Get in loser, we’re doing neuroexpansive shit!
What’s the Word? Neuroexpansive. Coined by Ngozi Alston (@ngwagwa), neuroexpansive is an invitation to think about our differences and disabilities as an expansion, rather than a divergence, of human experience.
What We’re Reading. Black Disability Politics by Sami Schalk. Schalk contextualizes how Black people have enacted Black disability politics across time in our liberation movements and lays out the four common qualities of Black disability politics that all Black people must engage in.
What In the World?! In this segment, Alyssa and Brendane talk about the liberal security theater of this “post”-pandemic AAA Annual Meeting, the not-so-casual ableism in Black families, the eugenicist and ableist conversation in Love Is Blind, neurodivergence in the trenches, and losing community and access in the downfall of Twitter.
Sorry again about Alyssa’s audio, she’ll be back in New York for episode 8 without the cicadas in the background!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Season Three, Episode 6
Co-hosts: Brendane A. Tynes and Alyssa A. James
Title: Diary of Mad Black Women
Total Length: 1:13:08
[0:00:42] Music Ends
[0:00:43] Brendane (BT): Hey, everyone! Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we share Black feminist perspectives and close-read pop culture and other social topics that affect Black folks. I’m Brendane, and I use she/her/hers pronouns.
[0:00:56] Alyssa (AJ): Hey y’all! I’m Alyssa, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. Today, we’re talking about neuroexpansiveness, Black disability politics, the fall of Twitter, and how deeply ableism is built into our everyday conversations.
[0:01:10] BT: We also want to say right here and here right now, live and direct, as some aunties say, that departments and companies are thinking about 2023 budgets, so if you would like for us to do a workshop for Black History Month, Juneteenth, or any other day because it’s Black feminist 365 over here. Feel free to get in touch. We’ve done workshops on supporting Black women in the workplace, reclaiming your radiance, and finding joy in community for international companies, universities, and local organizations. We create custom, interactive workshops and talks that address the needs of your group that people actually enjoy! So, please head on over to zorasdaughters.com to email us for details.
[0:01:54] AJ: Before we get into the episode, we want to give a huge shout-out to our listeners who came to the AAA, the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting I couldn’t attend this year, because I’m in Martinique, but I did attend virtually, and I can’t wait to meet everybody in 2023 in my hometown in Toronto. It’s Toronto, not Toron to. Okay.
[0:02:11] BT: On God in Toronto (laugh). I was there this year in person. And I experienced some loving, intentional Black feminist community that, honestly, truly was beautiful made the conference worth attending to a degree. And I’ll leave that there, But I also really experienced some violent shit too. But I’ll save that for the What in the World.
The bright spot really was just getting to meet some of our listeners and making some new friends. So, if you got to see me and we got to spend some time together, just know, that I’m incredibly grateful, and I told Alyssa all the good things that y’all had to say. Just know that we are just basking in your love. I also did a presentation, and I revealed my worse kept secret. Apparently, you can tell people that you can sing, but no one believes you until you can actually sing. Which is something I learned. And I’ll say this because one of our colleagues who specifically requested not to be roasted on the show about his hair left room for roasting about something else. I can’t even resist saying this, right. I saw a range of outfits and I think somebody should do an ethnography on anthropologists and how they dress. Because we definitely have own particular styles, but this person, I think, might be a nominee for the drip don’t stop award because I have literally never seen someone wear a jacket and a blazer with the same pattern at the same time! And if you hear this and you know it’s you. Just know this is all love, me jesting in love, but yes, the drip don’t stop award goes to you.
[0:04:26] AJ: You really had to say something even though that person asked you not to.
[0:04:31] BT: You know I am an agent of chaos. But I spell it k-os. I really am an agent of k-os
[0:04:38] AJ: Who is a Toronto rapper okay
[0:04:42] BT: Oh, that’s a rapper, never mind -(laughter both ). I thought oh okay
[0:04:43] AJ: You thought you were being original no, no, no,
[0:04:43] BT: Nothing is new.
[0:04:47] AJ I’m pretty sure he’s the one who did the Crab in the bucket song (song plays in the background)
[0:04:51] Crabbuckit by K-OS plays, AJ sings along.
[0:04:56] AJ: I can’t sing, anyway it was a big tune back in the day. Don’t worry about it.
[0:05:03] BT: I’m going to have to look this up.
[0:05:07] AJ: I’ll add it to the end of the episode if I remember. Anyways before we start going into rating outfits like we do on the red carpet. I also just wanted to add that Brendane did relay all of the lovely comments from those of you who were there. And it’s really encouraging to know that all of this work is being seen and deeply felt so. I really appreciated it. I’ve been joking with people that Brendane is giving the hard sell on a season four (laugh), so we’ll see what happens.
On that note, creating episodes like these would not be possible without the support of listeners like you. The best way to support us is by becoming a Patron, where you can access the ZD Community, speak to us personally, and see exclusive videos and audio from our episodes! Head to patreon.com/zorasdaughters to learn more. Another way you can support us is by leaving a rating and a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, following us on social media, and sharing our episodes with your friends, your family, students, neighbors, and that boss who we all know does not really understand how equity works, so keeps trying to put you on a DEI committee, to share with everybody
[0:06:19] BT: Everybody, equity is not equality plus. We have to keep explaining this to people.
[0:06 32] AJ: And we can in a workshop.
[0:06:33] BT: We literally can.
[0:06:37] AJ: I studied Equity studies this is my (BT: oh you did that’s your bag) that was my major, equity studies . People think I’m talking about finance, and I’m like, no its social justice studies. Also, nobody believes me about that, but, that’s another story for another day.
[0:06:58] BT: Not we need to fight but let’s see. What is, let’s get into our word of the day Alyssa; what’s our word for today?
[0:07:08] Music ends
[0:07:10] AJ: So, our word for today is neuroexpansive. And I’m not going to lie, the first time I saw this on Twitter, okay, I wrote in the script that I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes, but I rolled my eyes. I was like (sigh) here we go again, another one of these words. I am a work in progress. I am a work in progress okay, I’m a work in progress (lower tone)
[0:07:40] BT: We all are.
