I know that navigating intersections is hard, especially when you have privilege in one area and are oppressed in another. First, we need to remember it is not nearly as hard as living at the intersections of oppression. We also need to be excruciatingly honest with ourselves (and each other) about how these factors influence us at each time and place we occupy. As a white person, I will never be fully successful at interrogating my own white privilege and how I am complicit in systems of white supremacy, but I can sure as hell try.
As a disabled person, my ability to work to dismantle these structures will fluctuate, as do my pain and energy levels (or in chronic illness parlance “spoons”). I want to share some things I’ve learned with my fellow sick and disabled white folks to help us put the maximum amount of energy behind anti-racist work while still respecting the fact that our bodies aren’t necessarily able to do some of the things that abled bodies can.
1. Be honest with ourselves about what we can do.
As I mentioned above, we need to be honest with ourselves about our abilities at any given time. I don’t mean this as an excuse to get out of doing the work – I mean the opposite. As white folks we need to understand that historically (and today) we have used every excuse in the book to try to get out of doing this work and putting the burden back on people of color. I know firsthand that disability is not an “excuse” – nor am I classifying it as one – but I can speak from my own experience that at times I could have put more energy into this work but prioritized other things.
And if you don’t have any spoons besides those needed for your own healing right now, please respect your body’s limits. Your disabled body is important! Try not to waste any energy on guilt or self-flagellation because that is not useful either.
It’s a delicate balance, and I fuck it up all the time, but being honest with myself and prioritizing anti-racist work has helped me move closer to genuinely doing what I am able without getting sicker. (I will never be perfect at this, and will sometimes do too much and sometimes do too little – and so will you – but we can keep trying.) Essentially, if we can show up for ADAPT, we can show up for the Movement for Black Lives.
2. Remember we are needed.
As people that benefit from white supremacy, we are the ones who need to dismantle it. As sick and disabled people, we have an important perspective that we can use to help movements be more accessible to all. We also possess creativity in strategizing how to fight on different fronts. Think about the brilliance and important work done by groups like ACT-UP and ADAPT. Sick and disabled people get shit done all the time!
Obviously as white folks we should focus on supporting the disabled and non-disabled Black, Indigenous, and people of color who are leading these movements. But our disabilities are an asset to the work we take on, not a detriment — even if it means we can’t participate in many of the ways we are asked to.
3. Be creative.
Resistance comes in many forms. As sick and disabled folks we know what it feels like to have our bodies be thought of as disposable (though our white privilege may insulate us from some of the consequences). We can talk with each other and strategize about how we can be most useful while respecting our bodies’ boundaries at any given moment. If you are too anxious to show up at a rally, maybe you can make signs that someone else can drop off for you. There are so many possibilities! Every person’s accessibility needs are different, which is why creativity is so important.
4. Approach accessibility issues thoughtfully.
While everything should be accessible, we know that it’s not. Inaccessibility is not okay! However, I do think as white people we need to be thoughtful about how we respond to inaccessibility in different circumstances. For example, as a queer white disabled person, I am going to respond to the same inaccessibility issue differently at Pride than I would at a Black Lives Matter fundraiser. Where Pride organizers may get a strongly worded email, the fundraiser may get an offer to help with accessibility planning (if I am able). Nuance (and positionality) is important.
More Radical Reads: At the Intersection of White Privilege and Disability
As I was in the middle of working on this piece, a friend shared a Frida Kahlo quote that perfectly encapsulates so much of what this piece is about (except much more brilliantly, obviously): “I must fight with all my strength so that the little positive things that my health allows me to do might be pointed toward helping the revolution. The only real reason for living.” Essentially, we should follow the lead of disabled people of color and learn from their daily resistance against not only ableism, but white supremacy too.
[Featured Image: A person with light skin and blonde hair sits cross-legged in bed as they work on a laptop. They sit on white bedding while wearing a white cardigan over a dark shirt, white or light-wash denim jeans, and a long dangly necklace. Source: Pexels]