Disability & Music

by Guest Contributor Bianca I. Laureano

I can’t remember where I was or whom I was with when I heard and realized that we are all temporarily able-bodied. I’m sure it was this decade, perhaps 2003, because I really had not thought about my privilege as an able-bodied person until I began my graduate work and met Angel, a woman in my cohort who was focusing on women of Color with disabilities. I also didn’t think about it until I lost one of my abilities.

Being trained as a scholar specializing in intersectional theory and thought, disability was a “difference” rarely mentioned and discussed unless Angel brought it up. We can see the continued absence and exclusion of people with disabilities in popular culture. Yet, if they are present, we mostly see how people with disabilities are considered anything but “normal,” and usually there is a level of wanting to find a “cure” to become “normal.”

What would images that view disability as a social construction look like? How can those of us who are educators incorporate discussions of disability into our teaching? Where are resources for us? How can we use popular culture when we teach about disability?

In response to these questions, my small cohort of friends and scholars working within an intersectional framework started to share resources. I’ve spoken with Angel about the song “Blind Mary” by Gnarls Barkley and how there are positive aspects of the song and some problematic areas, yet it is one of the better teaching tools involving music we have to show how disability is a social construction.

Last week Angel shared two YouTube videos with us that focused on disability in Zimbabwe and Lebanon. Her friend who runs the website Krip Hop Nation where you can find information about hip-hop artists with disabilities around the world, shared with her these videos. The videos center respect and acceptance of all bodies and the messages in the videos are powerful.

The first clip is part of a documentary in progress about an Afro-fusion band from Zimbabwe named Liyana. The documentary’s working title is “iThemba: My Hope,” directed by Roger Ross Williams. Liyana are touring in the United States and their full touring schedule can be viewed here. Unfortunately, this film does not have full translation. Here is a clip from the film called Liyana: The Band.

The second film is a music video directed by Rania Rafei and is part of the Sprout Touring Film Festival which focuses on films about developmental disabilities.

This video is called Difference Is Normal, which uses hip hop to share the collective testimonies of youth in the Arab world. There is a discussion of the youth led filming and writing of lyrics for the film at the Sprout Touring Film Festival site. Today, their work has expanded as war has lead to more people living with disabilities. The video includes English translation.

How do you see these films being utilized to expand our understanding of difference? In what ways can we implement an intersectional framework to discuss able-bodied privilege through popular culture?