[0:07:45] AJ: But instead of this being thing the I let turn me into Candace Owens, I decided to look up what the word actually means, who is using it, and why it’s being thrown into the ring with neurodivergent, neurotypical. So Neuroexpansive was coined by Ngozi Alston, a disabled community organizer, crip, and death doula who uses they/she pronouns. According to Alston, neuroexpansive is a rejection of the term “neurodivergent” and the ideology that undergirds it. So, the term is specifically for Black disabled people.
So, I don’t want to hear, I’m not trying to, and I did see, I’m pretty sure I saw a panel that used neuroexpansive, and I was like, this word is not for y’all.
[0:08:22] BT: Wow, can we have a single thing?
[0:08:18] AJ: No
[0:08:19] BT: So, what does neurodivergent mean? Neurodivergent was coined by Kassiane Asasumasu, a multiply neurodivergent neurodiversity activist. It describes having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’, a corollary to neurotypical, which means not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior. So, these are not medical terms but rather a way to describe people using words behind “normal” and “abnormal.”
[0:09:02] AJ: And we’ve talked about that before, right? Critical disability studies often draws our attention towards the harm of the idea of the ‘norm’ or ‘normal’ because there is no single definition for what that is in humans. As much as we like the neatness of mathematical probability, human life, behavior, and bodies, they don’t really work that way. So, our belief in this possibility, however, is one of the reasons ableism is so deeply entrenched in the world, and as we’ll see in the next segment which we’ll not getting to yet don’t worry even in some of the most radical spaces, do you seen this ableism being perpetrated. But back to neuroexpansiveness.
[0:09:45] BT: And so we read Alston’s writing closely as they have been theorizing and thinking through Black disability justice and abolition for years. They write, “Despite their prominence within disability communities, “neurodivergence,” “neurodiverse,” and “neurotypical” will never be able to accurately describe Black bodyminds because we have never been “neurotypical.” This is why I am inviting Black people only and specifically to explore “neuroexpansive.””
[0:10:15] AJ: I love that it is an invitation, right. They’re not saying you have to take on this label or anything like that; it’s an offering for us, for people to think differently about their disabilities, about their expansiveness, and what that means in relation to a white supremacist world. (BT: Right) When we talk about norms and what is typical, the unspoken subject of that label is the white non-disabled bodymind. Something that can be gleaned from the massive underdiagnosis of Black people’s ADHD and autism, which we really saw during the pandemic starting to come out. People were talking a lot about: I learned during the pandemic I have ADHD, I learned during the pandemic that I have autism or both, which then led to studies showing that these are underdiagnosed in Black people.
Disability does not show up in us in the same ways as white people. These standards and diagnostic criteria are often Anti-Black, imperialist, patriarchal, queerphobic and more, pathologizing any deviation from the white cis hetero nondisabled male body mind functioning. Neuroexpansive decenters whiteness from Black disability experiences.
[0:11:30] BT: Right, it allows for us to really have a more just conversation about addressing neuroespansiveness in our communities. Which is really what we are going to talk about in our next segment, which is what we’re reading. So, what are we reading today?
[0:11:52] Music Ends
[0:11:54] AJ: We’re reading Black Disability Politics by Sami Schalk. For this episode, we read the introduction and “Praxis Interlude One”
[0:12:02] BT: Dr. Sami Schalk uses she/her pronouns, and she is an Associate Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She earned her BA in English in creative writing and Women’s Studies from Miami University, her MFA in Creative Writing in poetry from the University of Notre Dame, and her Ph.D. in Gender Studies from Indiana University. Dr. Schalk’s interdisciplinary research focuses broadly on disability, race, and gender in contemporary American literature and culture. In addition to her two books Bodyminds
Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction
(2018) and Black Disability Politics (2022). She has published on literature, film, and
material culture in a variety of peer-reviewed humanities journals. Dr. Schalk
also writes for mainstream outlets, serves as a board member for Freedom Inc.,and once twerked with Lizzo. – (crosstalk AJ aye BT yes) She identifies as a fat, Black, queer, cisgender, disabled femme. She is also polyamorous and a pleasure activist.
[0:13:14] AJ: Okay, so the MFA in poetry makes sense now because there is poetry incorporated into the text. Which is very powerful. That said, twerking with Lizzo is quite the claim to fame. I hope that she puts that in her tenure file.
[0:13:37] BT: That’s right
[0:13:38] AJ: ‘Cause I know I would (laughing both)
[0:13:40] BT: I mean, what? Give me just on this alone a promotion okay (laughter)
[0:13:46] AJ: Exactly. But back to this insightful work, Schalk begins with this incredibly stirring epigraph from Mary Hooks, who said, “The mandate for Black people in this time is to avenge the suffering of our ancestors, to earn the respect of future generations, and be willing to be transformed in this work.” So Mary Hooks is an OG organizer whom everyone should know. And if you don’t know about Mary, you need to learn cause there is something about Mary that you need to know (laugh). But I think this succinctly sets up the stakes of Schalk’s work. She boldly asserts that Black Disability Politics is for Black people, and this is her way of avenging her Black cultural worker ancestors.
[0:14:35] BT: And she really calls them in powerfully. The question she poses to her readers, which is “Are you willing to not only do the work but be transformed by it?” actually, really in my opinion, solidifies the unsettling call of this book. So, I read that, and I was like, “oh shit. Am I?” like (laughs)
[0:15:02] AJ: She was talking to us, she’s talking to you, she’s talking to me (crosstalk); she is talking to the reader.
