On Being Black and ‘Disabled but Not Really’

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Smiling multiracial friends talk using sign language

Despite the criticism of the episode, Hamilton’s appearance on Queer Eye felt like a step in the right direction for better representation of the diversity of disabled people.

By Imani Barbarin

I’m in a car with my cousin, who is driving but sitting with a rolling pin from my kitchen directly beneath their hip. “Please see a doctor,” I say for the second, or maybe third, time. “It could be something serious. It’s OK to be disabled and need help,” I add.

“I don’t claim that,” my cousin replies.

My cousin is like other Black people who couch their disability (or ignore it entirely) for one reason: survival.

I was reminded of this exchange after watching a new episode of Netflix’s Queer Eye, called “Disabled but Not Really.” The season 4 episode, which features a 30-year-old Black man in a wheelchair as one of the Fab Five’s clients, has become a topic of much contention in the disability community. Yet many critical perspectives lack insight from disabled Black people. For example, many white disabled people feel like the title of the episode—derived from the name of the nonprofit organization founded by Wesley Hamilton, the man featured in the episode—is spreading internalized ableism and perpetuating a culture of shame around the disabled identity. But Black people have a long history of hiding ailments for fear of dire consequences.

Often disability is kept as a side note to a Black person’s identity for fear that references to any impairment might be taken as weakness. Harriet Tubman suffered a traumatic brain injury at the hands of a slave overseer. Fannie Lou Hamer had polio as a child. Maya Angelou had selective mutism. Yet, when we talk about our heroes as Black people, we rarely, if ever, mention the disabilities they lived with. Many current Black celebrities and leaders with disabilities feel they can only become successful by ignoring or showing they can overcome their diagnoses. It is still a shock to some that Stevie Wonder reads braille.

In his episode with the Fab Five, we learn that Hamilton’s organization is focused on getting disabled people into CrossFit and bodybuilding. Remarkably, we learn this in a scene in which he is surrounded by disabled Black men. It is rare that spaces for disabled Black people exist at all; I was in my 20s before I came across one, and I was so overwhelmed, I spent most of the time there trying not to cry.

The Disabled but Not Really website explains that its mission is to empower people to embrace a “limitless mindset,” one in which people with disabilities “know they are more than their circumstances.” The organization supports personal development with programs like the #HelpMeFit challenge, which pairs coaches with disabled people to enhance their fitness and nutrition beyond what the participants believe is possible.

Considering the ways in which ableism is used to perpetuate racism, the concept of “disabled but not really” is necessary for Hamilton to encourage other disabled Black people to access the support they need. For many people of color, claiming a disabled body and existence can feel like just another piece of their identity that can be used to marginalize them. And though it seems like internalized ableism or self-hatred to many white people with disabilities when people of color don’t claim the “disabled” label, Black, indigenous, and people of color are right to feel that way.

Black disabled people, for example, experience a unique form of racist micro- and macro-aggressions that sway into the realm of ableism. People who need supports like Medicare, Medicaid, or food stamps are “welfare queens.” Disabled Black people hear speculation as to whether they’re “crack babies,” a misleading and deeply problematic concept. Black people in search of medical care are “just looking for drugs.” Even run-of-the mill racism is steeped in ableist language: “Black people cannot think or vote for themselves” or “Black people don’t have the intelligence to have built pyramids; it has to have been aliens.”

What Hamilton seems to understand is that in order to reach the disabled people in the community that he wants to serve, he must wheel a very fine line: He needs to talk about disability in such a way that Black people don’t feel further disenfranchised by recognizing it within themselves. Because of factors like environmental, structural, and implicit racism, as well as violent acts and poverty, Black people are one of the most likely demographics to develop disabilities. Just getting them to a supportive space can be a hurdle.

As a proud disabled Black advocate, I come across many people who try to erase my disability and think that by talking about it I am alienating the very people I need. This hurts most when it comes from my own community: Black people. From them I am told that I am already Black: “Why give them another reason to shut the door in your face.”

