Black disabled people must organise a protest to draw attention to their continuing “invisibility” and the multi-layered discrimination they face, according to a leading disabled black activist.
Julie Jaye Charles spoke out this week in the wake of mass protests across the UK by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Those protests – and others across the world – have reflected the outrage felt at the continuing discrimination experienced by black communities, following the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, USA.
Jaye Charles (pictured) called for a protest as leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) released statements expressing solidarity with BLM.
She has been calling for more than three decades for proper funding for black disabled people’s organisations.
Now she has written to the prime minister and the Government Equalities Office – and the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the government’s Disability Unit – to highlight yet again “the invisibility of black disabled people”.
And she has called for a protest march to highlight the ongoing discrimination faced by black and other minority ethnic disabled people in the UK, in areas such as service provision, housing, immigration, education and access to information, as well as the “vast amount of black men in the criminal justice system and mental health system”.
She said: “I know that if we were to march, others would march with us.”
She said she was convinced that the BLM movement and non-BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) disabled activists would march alongside BAME disabled people if a protest was organised.
She told DNS: “We have got to rise up because our lives matter. It’s time now. Enough people have suffered.
“If we are talking about injustice, this is injustice.”
But she also pointed out that black disabled people sometimes faced discrimination within their own community.
She said: “But when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, they will definitely come in solidarity.
“If they know about it, they will do what needs to be done.”
Only two months ago, Jaye Charles told the annual Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) national conference that she was setting up a new organisation of BAME disabled people, Start Change: The People’s Council.
She said then that Start Change would enable BAME disabled people “to have our own voices, to get our own views and voices heard” and to co-produce policy “so that we are not ignored by government”.
But Start Change has yet to secure any funding and this week Jaye Charles has been putting together a funding application for a new UK-wide network, Black Disabled Lives Matter, under the Start Change umbrella.
She told DNS: “We are a hidden part of society. There needs to be a collective voice now.”
She said the British government had just “stood by and watched” as black disabled people’s organisations have “disappeared” through lack of funding over the last decade.
And she said that recommendations from a 2012 report* (PDF) by the organisation she founded, Equalities National Council, and Scope, had been ignored, including its call for the government to draw up a plan to address the needs of disabled people from BAME communities.
The report was debated in the House of Lords in January 2013, with both BAME and disabled peers speaking, including Lord Ouseley, Lord Boateng, Baroness Masham and Lord Low.
Jaye Charles said the failure to act on the report was “just another beating”, and “that it demonstrated the discrimination that disabled BAME people still experience and will always experience unless our lives matter too”.
Meanwhile, other disabled people’s organisations have spoken out in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK)’s chief executive, Kamran Mallick, was one of those to express support for BLM.
In a statement, he pointed out that black disabled adults faced more barriers to accessibility than all other ethnic groups in areas including education, employment and leisure, while black disabled people “have the most trouble accessing the support services they need, resulting in poorer life outcomes across the board”.
He said he was “not ok with disabled black people being less visible, less heard and less represented in society”.
Mallick said: “Black people have endured less opportunity, more oppression, a denial of rights, the fruits of ignorance, and the outcomes of hatred, both overt and covert, both personal and institutional, for too long. Disabled people have endured the same.”
He said he had experienced both racism and disablism and had made it his mission to include more people of colour at DR UK when he took over as chief executive.
A third of its operational workforce now come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, as well as a fifth of its trustees, and a quarter of its ambassadors.
Mallick said: “We are acutely aware of the strength needed by people who have to deal with the double-burden of ableism and racism in society.”
He said DR UK was committed to providing services within BAME communities, giving platforms to BAME disabled people, listening to, employing and working with BAME disabled people, and lobbying government to publish more transparent and accessible data on disability, with greater detail about ethnic groups.
The disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida (SoF) also expressed its solidarity with BLM, and – like Julie Jaye Charles – pointed out that racism and disablism were “intertwined”.
SoF said in a statement: “From deaths in custody to the hostile environment, from the school exclusions to austerity policies, black lives and, in particular, black disabled lives, are devalued by systemic and structural racism and ableism.
“The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare health inequalities in the UK: black people are four times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people and deaths of people with learning difficulties have gone up by 134 per cent during the pandemic.
“We fight for a world where black disabled women are valued, cherished and can thrive in our communities.”
Inclusion London expressed solidarity with BLM and committed to “understanding, addressing the needs and amplifying the voices of disabled people who experience intersectional exclusion and discrimination” and to “working in solidarity with our sister user-led BAME organisations fighting for equality and justice”.
It pledged to set up a new intersectional advisory group of disabled people who themselves experience intersectional exclusion and discrimination.
This group will work with Inclusion London to co-produce a programme of intersectional work over the next three years that will “seek to understand and meet the needs, and amplify the voice, of disabled people who experience intersectional exclusion”.
It also pledged to work with disabled staff within DPOs who experience intersectional exclusion to provide training, support and networking opportunities so those DPOs can improve their support for disabled BAME, LGBTQ+ and women staff.
Another DPO to express solidarity with BLM was The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE).
In a statement, ALLFIE condemned “all forms of violence, abuse, injustice and demand everyone has a right to be respected and free from discrimination”.
It highlighted how reports had shown that the education system had “disproportionately failed disabled black children and young people in the UK”.
It was another DPO to stress the importance of an intersectional approach, pledging to do “much more work to ensure we are not mutually exclusive in our work and don’t view ‘disability’ as a single issue”.
It has produced a series of videos of black disabled campaigners to show solidarity with BLM “but also recognise the voices and contributions” of disabled black people to its own campaign for human rights.
*Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change: how services can better support BME disabled people
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