[0:15:05] BT: Right, and she said that I’m talking to y’all. And I had to sit there and think, you know. Yeah, this is actually really the work a Black politic. a Black praxis, and a Black framework should do. Not only should it be, here’s the work but like it should also provide the conditions for transformation so just setting that up right out the gate lovely. And the research and the writing of this book actually allowed Schalk to examine her own relationship with disability and how it has been shaped by her identity as a fat Black queer disabled woman. And I really resonated with her discussion of how she at first rejected her own disabled identity. Even as she was living a life marked by disabilities of anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and chronic pain. And so I, with full transparency as someone who deals with all these things. It really wasn’t until I would say earlier this year that I really was like, oh, I actually am disabled, and I should take up this identity right, and most of my hesitancy was around besides my own internalized ableism was like just around my interactions with medical institutions where I would face this consistent denial and dismal of the pain I experienced But claiming disability as a Black queer woman and as a Black person. Actually, upends these Anti- Black medical models of disability. That always already includes Blackness as a marker of disability. Right through their prioritization of white people’s experiences. And so that is something that we are going to get deeper into. I just kind of threw out that sentence there but I thought before we get into that we should actually just define some of terms the Schalk presents in this work.
[0:17:05] AJ: And we will get to that, but I wanted to say that it resonated with me too. She describes her investment in the subject and made believe that I am invested as well because we live in this world where disability is what haunts a lot of that wellness, health, well-being, and self-care rhetoric. You know, and the part of the epigraph that sticks with me was about earning the respect of future generations. We are often so concerned it’s almost human nature to be concerned with our legacy, what we’ll leave behind, and ensuring that we’ll be remembered. We’ve talked about it before how if only we were doing more respect and reverence of ancestors, people probably wouldn’t have so many anxieties about their legacy. But what I think people should be thinking about is will the people who remember you respect you and respect what you contributed to the world. I think it’s much more forward thinking than that vague leaving a legacy. Because it’s not what you leave behind, it’s how you try to leave the world when you’re gone.
[0:18:27] BT: Period. That is the line for me.
[0:18:30] AJ: So Schalk states that Black Disability Politics analyzes how issues of disability have been incorporated into Black activism from the 1970s to the present. She defines Black disability politics “as anti-ableist arguments and actions performed by Black cultural workers.” She merges history, disability studies, Black feminist theory, and postcolonial thought to create a work that defies discipline while contributing to the field of Black disability studies; Scholarship in Black disability studies examines “how disability has appeared among Black people, how disability has been treated and understood in Black communities, and how Blackness and disability have been–and continue to be–discursively linked in various cultures.” And that last point I think goes back to what you were saying earlier about Blackness being the marker of disability. Maybe people would want to hear more about what that means or what you mean by that?
[0:19:25] BT: Yeah, so when we think about this whole definition of normal and definition of the human, what it means to be a person with rights, etcetera. Often, and if you are, you know, Afropessimist™ deep in that, you would say that all of the time, the thing that marks the line between human, less than human, normal, abnormal, right it falls on the line of Blackness. Right so, in order to determine what it means to be mentally ill, right they had to kind of draw the line between what makes a colonizer who exacts forms of violence that was unimaginable to colonized communities right, that was seen as sane, but the work that marginalized communities did like African folks did right to heal their own bodies and heal their relationships with each other that was marked as irrational and insane right. So that kind of line of thinking is what justified the colonization of Africa and the world. Was this kind of marker between the white self and other.
And so, we still see that today and when we think about the ways Black people are not seen as disabled or not prioritized in disability justice movements. Right when white people are put forth to the front, it’s to say like oh, there is something wrong with being disabled. Right, you, as someone who has this, identity of white, should actually not experience this form of oppression. So this movement is to make sure that you don’t; your life your livelihood is not badly affected by this form of oppression, and what that does though, is reaffirm or reify the fact that there are certain people whose lives have always, already been marked in these ways, right actually deserve it, so that’s like how I think about it.
And another way that Schalk identifies that Blackness and disability are linked is through the way that the cannon of disability studies kind of demarcates Black art, culture, and politics as using disability as a metaphor for racism’s effect on Black people. So, when you see those Black artists that say, you know racism cripples us, right Then for people who are already crippled, right you’re saying that your kind of invisiblizing their oppression and then also marking it as something on the level of racism which is those two things work together right its not oppression Olympics right. Racism and disability actually work together to oppress Black people. And so, what these things do right, by using disability as a metaphor for racism’s effect on Black people, is they fail to incorporate disability politics, culture, or even pride. And they do that in a way that’s actually legible to white disability studies and disability rights movements. And so, what Schalk does her intervention which I find to be just really powerful is actually enfolding this Black disability politics into a larger disability justice framework. And we’ve talked about disability justice already because I feel like we talk about all the things all the time here
[0:23:02] AJ: We try
[0:23:08] BT: We try. We talked about it, we try in a previous episode, Season 2, Episode 13: No Body is Normal, and so if you want to revisit our conversation there for more background on what disability justice is, feel free. But in her work, Schalk reminds us that a disability justice framework that does not prioritize the most impacted across multiple marginalized identities, that is not anti-capitalist, that is not sustainable, nor does it allow for solidarity across different kinds of disability is actually not liberatory work.
So what we see in a lot of, I would say in a lot, these kind, of anti-autism campaigns is this move to exclude groups of people. So, what I find transformative about Black disability politics is “encourages a move away from a primarily identity-based approach to disability and toward a theoretical approach that seeks to trace how disability functions as an ideology, epistemology, and system of oppression in addition to an identity and lived experience” So what does that mean? She is saying that Black disability politics does not do the tokenizing thing, does not do the hierarchical thing that says because you identify as a disabled person with x,y,z physical, visible evidence, right maybe you use a wheelchair, maybe you use a cane, etcetera. So because you are this white person with this visible disability right, you deserve to have certain rights, or you deserve to be in the fight for the rights for disability justice right.
And that kind of invisiblizes everyone else who doesn’t fit that kind of framework, right. But what Black disability politics does is it actually takes the systematic oppression of disabled people by taking into account all of their other identities within in this kind of matrix of oppression. And Schalk critically explores how disability “operates as a social system, historically, discursively, ideologically (whew what word was that), and materially in our world.” And this cannot be done without an explicit focus on Black people’s experiences.