Black people are raised to acknowledge that every system they encounter is stacked against them. “You have to try twice as hard to get half as far,” “they are all waiting for you to fail,” and “you don’t get second chances” are shared by parents and community elders along with bedtime stories and warm milk. Any sense of vulnerability feels like a weapon that can be turned against oneself, rather than a source of strength or power.

Given Hamilton’s background—his time spent in a gang and how it led to disability—he is well aware of the racism disabled Black people face and the desire to have one less “ism” to contend with. But what’s especially powerful in his Queer Eye episode is the way Hamilton celebrates himself and his body. Never once in the episode did he begrudge his disability. Instead, he actively honored where he was mentally, as his organization encourages its participants to do.

In the episode, Hamilton also recognizes his mother, Dawn, unmasking the role parents can play in the lives of their loved ones with disabilities. Dawn was his caretaker and support system after the altercation that paralyzed him from the waist down at age 24. Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown talked with her about the sacrifices she made to care for her son. Disabled people never appreciate feeling like the burden in their loved ones’ lives. It is a stereotype that we are actively fighting against because so often, it can lead to harmful and dangerous behaviors. But, given the way many Black women and femmes so readily step in as caretakers and providers (not just for family members, but for entire communities), it makes sense why Brown would want Hamilton to actively “release” his mom with a “thank you.”

In a quintessential Karamo moment, he takes Dawn aside and discusses what her life has been like since her son’s injury. Acknowledging the difficulty they both have faced, Dawn breaks down into tears and admits they’re ready for a new chapter to begin.

Admittedly, this moment is uncomfortable for me to contend with. On the one hand, as a disabled Black woman I recognize the magnitude of responsibility that is placed upon Black women and femmes. But as a disabled person, it is insulting to be so inundated with the message that we decrease quality of life for the people around us. Even after watching the episode several times, I have no idea how I feel about that moment.

Hamilton’s role as a single father is also on full display in this episode. Given reports that parents with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities have their children removed from their care at rates as high as 80 percent, and knowing the stereotypes of Black fathers as “deadbeats,” Hamilton being seen as a father was critical to breaking down biases regarding the capability of Black disabled people. In watching his story, we see his daughter, Nevaeh, a chipper child of about 10 years old, marvel at the changes her father is going through with the aid of the Fab Five. She lovingly encourages her dad, and he is shown as an active figure in her life.

Despite the criticism of the episode, Hamilton’s appearance on Queer Eye felt like a step in the right direction for better representations of the diversity of disabled people. He may not have shouted loudly about his disability status, but he was still able to highlight an experience the disabled Black community needs to see acknowledged in mainstream television. He was proud of who he was and felt that his disability had saved his life. Rather than mourn his abled body for a national audience, he claimed it and gave thanks for it.

Importantly, the episode is an open invitation to Black disabled people to accept themselves as they are and seek joy in their disabled bodies. Hamilton’s language regarding his experiences should not be policed for the comfort of white disabled people or anyone else. Hamilton is just trying to get the Black disabled community through the door because, while many of them refuse to “claim disability,” disability so often claims them.

Source: Rewire.News

DC-Area Man Signs National Anthem in American Sign Language at Super Bowl 55

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Warren Snipe wearing a black t-shirt up close shot

As stars Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan belted out the national anthem at the Super Bowl, a trailblazing Gallaudet University graduate communicated the emotion, lyrics and rhythm to viewers in American Sign Language.

Warren Snipe, known by his stage name Wawa, signed H.E.R.’s rendition of “America the Beautiful” and later “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“The best performance to start the #superbowl is Warren Snipe with the ASL Star Spangled Banner. I don’t sign but I want to learn now! #SuperBowl2021,” Twitter user @PforPatrick said on the platform.

Prior to his performance, Wawa provided a behind-the-scenes look at his day on his Facebook page. He shared his arrival to his trailer and said he ran into Russell and Ciara Wilson in the stadium tunnel.

Wawa is from the D.C. area and graduated from Gallaudet University, a private school whose mission is to empower deaf and hard of hearing students.

