Black disabled people must speak out about the oppression they continue to face, and they need new funding that goes “direct to the grassroots”, campaigners said this week.
The Disabled Black Lives Matter event was held to celebrate Black History Month, and to draw attention to the centuries of social and structural injustices and discrimination that black disabled people have faced as a result of “intersecting systems of oppression”.
Black disabled people have also been left behind by the failure of local authorities to cope with the intersectional discrimination they face and the refusal of successive governments to provide them with funding, the meeting heard.
The failure to listen to black disabled people’s voices is a human rights issue, one leading black disabled campaigner told the event, which was funded by Greenwich council and hosted by Culture Access, a community interest company that focuses on access to alternative culture.
Julie Jaye Charles (pictured, left), founder of the disabled people’s organisation Equalities National Council and a government adviser, told the event that she had faced discrimination throughout her life as a disabled person, as a black person and as a woman.
In 2011, she secured figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed how many BAME disabled people there were in each part of the country. It revealed that there were as many as 38,000 in one local authority.
But she said that many people providing services for local authorities were not trained to deal with this level and type of intersectionality, which had “left black disabled people behind”.
She said: “They have been left behind because the government has never resourced anything for us.”
Jaye Charles said she believed more research needed to be done on what it means to be a disabled person of colour, and there needed to be funding to allow black disabled people’s voices to be heard.
She said: “People are aware of what our needs are. We’ve been telling them for years.
“There’s been enough consultation, there’s been enough books written, we’ve gone on for years and years and years and I think the problem has definitely now become a human rights one.”
She spoke about her new social enterprise, Start Change, which will help promote change and allow black disabled people’s voices to be heard at a grassroots level.
She said: “It’s time now to pick up and say that black disabled people’s lives do matter.
“We are not alone. There are a lot of voices out there. There are a lot of views out there.
“I am so passionate about getting those views to come together and to start change once and for all.”
Viv Cameron (pictured, right), a retired barrister, said: “This can’t work top down. It must work from the grassroots up.”
She said funders must understand that their money is going “direct to the grassroots” so “they must have people from the grassroots on their boards”.
She said: “People from the grassroots need to speak out. You need not to be afraid. This is how voices get heard.
“You need to stand up for yourself, and that is extremely hard if you’re not a confident person.”
She also said it was vital to scrutinise the “money trail”, which can “disappear down an alleyway that never reaches a black person”.
She said: “My message in my local area is that funding must be fair.”
Yannick Nyah, a founding member and director of BME Volunteers, said it was important to “view people as people and view individuals as individuals”.
He called for a “complete culture change” and for action on the lack of representation of disabled black people on the boards of local organisations.
Maya Schersmith-Meikle spoke of her experiences studying digital film production at Ravensbourne University in south-east London.
Schersmith-Meikle, who has made a short film about the barriers facing young disabled women, told the meeting: “It’s OK to be different and we all matter, no matter what.
“Just listen to us, that’s all we want, for anyone to listen and understand where we are coming from, and that will make a difference.”