[0:25:52] AJ: Schalk is careful to say that this includes all Black people, not just those who are disabled. We cannot have liberation without an attention to disability. We encounter Black disability politics in our movements in a multitude of ways. Black disability politics are “articulated in text, speech, political platforms, and ideologies or enacted in activism, organizing, lobbying, art and interpersonal dynamics by Black cultural workers.” Schalk defines Black cultural workers as “activists, artists, writers, scholars, intellectuals, and others whose work directly responds to and influences culture. This book contextualizes how Black people have enacted Black disability politics across time in our liberation movements and lays out the four common qualities of Black disability politics.
[0:26:47] BT: And from Schalk’s observations, Black disability politics is always intersectional, so always thinking through feminism, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. But emphasizes race and racism to concern itself with the material impacts of racism as it overlaps with ableism. So, Black disability politics is not necessarily based in disability identity because it can be enacted by any Black person integrating the intersection of racism and oppression and because not all people with impairments, disabilities or illnesses claim disability or identify with a general disability community.
[0:27:23] AJ: Yes, you talked about that hesitation to identify as disabled, and of course, that relates to not wanting to compound marginalizations, possibly for you and for many other people.
In the last two of the common qualities Schalk explains that Black cultural workers engage with the sociopolitical and sociohistorical contexts and circumstances that shape experiences and understanding of disability. Finally, Black disability politics is holistic, addressing the whole bodyminds, not just physical disability.
I used this term earlier, bodymind, which is written as one word so there is no space between body and mind. To signal the inseparable nature of the body and the mind. Ultimately, this book is about praxis. And if you’re like, oh okay, praxis what’s that, heard it don’t know it, we talked about it in season two, (BT: crosstalk don’t know her never met her). We talked about it in Season 2, Episode 8, 40 Acres Ain’t Praxis. And so in general, just as a gloss, it’s the intersection of theory and practice.
[0:28:47] BT: And the praxis interludes, which are featured in the book, demonstrates some practical applications of Black disability political theory. So, Schalk is. I mean, as a pedagogue, I again all the flowers. Anyway, but yes actually, you know the commitment to accessibility in this book; again is a demonstration of this Black disability politic, so I just. If you ever listen to us talk about this, Dr. Schalk I am clapping all the hands. Thank you.
So as a content warning in our discussion of Praxis Interlude one we will look at and repeat and ableist term that was used by the Black Panther Party so please take care of yourself accordingly. But in this section, Schalk aims to demonstrate that it is possible to protest disabling violence, right without reinforcing it is possible to protest disabling violence without reinforcing fears about disability. And so, in protesting psychosurgical procedures, the Black Panther Party referred to the survivor as a vegetable.
And so throughout this interlude we get a really practical read of this example as something that is actually a common issue in organizing, in particular Black organizing movements, it is something that we should be extra critical of. Movements will use disability produced by oppressive violence as one example of why that violence is unjust. But this rhetoric actually rests on ableist fears of disablement and loss of autonomy So this point to being a vegetable as something to fear and run away from which actually reenforces the idea that disability is tragic. Something that is akin to death.
[0:30:53] AJ: As a corrective, Schalk explains that activists and cultural workers must acknowledge the intersecting issues involved and focus on the violence that causes the harm rather than the potential disability resulting from the harm. If the way to radicalize people is by playing on fears of being disabled, your strategy is ableist. And we absolutely saw that throughout the pandemic right.
It was like we need healthcare, we need vaccines, we need all of these kinds of things so that we don’t end up with chronic illnesses, so that we don’t end up with all of these different problems from long-term COVID that people have been having. And so people were playing upon these fears and so our movements are not supposed to be about getting rid of disability right. Disability is always going to exist. So cultural workers must fight for concrete systems to support those disabled by structural violence so that they can live happy and fulfilling lives.
[0:31:55] BT: Right, period. Disability is something that not only is always going to be here, but it is something that all of us will face. And part of the lie of white supremacists’ cis-hetero-patriarchal capitalism. I’m laughing because I was in a meeting, and somebody was like using all these terms. I’m just laughing, flashing back to that moment. Right where the lie is that you can post-pone death in again thinking of disability as akin to death by adhering to all these different systems for as long as possible right. That is the lie. That’s the major fear, so the fear of disability is not just the fear of you know disablement, and impairment but also there is the fear of death that manifests itself again.
[0:32:49] AJ: Another one of the lies is that people who become disabled deserved it, and because of it was their fault, they don’t deserve any help, any aid they don’t deserve the emotional, financial, material help that they need, and in order to survive and thrive and that’s like capitalism. That’s capitalism working for you, that’s white supremacy working in service to those kinds of ideas – (crosstalk BT literally) I think, and I mean here we go that leads us nicely to our next segment. Which is what
[0:33:32] BT: What
[0:33:35] AJ: What in the world, what in the world is going on
[0:33:39] BT: What in the fuck is going on
[0:33:41] AJ: Okay, so, there is so much I want to talk about when it comes to the AAA, even though I was only there virtually and in spirit supporting people whose panels I could not watch because they weren’t all live-streamed.
[0:33:59] BT: Yeah
[0:34:00] AJ: I really want to chat about the mysteriously canceled roundtable. Folks might know what I’m talking about, which was supposed to be about the Harvard Letter and the secrets and lies. We did an episode on that very early on when (crosstalk BT was that the first) the Harvard I think it was our second or third episode, so very early on when the allegations had come out. But that roundtable was mysteriously cancelled, and as Brendane said, someone’s lawyer was probably like, aht aht!
[0:34:44] BT: Don’t do it.
[0:34:45] AJ: So, if anyone wants to know – (BT, what’s the tea), if anyone knows the story, just slide into our DMs. But importantly
[0:34:56]BT: We’re nosy anthropologists; we want to know.
