question suggests: ableism plays a leading role in how we frame, understand, construct and respond to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, criminal status, disability, and countless other identities. Meaning, not only is ableism central to the construction of what people think disability is, but ableism frames every other marginalized identity as well.

We desperately need more conversation and knowledge production that centers Black/Indigenous disabled perspectives on ableism and its impact on our lives and communities. For now, I have been experimenting with using “disableism” to refer to oppression experienced by disabled people and those perceived or labeled as disabled (e.g., sanism, audism, linguicism, vidism, etc.); and using “ableism” to refer to the radical oppressive force from which all oppression draws power and takes refuge (i.e., the categorization/ranking/valuation of bodyminds and the consequences that flow therefrom in a given society, community, setting, etc.). It’s not perfect and I’m still working on how and when to use dis/ableism myself, but it has been helpful for me. I invite others to ideate around this also.

Some disabled people are resistant to shifting to a more expansive conceptualization of ableism. They argue that sharing ableism with nondisabled marginalized people might somehow harm disabled people. I argue that the harm that flows from nondisabled marginalized people not grasping how ableism harms them, and that the harm that flows from white and non-Black/Indigenous disabled people not understanding how racism and white supremacy harms them, is what we should be more concerned about. It is this ignorance and erasure that harms all movements for social justice, and society writ large.

Sharing ableism with nondisabled people does not negate disability’s unique positionality and defining role within ableism or in the real-life theater of oppression. Disability is still an obvious primary consequence of ableism and all other oppressions; and it is still clear that disabled people are one of ableism’s primary targets with disability-based prejudice, discrimination and hostility (i.e., disableism) being encouraged, enabled and accepted by the vast majority of dominant/nondisabled society. In any case, two people or communities with distinct identities experiencing harms from one oppression is not a threat or detriment to either oppressed group. It is a clarion call to join forces to challenge and dismantle said oppression. We must be able to identify and acknowledge the connections and similarities while holding and honoring the complexities of the differences in experience, because in the end, we get free together or not at all.

It seems to me that ableism is this expansive normative framework that creates all sorts of comparisons that are deeply binary, divisive. Ableism fragments the world in such a way that one is either within the normatively structured “inside” or the normatively structured “outside.”

In its simplest terms, ableism is the categorization and valuation or ranking, of a bodymind, behavior, characteristic or community as inferior or superior, unworthy or worthy, useless or useful, normative or deviant, etc. In the united states context, these valuations and rankings are in/formed through the application of white supremacist settler-colonial cisheteropatriarchal capitalist ideas about race, ethnicity, dis/ability, gender, re/productivity, criminality, civility, intelligence, fitness, beauty, birth/living place, etc. In other words, in the united states, our identities and our purported values are both a function and byproduct of ableism. Ableism is the untamed and too often unnamed force behind eugenics and white supremacy.

You conceptualize ableism as what I would call a kind of meta-framework that takes itself, narrates itself as normal and yet obfuscates the ways in which it is the very opposite. On this score, ableism functions as the apex that defines “difference” and “deviance” as that which falls under its hegemonic process of evaluation of worth. I have written a lot about how whiteness functions in this way, but not about how ableism does. I’m beginning to see how ableism is linked to colonial myths and capitalist domination.

The maintenance of perpetual inequity and domination brought about through colonization and capitalism requires a comprehensive, nimble and timeless approach that prioritizes, normalizes, commodifies and obscures ableism and eugenics. To that end, settler-colonizers have found an immortal accomplice in ableism, an ideology and practice that:

  1. Continuously otherizes and de/values people and communities;
  2. Creates dominant groups and subjugated groups (and subjugated groups within subjugated groups);
  3. Pits dispossessed/subjugated communities against each other;
  4. Moves undetected and unnamed through and across communities, spaces and time — often confused with or named as something else altogether;
  5. Is leveraged to justify widespread preordained and derivative inequity and violence; and
  6. Can be used to justify any and all manner of commodification, pathologizing, criminalization, extraction and exploitation.

Picture ableism as the root and trunk of the tree from which every oppression grows. Then picture specific oppressions like disableism, racism, classism, cissexism, ageism, transmisia, criminalism, xenomisia, etc., as the branches and fruits of this tree. You are envisioning an inverted version of the infamous eugenics tree, which, by the Third International Eugenics Congress in 1932, boasted 36 different sites of knowledge production as its roots, and a motto that read, “Like a tree eugenics draws its materials from many sources and gives them organic unity and purpose.” The inverted tree perhaps reveals how our collective failure to uproot the tree in its entirety over the centuries has led to a tree rife with poisonous fruit that continues to kill us all.