He went on to develop his own niche within the hip-hop genre, called Dip Hop, which he defines as “Hip Hop through deaf eyes,” according to a press release.

“His unique rendering of Dip Hop explores Hip Hop through a mesmerizing blend of audio and imagery, and seeks to put Deaf recording artists on the map in the mainstream public interest,” the release reads.

In 2016, Wawa released an album called “Deaf: So What?!” He is also known for his role in the television series “Black Lightning.”

Read the original article at NBC Los Angeles.

A Lifetime of Service

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Montel Williams has served his country for 22 years, and ever since, he’s been serving those who serve in the Armed Forces.

By Brady Rhoades

Montel Williams served his country for 22 years, and ever since, he’s been serving those who serve in the Armed Forces.

Through Military Makeover, which he produces and hosts, the Emmy-award winning TV icon has transformed the homes and lives of hundreds of veterans and their families. The show, which airs on Lifetime TV and AFN, has produced some of the most memorable moments in TV history.

In a February, 2020 episode, Montel and the Military Makeover crew helped Debi, the Gold Star widow of Operation Desert Storm veteran Chris Hixon, who was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Douglas Stoneman High School in Florida while rushing in and trying to disarm the killer.

They stepped in two years after the school shooting that killed Chris and 16 others and made Debi and her two children’s lives a little brighter by, among other things, renovating her kitchen and installing long, floating shelves in several rooms. Debi placed photographs of Chris on those shelves.

Montel — no last name necessary for most people — lives by a simple creed that he learned in boot camp: “We leave no Marine behind,” he says. “I bought into the fact that once a Marine, always a Marine.”

TV personalities Rachael Ray and Montel Williams (C) pose with the 1st Marine Corps District at the 2nd Annual Variety Salute to Service in New York City.
TV personalities Rachael Ray and Montel Williams (C) pose with the 1st Marine Corps District at the 2nd Annual Variety Salute to Service in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images)

Montel was the first Black Marine selected to the Naval Academy Prep School to then go on to graduate from the United States Naval Academy.

“In the nearly three decades since I retired from the Navy, I’ve never really taken the uniform off because standing up for those who are serving now—and those who have served—has been the greatest honor of my professional career,” he says,

Most recently, the husband and father of four joined The Balancing Act, also on Lifetime TV, as a co-host. Before that, he shot to stardom on The Montel Williams Show from 1991 to 2008, for which he won an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host.

Military Roots
There’s a lot of tinsel that goes with Hollywood fame, but beneath it are roots, and Montel’s are deep and resilient. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1974. He then graduated from the Naval Academy in 1980 with a degree in engineering and a minor in international security affairs.

Montel Williams (R) and wife Tara Williams.
Montel Williams (R) and wife Tara Williams.
(Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)

He completed Naval Cryptologic Officer training, and spent 18 months in Guam as a cryptologic officer for naval intelligence. He was later a supervising cryptologic officer with the Naval Security Fleet Support Division at Fort Meade, Maryland. He left the Navy at the rank of lieutenant commander. His awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal.

As part of his work in cryptology, Montel teamed with the National Security Agency and was involved in the victory in Grenada in 1983. On several occasions, Montel has worked to get United States citizens — usually military personnel who have been captured in foreign lands — returned to America.

In the 1990s and early part of the 2000s, The Montel Williams Show was synonymous with excellence, empathy and intelligence. Some argue Montel is on the “Mt. Rushmore” of day-time talk show legends, alongside Oprah and others.

In 1999, after years of excruciating pain that, at times, had him crying during commercial breaks, Montel was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was bad and good news all at once — bad because MS is painful and debilitating; good because he finally knew what was ailing him and could move forward with treatment.

More than two decades after his diagnosis, Montel lives an active, purposeful life. A fun one, too. One of his favorite activities is snowboarding, which he says helps his balance in day-to-day living.

A Healthy Balance

Montel Williams, Debra Hixon, wife of late Navy Veteran Chris Hixon, his son Corey, and Hixon’s sister-in-law.
From left: Montel Williams, Debra Hixon, wife of late Navy Veteran Chris Hixon, his son Corey, and Hixon’s sister-in-law.