[0:34:57] AJ: We are nosy, and we won’t share it on the podcast, we promise, unless you want us to. (laugh)
But importantly, going back to the fact that I had to, we had to bootleggedly have someone livestream your fire ass panel. That you were on with one of our previous guests Anuli and others, I want to know why we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the past three years and I’m saying three even though people might be like it was 2020 and we are only in 2022. We started hearing about COVID in 2019 y’all. In November (BT: yep) then December rolled around. I remember I was it was January 2020, and I was making jokes about whether or not we should be out, whether we should be wearing a mask, and then everyone was like, it’s going be fine.
And so, instead of taking precautions, our hubris kept us from addressing it for nearly five months. And so, in light of that, knowing what we know now, in search of the normal here we are in search of the normal, we have stopped making events accessible. We are no longer live streaming; we are not enforcing mask-wearing or requiring negative PCR tests for in-person events. So, what that says to me is that your politics are neoliberal. It’s every person for themselves; you’re not like, as Brendane pointed out to me once, the mask is not for you. The mask doesn’t protect you; it protects others. So your actually prioritizing your bodily autonomy over the body autonomy of everybody else, which is hella neoliberal, but okay.
[0:36:51] BT: Hella neoliberal. I’ll say I’m like I don’t want to go back and forth over my experience too much, so I’ll just say that I had there was a policy at AAA that if you were unvaccinated, you could not get your badge, but all you needed to get your badge was to be up to date with your vaccinations. There was no requirement to be masked, and I don’t think I saw a single person take a test. There were boxes of tests, but I don’t think anybody even gestured toward doing that because you know that’s inconvenient.
And so I bought it up in a meeting of just, you know, this policy is actually liberal theater because we all know that COVID is transmitted through the air, right we also know that even though we were told at the beginning of the vaccine dissemination that these things would prevent people from getting COVID would prevent people from having symptoms of long COVID would prevent death that we now, know this is no longer true right. So, the only way to prevent people from getting COVID is to make sure that the people who are present don’t already have it and cannot transmit it right so we need to wear masks and we need to take tests. And so, I mentioned, you know, that this is kind of like a liberal theater.
Because how is requiring vaccination but not testing people any different than the outcomes of an event of someone in the far right that doesn’t have a vaccination requirement. If we are thinking about outcomes and safety. There is no difference. The difference is the theater around it, right which someone, when I tweeted it about it, was just like, you know, that is liberal security theater, right This idea that we are creating a barrier a secure barrier where everyone thinks alike, right we are “progressive” cause we all have this vaccine. We are all taking up community responsibility when disabled people from the beginning have been saying we cannot take a vaccine-only approach to this. This is going to backfire.
There are actually people, disabled people right, who have such severe allergies or such or so immunocompromised or have medications or that actually prevent them from being able to be vaccinated. And we basically told them, well, since you can’t be vaccinated, you might as well sit your ass at home. Which, how is that different from their lives before? Not to, you know to gloss it too much or be too crass about it but like what are we doing to protect the communities that we say we are pushing for rights for.
And how is that different from what all of the people that people have made fun of when the vaccine rollout came and people were saying, well you know these people are not. You know there were a lot of judgements being made about folks who were unvaccinated, some of them right. Like some of the stories and conspiracy theories, you know, being like girl, I don’t know about that, but for the folks who were unable to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons right what are we telling them in our rush to normalcy. We are saying yeah, we want to go back to this normal that excluded you or put you in a lesser status, right and we really have to be really be real with ourselves about that like. If that’s what we are doing that’s what we are doing, and we can’t sit here and continue to pretend like that’s any different from the folks who were saying that being vaccinated; I’m not getting vaccinated because there is a chip in there (AJ laughter). You know, like we have to—
[0:41:23] AJ: What was the other one? The mark of the beast.
[0:41:25] BT: The mark of the beast, you know.
[0:41:30] AJ: I think the other thing an interesting thing about this whole we want to go back to normal, so we don’t want to wear masks is that it is very Euro western-centric. I don’t know what would that be, Occicentric? Occicentric? Because there are tons of counties in the world for whom it is normal to wear a mask when there is an illness around to wear masks in public in public areas where crowds gather it is normal for them to protect other people (BT right) when there is a respiratory illness going around or when there is any kind of illness going around or even when there’s any possibility of an illness going around because it’s flu season for example. So I think that we are really centering this normal that is very specifically ours and that, as you were saying, is ableist.
[0:42:23] BT: Ableist, anti-Black, and that shit was not good for us on the other side. Like, I just like we talked about this before
[0:42:25] AJ: Ask me about besides when I got COVID. I did get COVID after I was vaccinated. But other than that, I have not been sick since basically last flu season. I got sick right before, and I thought I had COVID because maybe it was a month before everything shut down. That’s the last time I’ve been deathly ill from the flu or from a cold or anything like that so. (pause) I mean, listen if that’s the normal y’all want to get back to be my guest.
[0:43:06] BT: I don’t know if I’m going to meet y’all there (AJ, I’m kidding), And you know I’m not going to. I don’t know if people at this meeting listen to this or not but what also really underscored my point about it being liberal theater was at that same meeting. Where I brought up, you know, this being an accessibility issue. Another attendant at that meeting was being congratulated for attending the meeting even though they had pneumonia active live pneumonia, so when you talk about (AJ girl) people have forgotten the lessons, its I’m glad I mean, I don’t know if you got COVID or not cause we didn’t test you, but at least your vaccinated and you’re here without a mask in a room, in an enclosed room with other people with pneumonia that’s when I thought—
[0:44:07] AJ: Listen.
[0:44:09] BT: I’m done with you fucking anthropologists. I’m done with y’all. Because what? That makes no sense. This literally makes no sense. And I gripe about this to my partner all the time. I’m like, this shit makes no sense, and I need people to be wit’ it or be not. Just be for real if you ‘bout it, you ‘bout it, if you not, you not. Let’s just be for real, let’s be for real about it.
[0:44:32] AJ: I thought we were past this. I thought we were past congratulating people who are actively sick. I thought we were past that.
[0:44:42] BT: No, we are going back to normal.