Eugenics lives because on personal and communal levels, to “save ourselves” we have always found “superior” categories that we fit into or can strive toward, and “inferior” categories that we do not belong to and can strive to never become part of. On structural and systemic levels, ableism ensures that dispossessed, oppressed and abused people who are facing precarity because of capitalism, white supremacy and other oppressions are labeled “ill,” “criminal,” “vagrant,” etc., to justify and perpetuate everyday eugenics/necropolitical practices. These practices include all forms of surveillance, control, incarceration, deprivation, and fast and slow genocides (e.g., food, medical, water and vaccine apartheid). Systems of domination even leverage ableism to create subcategories of unworthiness within categories of purported unworthiness (e.g., deserving vs. undeserving poor, illegal vs. legal migrants, violent vs. nonviolent felons, acceptable vs. unacceptable disabled people, talented tenth, etc.).

Ableism is mutually dependent on and inclusive of all other oppressions — in constant conversation with one another, continuously forming, informing and influencing the power of the other, while re/defining the identities of those affected by said oppression. State, religious and corporate violence and oppression perpetrated against negatively racialized and educationally and economically disenfranchised communities has always been deeply rooted in ableism. As such, ending this violence has always required not only an understanding of disability and disability-based oppressions, but also a keen understanding of how disability exists and arises in, and interacts with, marginalized people and communities. More to the point, ending this violence has always demanded that we understand how race-, class- and disability-based oppressions interact with one another; and precisely how seamlessly each is interwoven into social, political, economic and legal mores and codes — written and unwritten.

The final fact I will share about ableism is what I believe makes it unique, radical and effective among oppressions: ableism is a shapeshifter. To do harm, ableism can act in its own name or create, strengthen and operate through other oppressions. Ableism essentially makes an Escherian stair of oppression — where one oppression ends and the next begins is often difficult if not impossible to determine. This phenomenon is also known as a strange loop or tangled hierarchies: “a situation where, by moving only upwards or downwards through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started. These loops often involve self-reference and paradox.” So, ableism contributes to and is constructed by tangled hierarchies that create heterarchies where elements are unranked or can be ranked in various ways, in addition to hierarchies.

Each of us comes to know and understand ableism through our own lived experiences. So, for centuries, ableism has been framed and named not as ableism, but as the categories that power-holders use to justify oppression (e.g., casteism, racism, transmisia, sexism, ageism, disableism, etc.). People who experience more than one oppression or sense deeper connections between struggles have demanded more nuanced and intersectional framing and advocacy, and cross-community and movement solidarity (see, for example, racial capitalism, anti-Black sanism, Black queer feminism, Indigenous feminisms, disability justice, disability solidarity, etc.). Hundreds of oppressions converge at ableism; and at least as many social justice struggles share a related heart-connection: anti-ableism.

Given the ways in which you’ve described ableism, and how it is interconnected to other sites of subordination, marginalization, etc., I assume that there is strength to be located at the site of intersectionality.

Power holders deeply appreciate how identities intersect and how disability and ableism can be wielded to maintain the status quo, illustrating why intentionally intersectional responses to oppression that identify connections and move from a place that centers the margins of the margins is the only effective way forward. Fortunately, the same characteristics that make disability and ableism powerful tools for those in positions of authority, make them incredible cross-identity, community and movement organizing tools. Overlaying maps of the oppressions we face helps develop points of commonality and solidarity around issues that are relevant to us all. Again, the idea is not to collapse what we know about our experiences or the oppression, but to get specific about exactly what we are talking about. Identifying and naming the type(s) of oppression we are dealing with helps us develop strategies and tactics that cut across communities. So, for instance, if we are working to abolish standardized tests or other racist-ableist-classist metrics of “intelligence,” we are struggling against at least racism, sexism, classism, linguicism, audism, sanism/mentalism and xenomisia, among others. This brings together communities struggling for language justice, disability justice, economic justice, gender justice, migrant justice, racial justice, and more. We expand, complicate and connect our efforts, prevent dominant forces from pitting marginalized people against one another, and advance together, leaving no one behind.

In his important text, Discourse on Colonialism, Negritude poet and decolonial thinker Aimé Césaire writes, “My turn to state an equation: colonization = thingification.” Talk about how you understand the interconnection between ableism, capitalism and colonialism. In fact, one might argue that capitalism creates disabilities, yes?

In America, people have come to understand most everything through a lens of whiteness, wealth, colonial, imperial and other power systems which makes it easy to dismiss and difficult to even see oppressed people’s humanity. Humanity is particularly relevant here because so much of what disability actually is, is just humanity; and so much of what ableism is, is a humanity heist.

