Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Preparing A Lecture on African Americans with Disabilities in the 21st Century: A Few Random Thoughts

                            Delores Fisher

How does one choose and cultivate identity when emerging from complex realities that defy stereotypical definitions of self hood? Where does one find how to “be” in today’s technological electronic miasma? 

What happens to the “me” of my life when I realize a nebulous sense of not belonging, an intersection of multiple realities[i] with a pinch of additional apparent quirkiness attached to my marginalized physical presence which does not graph onto the surface of twenty first century being that embodies the beautiful “it"? 

Sadly, our most best friend at dawn’s light and day’s night--the Internet-- has become a hotbed pillow talk companion for oppressive/aggressive Antonin Artaud theater of cruelty.[ii] It’s common place now. We are each other’s objects. Perhaps . . .

 Alternative bloggers work to inoculate against such objectification. We sweat to create a space, a nurturing ground of dialogue in which to discuss/touch complex real lives. An Internet space is being forged to provide contemporary North American and diasporic Blacks with disabilities whose lived experiences extend beyond pop culture's common caricatures and simplified broadcast media’s docu-histories conflated images that mold us into one monolithic, uni-dimensional African American presence.  

True, twenty first African Americans have some commonalities, share a few similar world views across, class, gender, religious beliefs, and political ideologies; however, despite pop culture representations, African Americans with disabilities are a diverse people with layers of difference at the intersection of gender, spirituality, disability, class, age and yes, race.
Granted, our able bodied/people with disability conscious culture warriors like Tavis Smilely and other Black journalist/ commentators Soledad O'brien and Don Lemon, project images counter to biased “cookie cutter” racialized essences. Add able bodied/ people with disability conscious culture  talk and entertainment culture warriors—Kevin Frazier, Wendy Williams, Queen Latifah, Byron Allen, and Arsenio Hall, (Thank you soooooo very much Arsenio for returning to late night TV. It was brief but beautiful)---are conscious disruptors of who and what we should say, do, and be. It is refreshing.

Reality television programs and a plethora of Internet sites also provide alternative Black presences. They rarely address disability. Many of these fictive, often negative, stereotype-affirming productions result unfortunately, in uncritical binge watching and praise for extreme, exotic, spectacular lives. The fleshed out T.V. personas fulfill a role model function for impressionable youth and young adults who look for an identity to define themselves, imitative the fictive media personas playing the screen “dozens” in  our twenty-first century "screen image as sign must = who you are" world. 

And for young African Americans with few role models or stereotypes with disabilities . . . to paraphrase Gil Scott Heron “their revolutionary identity search just ain’t being televised.”[iii]

Internet videographers and bloggers like me try to contribute oppositional inclusive conversations on our electronic discursive learning field. Easy access fairly inexpensive mobile multiple media technology with tap screen App specific "portals" provide a rich landscape into which to deposit counter images that present a futuristic image or two of possibility to potentially dispel caricatures, confirm commonalities beyond degrading demonized stereotypes while affirming difference.  It’s a new frontier for Afrofuturists to manifest community. A New World A Comin’ at last?[iv]
Are we succeeding? Hmm . . . . .

A friend once said, “But Delores . . . there's a little bit of truth in all stereotypes. That's how they are created." I wanted to remind him that stereotypes can be negative, positive, and on occasion, neutral. Have we all really chosen to expect life’s reality to reveal a lurking malevalent dark side to everything? Perhaps I’m over reacting, past specters, “haints” echoes of Black folks who already left the quarters.[v]
But let me ask . . . . 

What determines pop culture fascination with either exotically different or cosmetically acceptable people with disabilities in general? Why is there an ongoing historic absence of images that reflect diversity within the disabled community’s diversity, excluding medical texts, film, fiction, news and television broadcasts?[vi]
Lastly who has vested interest in maintaining “the absence?”
When I limp down an urban street, no matter how well dressed, why is it that mainly majority culture people walking towards me occupying the entire sidewalk do one of three things if I look in their direction as I approach? 1. glare/stare 2. smile uncomfortably, 3. grudgingly move to one side, clutch their purses or place their hands over their hip pockets, 4. walk into me hard enough to push me off balance as I try to make my body as small as possible to share the sidewalk?

I used to think perhaps it is race based behavior. Our conversation didn’t exactly go like this, but I do remember the subtext in my mind when one friend suggested:

“It’s not all race based. . .  “You are Black. You do use a cane. In a small isolated space, or on an urban street at night, canes are potential weapons. Of course people feel threatened.” As I, an older female adult limpingly leaning on my support, walk towards majority culture people . . . my cane and I become transmorphed, a unified entity, a Black ominous weapon. [vii]
Did I not mention that this takes place on open city streets and in sunny daylight too? Ouch!!!!

Well, here’s a few newly discovered sites that are creating that space I mentioned earlier:

Afrofuturist along with insightful traditional scholars, bloggers, and just plain folks are making that space. In the vernacular “They be talkin.”

Some acquaintances say that I should less reactive, ignore my discomfort, "Toughen up because we all have challenges." That's just life. "Go with the flow." But it’s cumulative years of micro-aggressions that’s irritating.[viii]The above resources prove that to remain crippled, invisible and . . . silent is not my only Afrofuturist twenty first century option. 

A little random angst on a Tuesday San Diego morning,
Delores Fisher

End Notes

[i] See Margaret Wangui Murugami “ Disability and Identity” Disability Studies Quarterly: The First Journal in the Field of Disability Studies. 29 No.4, (2009): NP. Also see Elias Mpofu and Debra A. Harley: Racial and Disability Identity Implications for the Career Counseling of African Americans With Disabilities, RCB 50,  No.1 (2006): 14-23.
[ii]Antonin Artaud and James O. Morgan  “ The Theater and Its Double” Tulane Drama Review vol.2 # 3 (MIT Press, 1958). Translation from French to English is by James O. Morgan.
[iii] A reference to Gil Scott Heron’s spoken word piece: “The Revolution Will Not Be televised”
[iv] Roi Ottley. A New World A-Comin: Inside Black America. (Boston:Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1943.)
[v] A nod to Mark Fisher. The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology” dance cult: Journal of Electronic Music Culture, Special Issue on Afrofuturism. 5, no.2 (2013): 42-55.
[vi] Topics and issues that surfaced in a post-secondary graduate class at San Diego State University taught by Dr. Bill Piland circa 2003
[vii] Yea, it’s an Afrofuturism alien-alienation-tecno reference :   1980s transformers cartoon shows and its recent film revenant   
[viii] Thanks to Dr. Sharon Elise, CSU San Marcos and other presenters at the at the 2013 CFA Equity conference for expanding my concept of aggressions and oppression. http://www.calfac.org/equity-conference

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