[0:44:43] AJ: As I said, I would like this is clown foolery. -(BT going back to normal) You say theater, I say circus. (laugh) and that exemplifies the clown foolery of normal.
[0:44:53] BT: Maybe that should be in my carousel. No, the maybe that, but the in the carousel that we post that meme that’s like bitch it’s the circus (laughter BT and AJ) and it’s on the phone.
[0:45:15] AJ: There you go, we are never getting invited back to AAA now (laughter). Okay, but one thing that I did want to talk about today… Where should I go, where should I go… Okay, I’m going to talk about Love is Blind. Because I came across it again recently, this conversation that was being had by Nancy, who was one of the women who got engaged on Love is Blind. Y’all, Brendane doesn’t watch it, but she knows the general concept of what happens.
[0:45:48] BT: I practically participate in enough conversations.
[0:45:52] AJ: So Nancy, who has gotten engaged on Love is Blind to a man named Bartise, they are having a conversation trying to learn what each other values are, what’s important to them, and she says, what do you think about abortion? And he’s like, no, I’m against abortion.
And so, she starts saying, well, you know, I used to work with families whose children have down syndrome, and they suffer because of it, and they really struggle, and I just think that if I knew that my child had Down’s Syndrome, I would get an abortion because I wouldn’t want to put them through that and I wouldn’t want to put myself through that. Surprisingly and I was very active on Twitter people were totally like yes pro-choice do your thing, but nobody called out the ableism of that comment.
[0:46:57] BT: Yeah.
[0:46:58] AJ: To say that people whose children have Down’s Syndrome suffer, they struggle. That is not—again, this goes back to what is the point of disability, justice and of movements. It’s how can we make their lives better? Not how can eradicate this, which is basically a change in one of your chromosomes or an additional chromosome. The question is not how we eradicate it. The question is, what support does the child, does the family need? In order to survive and thrive. That’s going to be the word survive and thrive. And it’s so, all of that to say that ableism, is so deeply embedded in our, in our society and the structure that people were like yeah totally understand totally cool with the eugenics of that. Makes sense to me. And nobody called it out. At least not… I think I saw one. I think I saw a TikTok recently about it. At the time when it was airing, Twitter did not.
[0:48:07] BT: Yeah, and I think you’re right that is exactly it right. The fact that we see disability as an individual’s issue versus actually something that represents, I don’t want to use the word diversity but just the… I’m going use the word expansiveness. The expansiveness of human experience right and again one that we will all experience right. As you get older your joints, your brain, your body, your bodymind, it changes right. So, again no amount of healthy eating is going to prevent you from aging.
[0:48:53] AJ: I assure you that Elon Musk is working on it.
[0:48:57] BT: I am sure he (AJ Him or Richard Branson) he has all of this money to waste on Twitter.
[0:49:04] AJ: Yeah, him or Richard Branson they’re probably working on it. Working on the fountain of youth, but yeah, there you go; wasting money on Twitter. I mean, this whole episode came up because of Twitter. So, this is a very heavy Twitter what in the world segment. I’m pretty sure all of our little notes are like from Twitter.
[0:49:19] BT: And yeah, I think too just on that point again a lot of what spurs this kind of eugenics right look is this European or what do you call it Occicentric? (crosstalk both on how to pronounce) Like accident, auxcentric?
[0:49:50] AJ: Occicentric. I coined it, cite me (laughter)
[0:49:55] BT: Its this focus on like the visible right, so even when we think about disability and disability movements a lot of times they want to put to the forefront folks who are visibly “disabled” right or so there this focus on what you can observe with your eye and that being something that is like a central tenet of European thinking and thought right is the observable and so a lot times it’s this ableism around birthing children who have certain disabilities it’s not necessarily about the child. Like the concern about quality of life is intimately tied to the beauty of the child right or how people would see my child. And so it’s just like life is hard because my child has certain cognitive or physical disabilities but also I think that people you know because a lot of children with down syndrome actually can be in “normal” classrooms right but what is that distinguishing factor for them that people always tend to focus on are there eyes. And so that’s something that I think about a lot too and thinking about ableism and how so much is it about what you can see, what you can observe, like if someone possibly encountered me on a day I’m not experiencing the pain that I experience, they might say oh you’re not disabled, or I wouldn’t
[0:51:38] AJ: Yes, I mean, as I was saying, a lot of it is about projection right? It’s people are projecting onto who they see as disabled and thinking, wow, I’m so glad that’s not me, or there is a fear about them becoming that way if not something that’s genetic or whatever. I think what I wanted to add to that was that a lot of families, a lot of parents would be okay with things if they weren’t so scared of what other people thought. And I think a lot of it is what other people think about them. What they’ll think about their kid what are people going to say how is their child going to be treated all of those kinds of things. (BT yeah) A lot of what parents are worried about is more external.
[0:52:24] BT: Yeah, because a lot of people see their children as accessories, but that’s uh (AJ extensions of themselves) what we need.. to have that’s a Black children’s, a Black family oooh a Black family episode you could bring a Mama on here. And talk about that (laughter)
[0:52:43] AJ: I mean, thinking about the Black family, we started talking about the casual, is it really casual ableism? that is so deeply entrenched in Black families right. You know, you hear families be like, oh, you know have the uncle he’s a little touched or naw that cousin is special, you know? Things like that and with my mom. She would kind of just look at people who might have depression. She would be like that’s not a disability like why don’t they just get over it? There are so many good things going on in their lives, and she told me that she saw a commercial once; I think it was during mental health month. And this was years ago, and the commercial said you wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to just get over it and that helped her switch her mindset around people who have depression, who have anxiety and things like that so. Just that little piece of information, that little connection helped her make that mental switch, but up until then; I mean Jamaicans are definitely like scared of mental illness.
