He’s Fighting Black Disability Rights Issues That Date Back To Enslavement

persons living with disability at the global disability summit in ghana
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
June 15, 2022

Content Warning: This story contains descriptions of anti-Black violence.

“You can cooperate and get out of the car or I'll drag you out of the car,” screamed the police officer. Instinctively, Clifford Owensby gripped the steering wheel. 

Within seconds, the officer flung the door open, grabbed Owensby by his locs, and forcefully yanked him out of the car, dragging him across the pavement!

When the officer first instructed Owensby to get out of his car, he clearly stated the truth: he’s a paraplegic and could not get out. He requested assistance from a police supervisor. Instead, he was assaulted!

Violence against Black people with disabilities isn’t new. It impacts all of us – and it has, at least since enslavement.

Enslaved Africans were brutally punished, and many became disabled from their injuries. Punishment ranged from disfiguring scars to limbs being cut off.

For those born with mental or physical disabilities, enslavers were especially cruel. Enraged that their “uselessness” kept them from laboring in the fields, they were “punished” or killed.

At one point, race scientists even labeled being Black itself a disability!

Roughly 6 million Black Americans are disabled. Disabilities can be mental or physical, and are not necessarily visible or obvious. 

Eventually most of us will face disability – whether from birth, from an accident, or from old age. We must make our fight for liberation accessible to ALL Black people, including the disabled!

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