Césaire’s characterization is apt. I expand on his equation: assigning superhuman and inhuman to a person or group of people = negation of their humanity.

Ableism nullifies, objectifies and problematizes (i.e., thingifies) oppressed people to distract from the actual problems (i.e., capitalism, imperialism, authoritarianism, oppression, impoverishment, etc.). Ableism fashions the “distraction” Toni Morrison warned us about that keeps its objects perpetually clamoring toward an everlasting “one more thing” to prove that they are not nothing and not everything — that they are but human.

The goal has always been civic, social, economic and physical marginalization and death, as well as example-making and commodification of those whom society has deemed disposable or burdensome. And though the stated excuse for the grotesque and unforgivable degradation of particular people ranges from race to age, and gender to disability — and though over generations people who evolve, expand and intensify such degradation may come to believe the lies they sell themselves to continue their cruelty — the driving force of these depravities often begins and ends with economics. Capitalism. The perpetual accumulation and retention of more and more and more at the expense of humanity.

So, you see capitalism as that which creates disabilities.

Absolutely — some real and others fabricated. Like ableism, disability has been particularly beneficial to capitalism and colonialism due to its unique malleability, subjectivity and universal applicability. I offer an expanded conceptualization of disability before I respond:

Disability is at least as subjective as every other marginalized identity constructed by settler-colonial states, and arguably the most malleable and radical. There are dozens of models and definitions of disability, and still no consensus on a definition of disability. Further, “disability” the noun, the identity and the ideology, have infinite meanings each unto themselves. For example, disability can mean:

  • A personal, cultural, political identity;
  • A person’s actual disability, illness, pain, impairment, etc.;
  • Whatever definition of disability a particular state/institution/agency/corporation/organization/community/etc. has landed on in a given moment in time;
  • A construct rooted in racist-classist-ableist metrics like standardized test scores, how much labor a person can perform, or “accuracy” of spoken or written English; or
  • White medical-carceral-academic pathologization/criminalization of Black/Indigenous humanity, survival, divergence and resistance (e.g., drapetomania, dysaethesia aethiopica, excited delirium, etc.)

Rigid medical and legal definitions of disability often define disability in relation to how and to what extent “impairments limit major life activities,” while the Social Security definition revolves around a person’s vocational aptitude and labor and earning power. The social model of disability is today’s iteration of the sociopolitical definition of disability which was developed during Black liberation and civil rights struggles of the 1960s and ‘70s, and so radically shifted how disability was framed (i.e., urged people to focus on prejudice, systematic exclusion, inequity and discrimination disabled people experience rather than on disability itself). And disability justice, a praxis created by queer, negatively racialized disabled people, offers that we can understand disability as all of the following:

  1. A lived embodied experience;
  2. A political identity framed within ableism;
  3. A community location from which to organize;
  4. A political location that overlaps, intersects, and responds to other political locations such as race, gender, class, nation state, etc.;
  5. An aesthetic from which we create practice and culture.

There are stark contrasts between the narrow and stagnant white supremacist, colonialist-capitalist framing of disability and the expansive and dynamic framing developed by disabled, queer, low-income, Black/Indigenous people. The former is decontextualized, individualistic, deficit-based; and the latter contextualized and relational, depicting disability as an invaluable part of the human experience that is not bad, shameful, or to be pitied.

Disability is also radical because of its fluidity, relativity and spectrality. Here are some examples:

  • There are thousands of disabilities and disability communities (notably, ableism, racism, classism, sexism, etc. are alive and well within and across disability communities).
  • Disability can exist due to biology and can also be caused by environment, virus/illness, accidents, oppression, deprivation, trauma, violence, climate disruption, etc.
  • Some disabilities are imperceptible and others readily apparent, while others show themselves as they wish or as needs arise.
  • Disability responds to each bodymind, family, community it inhabits, and to the attention and resources it receives.
  • Each disability is so unique to each disabled person that the acknowledgment of disability always requires further inquiry and analysis (i.e., the same disability shows up differently for different people).
  • Power holders perceive disability differently depending on a person’s other identities.
  • People move into, around, through and out of disability as a matter of life course, with a person’s disability being capable of presenting differently moment to moment, setting to setting, etc.
  • Disability can be fleeting or chronic.
  • Disability is defined differently across institutions, communities, people, time, place, cultures, and more.
  • Disability can be completely made up by power holders by requiring particular characteristics, skills or resources, then ensuring that particular people are blocked from obtaining or maintaining the same (e.g., literacy, capital, family, food, shelter, health, etc.) or by decontextualizing a person’s lived experiences and deeming their rational response to their suffering an illness or crime.