In particular, that’s very much a thing even with, we were talking about this earlier; you know, if you are a kid and you’re really smart. If you like to read and things like that. I have definitely heard people say like you know she might become, we’re scared she’ll be schizophrenic, or she might grow up mad is kind of the conversations that you might have or somebody who does have schizophrenia they’ll be like oh she was so smart when she was young, but you know too many books will make you go crazy things like that, so there’s definitely. I don’t know that’s a project for somebody to unpack but that whole like Madness, Blackness, interaction
[0:54:33] BT: Yeah, I mean, there’s are a couple of books about that now Therí Pickens has one –(AJ yeah) I hope I’m pronouncing
[0:54:51] AJ: Black Madness, Mad Blackness
[0:54:58] BT: And La Marr Jurelle Bruce, I hope I’m saying their name right as well, had a book out about madness too. And one other thing that I saw on YouTube, cause YouTube always suggests a range of things to me. Was this Ted Talk about someone who was like multiple things, so they were talking about how for difference between a spiritual experience which is like you know people who worship God right and say they hear God right. They hear the voice of God, and the difference between that being marked as, you know, schizophrenia or another type of mental illness is your ability to function in society right.
So it’s not necessarily like a lot of what we what is even written as disability; again, getting back to this kind of colonizing roots of sociology and anthropology and all these other “sciences” is a way to demarcate who deserves to have wealth, power etcetera. And who deserves to have that taken from them, right and so, like a lot of what is written in the DSM-V as mental illness is really could be, what do you call it?, pathologization of different cultural aspects and different other things like some things that are. There is a Black feminist scholar, Feminista Jones talks about how a lot of the things that are pathologized in the DSM-V are actually aspects of African or Afrocentric kind of culture.
And so, for people who are doing like critical psychology and other kind of work, it’s important to not take these categories of mental illness as truth in such right to take that science and integrate it and also while also holding the truth that, as you mentioned your family my family. My family they are, they have their own struggles with mental illness. I think all of us have our own things going on (pause), and like… my mom
[0:57:21] AJ: You can admit it, you can talk about it, you can admit it.
[0:57:22] BT: I will just say if something really funny happened where my mom was telling me about how she’s a mental health responder and my aunt literally whipped around so fast. It was like on FaceTime, she liked whipped around so fast and was like “How you going to be responding to mental health when you got mental health!” It was so funny, and it was so one of those like yeah, but also we have to empower people in communities to help people and support each other, but also yes hilarious. I think as a “community,” a Black community however you want to define that we really have to embrace that our work is not liberatory if we are not including neuroexpansive people if we’re not including disabled people and actually really doing it in a way that prioritizes them and their needs not just saying, oh its accessible but then people oh this meeting is accessible but the elevator’s broken and I got to walk up five flight of stairs to get to it which is something that happened to me—(AJ yeah of course ). Or this meeting is accessible, but we didn’t do the work beforehand to figure out zoom. So we don’t know how to do live captions, or we don’t know how to do all of these things. So you can’t just be accessible in theory. Right or in principle, you actually have to be doing the damn thing.
[0:59:12] AJ: Yeah, I think there was a thread going around on Twitter conversation about people who recently received diagnoses about their neuroexpansivness, and they would mention it to their parents and be like yeah, so about that we knew since you were five actually that you have ADHD or yeah you know I’m pretty sure I’m autistic too.
Kind of the conversations like that, and you know (BT I saw that too) I wonder where that’s coming from. I suppose that there is an anxiety about how these compounding oppressions will affect your life. Especially as a parent, and I guess they you know, they look at their kid and they’re like well their functioning and they’re normal to me so we are not going to get them any help because I don’t want to stigmatize them. I think that is what it is.
There is like a fear of stigmatizing your child, and that means that we need to change; not they need to change, and society needs to change so that people aren’t waiting 25, 30 years to improve their quality of life.
But I think, so, what happened right after this. Right after we decided on this topic, Meek Mill the rapper, he tweeted, well, someone tweeted at him “#askmeek are you neurodivergent” and he quote tweeted and said, “we ain’t never use that word in the trenches, what’s that.” So, this had people cracking up, and people were saying that some of them, they just got called special and different. People said they were a little touched and all these kinds of things. I think what it did is, it actually even though this conversation was now being had, we are now kind of reinforcing the stigmas around neurodivergent. Like, these conversations were reinforcing these stigmas around it.
[01:01:50] BT: Yeah, like reinforcing the stigmas and two, I guess not to be typical Gemini devil’s advocate but also, I think some of those ways of talking about it that will actually highlight that Black people understand neuroexpansivness in one way. Like yeah, he is special, or you know something like that, so I don’t know how can I guess what I’m trying to say is that we have ancestral memory of like what it is to always already not “normal” right and to actually live in that and embrace that and provide support in our communities for folks who so, they can get what they need and when we chase white supremacy when we chase this aspiration of capitalism we lose that. And so, I just I’m dreaming of a Black world where we can actually be like we’re like saying, you know he’s a little touched actually means this person is actually has a more expansive way of seeing the world verses it being that stigmatizing thing that you talked about.
[01:03:11] AJ: Yeah, and I think another thing if we are going to be Gemini about it. If I’m going to be Aquarius and on both sides is that it did open up a conversation about mental illness and other kind of psychological disabilities, you know Supernova Mama on Twitter she talked about how a lot of children who are raised in poverty who are raised in the hood, have complex PTSD, which is also a form of neurodivergence or neuroexpansiveness.
So you know, I think that there can be positives to these problematic conversations, but there needs to be the voices out there to actually point out why we need to be thinking and talking about this as a community, An “imagined” one, right an imagined communities, Benedict Anderson. But yeah, I think our last point, and why we actually decided to have this conversation, it was thanks to Mia, our social media assistant who said, you know, we could use this fall of Twitter as a time to talk about ways that we can organize without these internet platforms and what can we do?
We have to, I think it’s important for us to think about this as an opportunity. As much as it is a loss, and of course, there are lots of disability justice activists and cultural workers on Twitter who are talking about losing community, and I’m thinking about Imani Barbarin, AKA Crutches & Spice, you know losing Twitter is a loss of community right. So now is our time to start thinking about if all of these platforms disappeared, how are we going to continue being in community with each other. How are we going to continue progressing in our movements?