Balance is what makes him a perfect fit for The Balancing Act, a morning show that empowers viewers to live balanced, healthy lives. Montel, who suffered a stroke in 2018, and just keeps going like the Eveready Battery, knows a thing or two about balance. If success is measured by how many people you’ve helped, Montel is rich beyond his monetary millions and accomplished far beyond his worldwide fame.
He goes back again and again to those values he learned in boot camp. Take the following episode of Military Makeover:

After Aaron and Holly Middleton met at a Columbus bar after graduating Ohio State University, it was love at first sight. Though unfamiliar with the rigors of military family life, Holly went all in, giving up her own career to find fulfillment as a mother. Aaron is now a major and senior communications officer serving at USMC Forces Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

The family has faced overwhelming adversity. First, their newborn son, Kelvin, was diagnosed with holes in his lungs, requiring immediate surgeries. Then, unspeakable tragedy struck the family when the Middleton’s’ 5-year-old daughter Scarlett died from an undiagnosed illness.

Montel Williams with Holly and Aaron Middleton, who lost their 5-year-old daughter Scarlett, and began a foundation in her honor, “Scarlett’s Sunshine.”
From left: Montel Williams with Holly and Aaron Middleton, who lost their 5-year-old daughter Scarlett, and began a foundation in her honor, “Scarlett’s Sunshine.”

The shock and trauma of Scarlett’s passing has shaken the family to its core. Scarlett loved picking and giving away flowers, and her favorite song was, “You Are My Sunshine.” Through pain and inspiration, Holly promised to keep alive the joy Scarlett brought to everybody who knew her. The grieving mother created a charity called Scarlett’s Sunshine, using random acts of kindness with flowers to induce spontaneous smiles.

“Little did I know that when I gave people the flowers, and I saw the gratitude on their faces light up, that I would see Scarlett’s light again,” Holly says. “I found her light.” The Middletons’ home in St. Petersburg— the first they’ve owned since Aaron joined the Corps— needed a lot of help. Military Makeover worked to make it a place of healing and solace for this deserving military family.

As the cherry on top, the show donated a year’s worth of flowers to Scarlett’s Sunshine. “It feels like a miracle,” Holly said, when presented with the flowers. Which brought a smile to Montel’s face.

That’s the miracle of Montel’s life, which mirrors the lives of all U.S. veterans.

Nigerian artist makes dark skin prosthetics to boost patients’ confidence

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mans hand wearing a dark skin prosthetic

Michael Sunday is delighted, if a little stunned, as he admires his new right hand: a silicone glove-like prosthetic meant to help him return to normal life after he lost three fingers in a car accident a year ago.

The prosthetic has a hyper-realistic feel and, unusually, is dark in color, matching perfectly the tone of Sunday’s skin.

Most fake body parts available in Nigeria until now have been white, or made from materials such as wood that also look unrealistic.

“Wow, this is lovely,” Sunday said, his voice choked with emotion, as he looked at the prosthetic for the first time.

“I have my fingers back,” said the 22-year-old student, who lost the thumb and fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand when the car he was riding in with his parents on Dec. 31, 2018, collided with another vehicle.

The artist behind the creation is John Amanam, a 32-year-old former movie special effects expert. He developed an interest in prosthetics after a family member lost a limb in an accident.

“I became emotional about amputees,” said Amanam, who is also Nigerian.

“They had this feeling of discomfort whenever they were around other people. I saw it as a challenge. If I could give back or solve this need, it would go a long way to ease that emotional trauma and loss of confidence,” he added.

“I just want them to feel at home and be whole, aesthetically.”

So he started making prosthetic fingers, hands, arms, legs and ears in 2017. Depending on the size and complexity of the prosthetic, it takes three weeks to two months to make one.

Amanam has no formal training in making prosthetics but studied sculpting as an art student. The pieces are sold for at least 40,000 naira ($111).

His company, Immortal Cosmetic Art, is part of a growing services industry that has helped Nigeria’s economy become the biggest in Africa.

