Tag Archives: disability

Race, Disability and Denial

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.
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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? Continue reading

We All Walk in Different Shoes: Kenneth Cole’s New Campaign Steps Ahead

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

A few weeks ago, while walking along the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a well-known strip for the burgeoning fashionista or the credit card terrorist, I stopped dead in my tracks. Though normally oblivious to any movement around me on the streets near my office, especially as most of the foot traffic in midtown is comprised of the steps of awed tourists or jaded ladies who lunch, the one story-tall photo to my right as I approached the corner of 49th street compelled me to give pause. I had been rendered still by the image of a South Asian-American man dressed in red, black, and white wearing a turban. His right hand lifted to adjust his sunglasses in cool indifference, the handsome face was an unusual one—at least to be seen on an advertisement on Fifth Avenue.

Upon closer inspection, I learned the name of the bearer of these model good looks. “SONNY CABERWAL,” the sign read, “PRACTICING SIKH AND ENTREPRENEUR SPEAKING OUT AGAINST RACIAL PROFILING.” Caberwal, the North Carolina-born Duke University and Georgetown Law graduate and owner of Tavalon Tea Bar in New York City, was part of Kenneth Cole’s new campaign “We All Walk in Different Shoes.”

Cole, a New York based fashion designer known for his humanitarian efforts and philanthropy, was the first member of the fashion community to enlist in the global fight against HIV/AIDS in 1985, a time when little was known about the virus and even less was known about the people struggling to survive it. Cole decided to base his current campaign on the motto “25 years of non-uniform thinking” and what has become his most famous mantra:

“What you stand for is more important than what you stand in. To be aware is more important than what you wear.”

Via the Kenneth Cole website, one can learn about the individual participants in the campaign, all activists in their own right, ranging from the stories of partners – one a married lesbian couple, another a film-making duo comprised of an Israeli and a Palestinian—to the powerful stories of individuals, including those of Caberwal, whom I mentioned previously, Regan Hoffman, the HIV+ Editor-in-Chief of POZ Magazine, Aimee Mullins, Paralympic athlete and actor, and Patrick Sammon, the President of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group for conservative gays and lesbians. The real-life models for this campaign are of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, levels of physical ability, sexual orientations, and political leanings, but exist as evidence that anyone can look good in Kenneth Cole.

Though cynics could easily argue that this is simply an attempt by the Kenneth Cole label team to garner attention for their wares, the campaign takes the fashion industry a few steps ahead, primarily because it not only lends itself to encouraging activism and social progress, but also because it blatantly acknowledges that one can receive attention for a clothing or accessories line without relying solely upon an emaciated and predominately white fleet of models. I stopped in my tracks that day on Fifth Avenue because I was so shocked to see an Asian-American male involved in a fashion ad, but I still noticed the clothes. Despite what seems to be a popular belief in the fashion industry, his tan skin did not take attention away from the impact of the colors and fabrics upon it. Nor did Delmon Dunston’s wheelchair distract me from noticing his electric blue sleeveless shirt. In fact, his wheelchair, with its silver and black casing, allowed for a more dynamic color contrast. The clothing and accessories were enhanced by the models Cole’s team had chosen.

So as thousands of designers and modeling agencies around the globe continue to reject models of color, of size, or of varied physical abilities, Cole has provided his buying audience, or even those who just stop to admire the advertisements as art pieces, the opportunity to judge beauty for themselves.

To read more about the models chosen for this campaign, please click here.

Introduction to Degrassi: The Next Generation

by guest contributor Jasmine

When I first started watching “Degrassi Jr. High” back in 1987 at the age of 11, I never thought I’d still be watching it 20 years later. But I am, and I most likely always will. The allure of Degrassi the first and its subsequent series’, “Degrassi High” and its current incarnation “Degrassi: The Next Generation” has, for me, been this: real kids with real problems. Certainly, I enjoyed “Beverly Hills 90210″ and “Gossip Girl” like most other people, but it’s hard even to escape into those fantasy worlds when the kids are played by actors well into their 30′s, or throw back martinis at hotel bars like so much diet coke.

And don’t even get me started on the largely silent Asian and Black girl duo of “Gossip Girl” who the clever ladies at Disgrasian have christened “The Haragossip Girls” (see explanation here). It kills me to see two lovely actresses being relegated to the background like tokens. I don’t know if it would be better or worse if they were never there at all. I should know better — I grew up on the fringes of that world. The world of Upper East Side independent schools (hardly anyone says “private school” and nobody says “prep school” except on TV) was, in my time wealthy and White, and being there was walking in a WASP-y wonderland.

But before I start working out my psychological issues, you should meet Manny. Manny is a senior at Degrassi Community School. She’s co-captain of the spirit squad, is an aspiring actress, and has been flirting with Damien, one of the many students from Lakehurst currently attending Degrassi after their own school burned down. Manny is Asian (Filipina, to be exact), and rocking some serious blonde hair. Damian is Black, totally sweet, and pretty hot. They make a cute couple. Their story is one of many stories that paint a portrait of a complex, diverse community that just happens to be made up of young people.

Degrassi’s profile in the States has been elevated recently. Now in its seventh season, the kids of Degrassi have been given a home not just on The N (the evening programming component of children’s network Noggin) but are also on MTV. Its young stars manage to turn in real performances even while they’re appearing on TRL or in a mall near you. It’s proof that you don’t have to be White or straight (three regular characters and one supporting are queer) or able-bodied (multiple characters have dealt with mental health issues, while main character Jimmy is paralyzed due to a gun shot wound) to have a legitimate story. I know this must sound like a big downer, and it probably would be, except that these are kids and they do funny kid stuff like have wet dreams, go on awful dates, get detention, steal their parents’ cars, study, eat terrible cafeteria food, and all the other things that kids do. This could be all be terribly American except that the show is based, and has always been produced, in Canada. It’s kids stuff that any adult could enjoy.

My only complaint is that The N will not always show every single episode, censoring itself for American eyes when it needen’t bother. Why keep two episodes dealing with a character’s abortion off the air but go ahead and show a three episode arc dealing with an outbreak of chlamydia? Thank goodness the show’s out on DVD. While you catch up on past seasons, check out season seven, airing Friday nights at 8ET/7CT on The N.