[01:05:01] BT: Right; what is the Black liberation movement plan for when all this shit becomes, I mean, there are already surveillance tools, right? So, when these surveillance tools collapse, what are we going to do? We can’t and how are we going to make these spaces accessible cause we can’t go back to the way things were or we are just going to reproduce a world like this one?
[01:05:44] AJ: Exactly, exactly.
[01:05:46] BT: And I’m tired of that.
[01:05:47] AJ: There’s no going back. There is no going back (emphasis)!
[01:05:52] BT: Let’s move forward. Or let’s move on to just—
[01:05:54] AJ: Think of this as an opportunity, like you know, use the platforms as there needed, but there needs to be, I mean, really community care, community access, and the people around you are going to be the people who take care of you when or hopefully building those connections. That’s going to be what’s going to help you get through the end times that are not
[01:06:26] BT: Yeah, period.
[01:06:34] AJ: End times yeah, I had an interlocutor say that to me. I think said to her, I asked her why, I asked her why something and she was like it’s the end of days bitch, what you think?! ‘Cause it’s the end of days!
[01:06:51] BT: Wow, so she think Jesus is coming back soon!
[01:06:55] AJ: Probably and this is a very Catholic country, or island I should say. Welp.
[01:07:03] BT: Okay, heard you.
[01:07:05] AJ: Yes. Any final words Brendane? We wrapped this baby up, wrap it up.
[01:07:17] BT: Yeah, I think I don’t have any final words yeah because I feel like in other disability episodes, we hit a lot of things too.
[01:07:30] AJ: We hit points yeah y’all, this is just the beginning of the conversation. We are not the be-all end-all, so keep reading keep thinking. Definitely follow donate to Ngozi aka Ngwagwa, on Twitter, but we will link all of that in the comments; we just want you to know that neuroexpansiveness is all their work, and we are just the messengers.
[01:07:55] BT: Just the messengers.
[01:07:57] AJ: If you repeat them, please cite them, it’s by them, not us, alright?
[01:08:02]BT: Yes, please, one thing to, I guess, to say as one of those people who discovered / self-diagnosed myself with some kind of neuroexpansive experience like autism. It has been affirming to meet people or to read about it online and to meet other Black femes, other Black women who also discover later in life; oh wait, I have a different experience, so just wanted to say. It’s been a great way to meet community in that sense, too, and a great way to learn about myself. So, bye, Twitter going to miss you going miss you girl, whenever you decide to leave.
[01:08:49] AJ: I don’t know is Twitter ever going to truly leave. Is it really going to be gone I think there might be a blackout period. But I think it will be back. I think that it will come back, and there is no other platform like Twitter
[01:08:54 ] BT: Every time I get on, it’s still there.
[01:08:55] AJ: Yeah, exactly. I downloaded my archive just in case not that there’s that much interesting stuff on my Twitter, but I did download my archive just in case I think that there will be a blackout, but it will be back because there is no other platform like Twitter where there’s the possibility of seeing content that’s outside of your echo chamber. I think that is; there’s the possibility (BT yeah). People will make it so it’s not, but it is a possibility. There are lots of things that come into your feed because of whoever you follow the kinds of things that you’re interested in and I think in that sense, it is important. Twitter, I guess I will miss Twitter.
[01:09:41] BT: Who’s going to sing at the funeral? The Twitter funeral? That was a funny thread.
[01:09:47] AJ: Honestly, all Black Twitter is just… Black Twitter is going to be missed. I am going to see if—I’m aging myself again—I’m going to see if I revitalize my Blackplanet account (laughs). Before your time Brendane. You were probably seven when Black Planet was a thing.
[01:10:16] BT: I feel like I went to school with people who had a Black Planet account I just didn’t have internet at home so
[01:10:21] AJ: I was there in the early days. I mean, I wasn’t active, but I was on Blackplanet when a lot of the older Black writers, for example, writers for The Root and stuff, a lot of them got started on Blackplanet because of their commentary and their threads that they would share on Blackplanet, their comments. And then I think there was, because it really was like a dating site and so tell me what a 12 year-old was doing on a dating site, but anyways! That’s another story for another day cause the internet in 2001 was the wild wild fucking west.
[01:10:56] BT: It was all those chat rooms
[01:11:00] AJ: Chat rooms, oh boy!
[01:11:01] BT: Messager, ASL, which now means something completely different
[01:11:23] AJ: Do I even want to look it up? Probably not.
[01:11:25] BT: No, it’s just like as hell. That’s whack as hell now they just say asl. I don’t know who came up with it, but I don’t like it.
[01:11:28] AJ: Probably Gen Z because they don’t like to write.
[01:11:32] BT: True
[01:11:33] AJ Less time, the better. Alright, okay, before we go too far off-topic. Thank you all very much for listening. That is all we have today. This episode was produced by Alyssa James and Brendane Tynes and distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by a grant from the Arts & Science Graduate Council, the Heyman Center Public Humanities Graduate Fellowship, and donations from listeners just like you.
[01:12:03] BT: So, Thank you all for your support! If you like this episode, please share it via social media, WhatsApp; I mean, we going to have to go back to writing letters, it seems, broken telephone type it up and send it to a friend. We would love to hear what you have to say about this episode, so be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at Zoras_Daughters. For transcripts, syllabi, and information on how to cite us or become a Patron to access exclusive content, visit our website zorasdaughters.com.
[01:12:45] AJ: Last but not least, remember to be kind to yourselves. Bye!
[01:12:47] BT: Bye, Bye.
[Outro Music Ends]
[01:12:51] AJ: I got the crab in the bucket, I’m trying to get down, but I’m moving on. I’m trying to get down, but I’m moving on ah, I got the crab in the bucket. You really don’t know that song?
[01:13:03] BT: Uh un, I am going to know it though, and that’s fine. Let me go to YouTube.
- S3 E5: It’s Not You, It’s Them: Tips for Academic Conferences
- S3 E7: We Call Her Zora