Nothing To See Here: When being Black and Disabled Means Doubly Invisible
By DeShanna Neal
“Your disability is too much of a burden for our company. We’re sorry, but we have to let you go.”
My disability. As I sat back against my headboard, I rolled the thought through my mind.
I worked from home. From the comfort of my bed when needed and yet, My disability™ was a burden…to them (the company). I had to mull that over. And over. And over again. What had changed? There was the fact that I had begun speaking out more about organized, systemic racism in the workplace. I became frustrating. Then I became sick and my disability along with my mouth grew into a burden for the organization.
I no longer have value or worth
So when they say My disability, they are saying Me. I have become a burden to the organization. I no longer have value or worth. And all because my mind caught on and my body broke down. I wish I could have been surprised, but as a Black person in America, discriminatory practices are commonplace for me.
This country is built on the backs of my enslaved ancestors and it is well documented that when a slave could not work anymore due to old age, illness, or any disability, their lives no longer mattered. As stated in the article A Hidden Black History / Fresh voices tell unknown stories of special experiences “Under slavery, having a healthy mind and body was the key to survival. Masters viewed disabled slaves as a burden and usually killed them…”
I am still a person with feelings and needs
Now we’ve moved on from killing Black workers for being disabled (or have we?) but that doesn’t mean when there aren’t new ways to destroy their lives and leave them disenfranchised. I am well aware of the treatment of those with disabilities, especially invisible illnesses like fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and so many others. I suffer from severe chronic migraines that often leave me with other symptoms that make it harder for me to perform. Yet, for the most part, with physical therapy and medications, I am capable and even if I wasn’t, I am still a person with feelings and needs. My disability doesn’t make me less than others.
But, as I learned after trying to find other jobs and explaining my limitations, my body was not fit for even a desk position. Now I not only faced being passed up because I am a Black woman, but now my body is not up to par. Nothing is worse than a Black, disabled woman. I might as well be as invisible as my illness. So like my ancestors, to survive in a world that already pretends my Blackness doesn’t exist, I often hide my disability. Some days are easier than others however, the constant pretense wrecks havoc on my mental health and emotional labor.
I’ve slowly begun pushing for more discussion about Blackness and disability. A chapter in Intersectionality that is often skipped. Myself and other Black folx living with a chronic illness, mental health issue, or visible illness are worth seeing. Worth knowing. Worth thriving.
Reference: A Hidden Black History / Fresh voices tell unknown stories of special experiences by Leroy F. Moore Jr.
Hear more from DeShanna here.