I never really thought about my disability as being a feminist issue until I had my daughter a year ago. For me, my brand of feminism has always been about eradicating the negative stereotypes of Black women perpetuated by a white hegemonic society. Please don’t misunderstand me, I have always been aware of the fact that having epilepsy and partial paralysis further marginalizes my status as “other” in this country, however my plight as a differently abled individual just never quite measured up to my condition of being Black and female.
All of this changed July 4, 2015. The day my daughter was born was also the day that I woke up so to speak as to the issues plaguing differently abled women/mothers in America today. Before that day the only person I was responsible for was myself. But now I was responsible for another human being. Of course I had the ordinary questions and concerns that every first time mother struggles with: how will I change her diapers, feed her, or give her a bath? But also I wondered and worried about my daughter’s future and the questions she would ask once she realized the differences between my body and hers:“Mommy what’s wrong with your hand? Why can’t you make it straight?” And I thought about her friends as she got older. Would they make fun of her for having a mother who was “handicapped?” My identity as a disabled person has always been something I could handle. Even when I was in the sixth grade and the boy I liked called me robo arm, I remained strong and told myself that I was too good for him anyway. But how would I help my daughter? It’s hard enough trying to explain to those of a mature age who are of normative-abled bodies exactly what it means to get through the everyday when one is differently abled. How would I explain it to my child?
As I sit here I realize that I still don’t have the answers. I guess that I try to remain strong and explain that “normal” is a relative concept and that even though mommy looks different than other mommies it doesn’t mean that I can’t do all of the things that they can do. But that answer seems too simple for me in dealing with the struggles I’ve experienced before and since becoming a mother. My identity as a differently abled person does not define me. It is merely one standpoint of various subject positions I shift in and out of on a daily basis. This is what feminist disability research and activism has taught me. It has taught me that even though I may experience challenges, and even though those with normative abled bodies may not understand, my identity as a differently abled person does not stop me from living a normal life. I can be a great mother, daughter, sister, partner, etc. just as I am. I may face challenges that are contrary to what others may deal with, and my day to day may have to be tweaked a little from that of others, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t accomplish anything I set out to.
Though I am becoming more aware and knowledgeable about my status as a disabled person, I have to say that it is frustrating that disability continues to remain an invisible issue within the Black community as well as Black feminism. Sure you may find one or two books here and there, but nothing mainstream. l am both amazed and appalled by the lack of literature written as to the topic of intersectionality in terms of race, sex, class, and disability. Black feminism as well as womanism have yet, it seems, to make any convincing strides in discussing disability/different ability as it correlates to race, gender, and sex. Race and gender and the ways in which they are characterized and perpetuated by privileged culture have always been the main concern of Black feminism. I think that the reason I never really thought of my body (dis)abilities as a feminist concern is because Black feminism has yet to recognize it as a concern either. We as a culture and community have fought so hard in the past to eradicate oppression, objectification and marginalization as it concerns race and gender that even considering other ways in which we struggle often times remain invisible.
Also, it seems that sometimes we are so hard-pressed to focus on the ways in which we differ from white women and mainstream feminism that we forget that there are struggles to which we have in common. The division of white from black created a feminism that is constructed around the philosophy of us vs. them, and for Black women disability feminism is more of a them than an us. So where does that leave me? I am a Black woman, better yet, a Black feminist who believes in all of the things that Black feminist thought strives to achieve, but I am also a differently abled person struggling to re-articulate the ways normative culture perceives my physical identity.
Therefore I remain, as many of us do when it comes to situating our own identity to that of the rest of the world, in constant crisis as to who I am as a woman/feminist/mother. I know who I want to be, who I want my daughter to see, and who I want the world to see compared to who I actually am, but sometimes getting all of these identities to flow together can be a bit troubling. Nothing is ever solved over night. It will take some time for me to become fully comfortable with my identity as a differently abled woman/mother, even longer to understand my plight as a tri-marginalized individual of Black, female, and differently abled, and possibly even longer than that to make the Black community fully aware of its responsibility to those of us whose bodies aren’t quite “normal.” But I will get there one day at a time!