Settler-colonial capitalist cisheteropatriarchal societies leverage disability in similar ways as they do ableism — to justify settler-colonial capitalist violence and rationalize banning anything that might make oppressed people more powerful and/or of less value to colonizers. Specifically, in the united states, disability has been used to justify the imposition of enslavement and deprivation of freedom, family, education, etc., for enslaved African peoples; defend genocide and removal of peoples indigenous to “America”; rationalize deprivation of education and suffrage for women; enact and enforce racist, xenomisic, classist and ableist immigration exclusion laws; surveil, pathologize, criminalize, maim, institutionalize and kill queer, intersex, trans/gender nonconforming people; and to legitimate all forms of incarceration of people who have experienced gender-, race-, class- or disability-based violence.

Setting aside manufactured disability, there are actual disabled people in every community. More importantly, disability is highly disproportionately present in marginalized and multiply-marginalized communities because of oppression, dispossession, exploitation, violence and trauma via colonialism and capitalism. For example, war, policing, incarceration and institutionalization; labor exploitation and impoverishment; forced familial separation and deprivation of resources; climate and environmental injustice; and other state, religious and corporate violence all disproportionately affect marginalized communities — and these socioeconomic and environmental factors and experiences are a cause, complicator and consequence of disability. These communities are also less likely to have affordable/attainable, culturally appropriate, nonpunitive/pathologizing support for their disabilities than white, wealthy, and other privileged people. Notably, “support for their disabilities” is often just relief from inequity/violence, and reparations for and healing from the same. In any case, actual disability is disproportionately represented in Black/Indigenous and other negatively racialized communities as well as in other dispossessed communities. Like other marginalized communities, disabled people have some of the worst health, education and employment outcomes; and the highest rates of impoverishment, victimization, food and housing insecurity, and all forms of incarceration. Social welfare programs “for disabled people” generally entail dehumanization, surveillance, paternalism and surrender of self-determination, and ensure that disabled people remain in perpetual impoverishment. It goes without saying that those living at the intersections of disability and other marginalized identities fare far worse.

Say more about capitalism within this context.

Capitalism relies on ableism. Those with power created, control and require capital to meet basic human needs. They’ve spent generations harming humans; they hoard wealth, extract labor and block certain people from earning decent wages, ensure that others’ wages are depressed or voided, and punish those who will not or cannot work. Labor protections are relaxed, released or not considered, owing to the application of ableist social constructs to these workers (e.g., “intelligence,” disability, criminality, race, birth country, etc.).

Those who are harmed by capitalism are pushed out of formal/legal economies; economically, socially and politically disenfranchised; and their lives or labor extracted or commodified in yet other ways. They may become “dependent” on the public and/or engage in informal/illegal economies, any of which earns them public shame and ire. All of this reinforces the idea that the conditions they are forced to try to survive in, the extraction they are forced to endure, and their premature demise is acceptable and all their own (un)doing — evidence of their shortcomings, in fact. They become the example of what others in society never want to become and the object of racist-classist-ableist “feel good” stories that perpetuate the colonial-capitalist notion that it is noble for the “undeserving” to work hard for a pittance to the point of disablement and death while those at the top continue to grievously harm the planet and its inhabitants for profit. These warped and circular illogics are used to justify the unjustifiable and to quell public outcry over what otherwise would be deemed indefensible theft of dignity, labor, life and liberty.

From circuses and zoos, to sheltered workshops, plantations, poor farms and prisons, the goal has always been to make value from those deemed valueless, by any means. Profit is made not only from labor extraction, but from the commodification of their incarceration, institutionalization, enfreakment, “transition/housing,” etc. Today, this most obviously plays out not only in terms of unconscionable mistreatment and exploitation of people confined in all carceral institutions, but also in how the government and corporations fail to adequately pay and protect so-called essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic which demonstrates that their labor is essential, but their lives are not.

Talk about how our understanding of anti-Black racism can inform our understanding of ableism, and vice versa.

Since ableist theories and metrics — developed and popularized by the scientifically, medically, academically backed eugenics enterprise — have been used to construct “Black,” we must engage with ableism if we seek to understand and dismantle anti-Black racism. The opposite is also true: dismantling ableism requires direct engagement with and intentional confrontation and dismantling of anti-Blackness because “race” plays such a prominent role in constructing and defining “disability/disabled.” White supremacist settler-colonial capitalists use medical, legal, academic, political and social authority to normalize and promote ableism, and eugenics by extension. In short, anti-Black racism and dis/ableism must be understood, addressed and dismantled in relation to each other (simultaneously).

