White People with Disabilities — We Must Show Up for Black Lives

by Amanda Stahl, SURJ Disability Access Co-Coordinator

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is supporting the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) actions tomorrow, June 19th, and over the weekend to demand all levels of government defund the police, invest in Black communities, and force Trump to resign.

We as white folks with disabilities must show up in this moment with Black disabled folks and examine the police state that we are living in. As white disabled folks, we are called to put these connections together and take action to further our collective liberation.

50 percent of black men killed by the police are disabled. Police use their medical conditions as justification for violence against them. In the most extreme cases, this results in death. Many Black disabled folks don’t have the privilege to speak openly about their disabled identity because of the already-perceived threat that their Blackness brings. Putting another label on them makes them even more of a target.

Police are funded by the state, and disabled people have survived and tried to heal through state violence for decades and decades. We, as disabled folks, rely on public programs such as Medicaid and Medicare to assist in living our daily lives. The state has chosen not to fund these programs in the way we need. Other state-run institutions, such as the educational system, also affect people with disabilities. Black students are twice as likely to be classified as intellectually disabled over their white classmates, based on the IQ test. This IQ test is still used in many states today to justify need of care, such as special education. The special education system feeds into both the school to prison pipeline, and the pipeline to the court system.

At the age of 18, people are granted their guardianship immediately. However, in the case of those with disabilities, specifically those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their caregivers are encouraged to go to court and revoke the person’s right to their own guardianship. Then, by a judge’s order, the disabled individuals are deemed incompetent and will be claimed legally disabled. At this point, the disabled individual cannot give consent for their own decisions. While most parents/guardians have the greatest intentions, they often don’t realize the lasting impact of getting your guardianship taken away. There are no open records detailing the number of people affected in this way, as they are considered health records, and therefore confidential. The court system as we know it is racist and ableist.

When disabled people do typical things, it is seen as an act of civil disobedience. For example, when disabled people get together without being supervised by able-bodied people, that is seen as an act of resistance. State violence is located in the police force, but also in our schools and nursing homes. Disabled people are only able to leave these homes under strict rules and supervision. We, as disabled people, know that we need assistance with day to day life skills, however, we do not need our bodies to be policed and controlled the way that they are. People with disabilities don’t have the privilege to make mistakes. If they do, they lose privileges, which is what happens in Black communities as well. If one wrong decision is made, our ability to make decisions as a whole is questioned.

The system is ableist and racist. It’s all about compliance and control of the body. The state does not fund these programs that people with disabilities need, and instead fund the police force and the military. This leads to abuse and neglect, and lack of choice in what we can do. This leads to people being numbers and not people. It is a profit-based system.

Society has the best intentions of wanting to protect disabled folks. As a result, they end up hurting us because they disconnect us from our communities. We need to build better social networks and social support for people. The state tries to separate marginalized people by saying that we need different things. We all need the same things, like emotional support. We are stronger together, but they are trying to keep us separated. When we are together then we have more power. We must realize that the way that society polices people in the Black and disabled communities is not by accident. They make profit off of their policing.They profit off policing the bodies of all marginalized people.

The questions are: What is policing of the body? What does policing the body look like? It involves more than just the police force. Policing of the body is white supremacy and it’s in our mutual interest to dismantle it.

Now that you have some new information, here are some steps that you can take to support Black Disabled Lives and join this work for the long haul:

1. Share this piece on social media with the hashtags:


2. Post and comment about the connections you experience between ableism and white supremacy.

3. Join the #SixNineteen mobilization on Juneteenth weekend, June 19–21, 2020. Take action in front of the White House, in your community, or at home.

4. Join Showing Up for Racial Justice — we are building a base of white people with disabilities who are showing up to dismantle white supremacy. Join us by signing up and we’ll be in touch about ways to build with us for the long-haul.

Showing Up for Racial Justice works to bring more white people and majority-white communities into multi-racial, anti-racist movements for justice. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.



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