Amanam said mismatched skin tone makes it more difficult for people to feel confident with their artificial limbs.

To prepare Sunday’s hand, he took measurements, made a plaster cast and mixed paints on a palette, as any artist would, searching for the right skin tone. The result was lifelike.

“You rarely find people with black skin prosthetics,” Amanam said. “I want this need to be met within Africa. I want to reach out to blacks all over the world as well, by making this process accessible, at an affordable rate.”

Continue on to Reuters to read the complete article.

17-Year-Old Armani Williams Is NASCAR’s First Driver With Autism

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Armani Williams pictured smiling and sitting in NASCAR racecar

Armani Williams was born in Michigan and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 2. Like many children with autism, he was nonverbal during his early years. Autism is a brain disorder that affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, 1 in 42 males, and means lifelong challenges in learning, socialization, and behavior, as well as many associated medical problems.

Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is the fastest growing developmental disability. Given these epidemic numbers in the United States, almost every individual knows or cares about someone who is affected by autism.

Armani presented with extreme struggles just participating in daily life with his peers, but when he began racing at age 8 a light switch was turned on. At the end of the first session, Armani stated, “Dad, I understand.” From that moment, Armani’s family recognized that he had a special ability to drive and that they would do anything to make it happen.

Armani Williams was born in Michigan and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 2. Like many children with autism, he was nonverbal during his early years. Autism is a brain disorder that affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, 1 in 42 males, and means lifelong challenges in learning, socialization, and behavior, as well as many associated medical problems.

Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is the fastest growing developmental disability. Given these epidemic numbers in the United States, almost every individual knows or cares about someone who is affected by autism.

Armani presented with extreme struggles just participating in daily life with his peers, but when he began racing at age 8 a light switch was turned on. At the end of the first session, Armani stated, “Dad, I understand.” From that moment, Armani’s family recognized that he had a special ability to drive and that they would do anything to make it happen.

He has continued to demonstrate incomprehensible talent on the track, competing first in go-karts, then bandalero type vehicles, followed by late models, the ARCA Truck Pro Series, and the NASCAR Driver for Diversity Combine. To date, Armani has 18 wins and 2 championships.

With several years of success and perseverance Armani is now at the professional level and continues to develop his skills on and off the track in NASCAR Canada, driving the #28 Race4Autism Dodge for CBRT MotorSports.

Armani’s dream of winning the biggest races in NASCAR in the U.S. is well within his grasp.

Continue on to BlackDoctor.org to read the complete article.

Photo: Team Armani Racing

Fearless Amputee Mama Cax Encourages Others to Face Anything

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Mama Cax walks walks with crutches on runway after having right leg amputated

By Hiliary Innerbichler

Mama Cax, born Cacsmy Brutus, was given only three weeks to live when she was diagnosed with bone (osteosarcoma) and lung cancer at 14 years old.

Now in her late 20s—and after having her right leg amputated due to an unsuccessful hip replacement following chemotherapy—the Haitian-American is an advocate who utilizes social media as a platform to talk about body positivity and to dismantle the image of what people with disabilities should look like.

“When I first started blogging, a lot of women amputees were messaging me about how they’d never seen an amputee on social media or anywhere showing their prosthetics,” she said in an interview with Teen Vogue. “I think it’s so important to show people who have physical disabilities because there are people out there who buy products and never see themselves represented in any way, shape, or form.”

In 2016, the blogger, advocate, motivational speaker and model was invited to the White House to walk in the first ever White House Fashion Show to celebrate inclusive design, assistive technology, and prosthetics.

Soon after, Cax was made one of the faces of Tommy Hilfiger’s adaptive line, and since then has made her debut walking the runway at New York Fashion week in designer Becca McCharen-Tran’s Spring 2019 show.

Mama Cax has now partnered with Olay in their new campaign #FaceAnything to encourage women to live fearlessly and to have the confidence to be unapologetically bold and true to themselves, according to health.com.

Source: Vogue.com, boredpanda.com, mamacax.com, health.com

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