by Guest Contributor A. Rahman Ford
Although I have been both black and disabled my entire life, for years I lied to myself about being disabled. I could appreciate the pride that accompanied the black experience, the historic and perpetual triumphs and tragedies that inspire the progress of a people. But disability was different. Disability was a curse much worse than the curse of Ham, and instead of accepting it I fled into a lie of being someone I could never be and should have never wanted to be. I became a victim of an able-bodied orthodoxy, one memorialized into my memory, derived from the seeds of my lived experiences and the veil of myths through which those experiences are strained. I believe we all succumb to societal orthodoxies in some way, because the procurement of favor demands it and it allows us to live without troublesome confusion. But for many of us, orthodoxies become a memorial, a shine at which we pray and to which we cling, all the while privately acknowledging that the shrine is not of our making, not to our liking and that it segregates and kills us very casually, very privately and very slowly. This photo helped free me from my denial.
Feeling starved, sunken, gaunt and untouchable, I long held certain conceptions of who or what I had and wanted to be, but could not, and thus did my best to hide it from others and myself. For me, poverty is fundamentally about not only the absence of choices, the impossibility of choices and the consequences of that impossibility. I decided to take this photo as a challenge to myself to confront the poverty of my own body and to better understand the costs of my negotiations with my own public and private identities. Many of us fear how easily we parade and perpetuate our public selves, while at the same time fearing the vulnerable, deviant and shameful self we can only be in private. When I saw the photo for the first time I was both shocked and surprised because even though I had lived with that person my entire life, I could never before accept how spent he was. Nothing had ever frightened me more than having to face the nakedness of my own indigence.