The intersection of anti-Black racism and disableism is one of the most dangerous and deadly that exists. Black disabled people and Black people who are perceived or labeled disabled or otherwise “a problem” are in mortal danger as a result of the volatile nature of this connection. If a person’s only value is determined by their productivity and compliance and they are unable to produce and unwilling or unable to comply, their life becomes useless and their hyper-objectification, pain, and/or death are often the only useful or profitable end. Under capitalism and white supremacy, Black disabled people will almost always be less valuable than Black abled people and less valuable than non-Black disabled people (quasi-exceptions to this rule include Black disabled people who are “valuable” for entertainment, enfreakment, experimentation, and other purposes). In addition, anti-Black racism and ableism are rampant within disability communities; and dis/ableism rampant within Black/Indigenous communities, so Black disabled people are often fighting for their whole humanity to be seen, respected and supported within Black and within disabled non-Black spaces. Black disabled people experience disproportionately higher rates of discrimination and victimization, surveillance and patho-criminalization, and incarceration and institutionalization. Targeted, under-supported and under-protected in every sense and setting — at the highest risk of active and passive murder by most everyone.

I have yet to find or create a set of words that does justice to the realities of Black disabled people who regularly contend with racism and dis/ableism in addition to other oppressions they are forced to navigate. I do know that disability is an integral part of the identities and lives of many, if not most, Black people within the united states. Disability has been with us, in us, since the beginning of time; and through generations and lifetimes of the most unimaginable tribulations, it has often been disability that has held, kept and freed us. Still, due to disability and ableism being weaponized against Black people and due to white people, including white mainstream disability communities, gatekeeping disability, Black people are less likely to publicly claim disability for themselves. But only associating disability with its consequences or definitions under white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism does us and our ancestors a deep discredit, disservice and dishonor.

Despite being less likely to claim “disability,” even nondisabled Black people often have sophisticated and nuanced understandings of disability and dis/ableism. Black people have considered, navigated and grappled with disability and dis/ableism in our own ways, in our own languages and through our own mediums. This is seen through our narratives, organizing and art, among other places. Black people have developed and honed anti-ableist strategies and praxes often without explicitly naming disability or dis/ableism for centuries. Of course, in a great many other instances, Black organizers explicitly uplift disability, call out dis/ableism and name the genesis of much of the disability experienced within Black communities. Black people have always understood health, safety, self-determination, economic stability and freedom as inherently political.

Indeed, Black people have and continue to engage in some of the most innovative, far-reaching, path-breaking and impactful anti-ableist struggles of all time. For example, after emancipation, formerly enslaved people were still deprived of education, financial resources and access to social, legal and labor protections that were necessary to build “economic independence” and stability in a post-enslavement, capitalist agro-industrial economy. There was no wealth or resource redistribution, no land restitution, no family repatriation, and no reparations for cataclysmic violence notwithstanding hundreds of years of enslavement wherein enslaved people could possess nothing (themselves included), make no contract, nor keep profit from their own labor. Instead, they were left to organize and fend for themselves.

Formerly enslaved community organizers like Callie House — co-founder of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA) and political prisoner — were pathologized and criminalized for organizing mutual aid and demanding the federal government provide pensions to all formerly enslaved people, especially elder and disabled formerly enslaved people (and for publicly telling the truth about why formerly enslaved people were disabled, impoverished and without formal education). Power holders claimed that the pension movement was “setting the negroes wild … making anarchists of them.” House was incarcerated as a political prisoner in 1916, at which time the MRB&PA boasted of a 300,000-person membership.

Later, Black disabled organizer-activist and sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer created the Freedom Farm Cooperative to promote economic empowerment and development for poor Black farmers and sharecroppers; and Black disabled abolitionist Lois Curtis fought for her and thousands of disabled, elder, and other marginalized people’s freedom from institutions and receipt of home- and community-based services. Black disabled and nondisabled people’s fights for guaranteed income, unemployment benefits, fair minimum wage, universal high-quality health care; guaranteed high-quality food, housing and education; and abolition of all forms of incarceration, among other radical anti-ableist anti-capitalist demands, have benefited the nation in spite of itself. Modern guaranteed basic income programs and other abolitionist direct and mutual aid advocacy are still being organized by Black disabled and nondisabled people, building and expanding on our ancestors’ freedom and reparations dreams well into the 21st century.

Black nondisabled and disabled people have much to learn from and with one another; and Black disabled people are a wealth of knowledge all our own due to our unique lived experiences and perspectives. I hope this interview compels more conversation, strategizing and organizing that intentionally and explicitly center Black disabled people, especially those with additional marginalized identities. I cannot overstate how urgent and necessary this is at this particular moment in time.

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