Creating criminals out of disabled girls of color

Interview with Dr. Subini Annamma

by Leroy F. Moore Jr.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  I’m here, interviewing Subini. I want to get right into it. I’d like to begin with your childhood. Why did you write the book, The Pedagogy of Pathologization of Dis/abled in School to Prison? Did it come from a personal experience?

Subini Annamma: Yes. You know, I started the book out telling the story of my brother, who was in and out of schools, from a really young age, was kicked out of several schools, did not finish high school, was in and out of jails as an adult, and eventually committed suicide when he was 35 years. And I always begin with my brother’s story because it was a catalyst for my career trajectory in education. I was a teacher before I became an academic, and living and working and loving him taught me about understanding disabled kids labeled as “emotionally and behaviorally disturbed” or EBD.

So his story had and continues to have a profound effect on my life and my views of disability. And those have shifted over time, of course, but they are rooted in the belief that labels tell a story about students, but that story is often incomplete. And the narrative that produces from the story is often a very narrow view of students. It’s often about what educators think students can and cannot do. And to be clear, it’s not that labels in themselves are bad; it’s what happens when we reify them, or they become the only truth we accept about a child. Labels can become a lens that we see, that we translate everything that happens about a child, and we end up locking them into whatever we think that label means.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: So true.  I wanted to get your advice on the state of Special Education as a college major, the department and the curriculum. What does work in college majors in Special Education mean, and what does it look like in 2018?

Subini Annamma: That’s a great question. I mean in higher education, many Special Education programs are still locked into thinking about disability as a medical deficit that their job is to fix. So race and racism and its outcomes of over-representation of children of color are often ignored because faculty don’t like to talk about them or don’t believe in them or just don’t know how to deal with them. So the voices of actual disabled people and students are often not included, and there’s a general commitment to saviorism, both white saviorism and abled saviorism in Special Ed.

Special Education tends to be set up that special educators have the power to work with disabled kids while general educators do not. And so these academic and departmental silos tend to maintain segregated knowledge, positions, and practices. So I mean it’s all things that we know, but it’s surprising to me how just in particular ways, higher education and teacher education and Special Education all continue to be.

And we know what works is the opposite of this, that higher ed teachers should be focused on teaching to support children’s individual needs. It has to ultimately address interlocking systems of oppression. We must to be able to talk about racism, ableism and sexism and not just cis-heteropatriarchy. All of those things and how they play out in schools and how these things like the achievement gap and the discipline gap are direct results of those, historically and in the present day.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  Your new book, why is it needed, especially now with another wave of women’s movement in the political arena, in the cultural arena?

Subini Annamma: Yes, I think that’s a great question because what we talk about a lot is how feminism is often described as white feminism, which focuses entirely on sexism and patriarchy while often missing out on the intersections of racism and ableism. So what we know is white women and girls are not being funneled into prisons at the same rates as Black, Indigenous, and other girls of color. So if we know that, we know that white feminism is never going to be the thing that unlocks, that disrupts or dismantles these things.

In the same vein, intersectionality, a term that was known long before, is often misused by white feminists, misused to ignore oppressions they don’t feel comfortable with. It’s used to silent certain oppressions and certain privileges at times. And I really am committed to intersectionality, but that’s why I argue we have to return to intersectionality’s lineage, which predates its use in the academy, by that I mean it is not an academic term. And you know that, and I know that. But I feel like academics try to own intersectionality. It’s not owned by the academy; it’s owned by the community, and it’s rooted in Black and critical race feminists and feminist thought. So thinking all the way back to Anna Julia Cooper, to Fannie Lou Hamer, to Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, then into Kimberlé Crenshaw and so forth. So if we can use an intersectional Black feminist lens and a critical race feminist lens, that changes and it makes the argument for why we need this kind of work.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Yes.

Subini Annamma: Yes. Disability is something that Feminist Studies sometimes engages in, but it’s often very theoretical, and it’s often very whitewashed. So I mean one of the most important commitments of intersectionality from a Black and critical race feminist lineage is to listen to the voices of the multiply marginalized so they aren’t voiceless. You know, this idea of “giving voice to the voiceless” is simply another way to leverage just to root ourselves in a system of privilege. Multiply marginalized people aren’t voiceless; they have been actively silenced at intersecting oppressions and systems and interactions with the most privileged. Because it has been centering the voices of disabled girls of color in youth prisons, and it has a specific focus on race, gender, and disability. So it both engages that intersectional lens and focuses on centering the voices of multiply marginalized youth.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Thank you for that answer.  Before your book, there have been many books, studies, articles and speakers on the relationship between Black boys in Special Education and prison, but very little on Black disabled girls of color. So why and who else is writing about disabled girls of color in the school-to-prison pipeline?

Subini Annamma: Yes. That’s great. I really always try to say this up front: it is absolutely necessary and important to talk about boys of color and their experiences of over-representation in the feeders of the pipeline, including disciplinary actions in Special Ed. So I do believe that’s really important. What happens sometimes when we do that is we ignore that girls of color are also being fed into that same machine. And so we need to acknowledge that girls of color are experiencing this disproportionality in comparison to white girls and in comparison to a lot of boys, right? Black girls are suspended at higher rates than white boys right now. What happens sometimes when we focus on boys of color is people try to narrow it down to a gender thing only and erase race. And we need to remember that we need to be at those intersections again.

So if we admit that girls of color are also being fed into the school-to-prison pipeline—or what I talk about as a school-prison nexus—we have to understand that the mechanisms that we send those kids through, the ways, the processes are not the exact same for boys and girls of color. Girls of color experience a different path to prison. Angela Davis has been talking about this for a long time, that if we want to dismantle or even disrupt things, that we have to understand what they are, first of all and then work to disrupt them.

And as far as who is writing about these things, I think there are plenty of people writing about parts of these issues. I think I’m one of the only ones writing about these intersections of race, disability, gender in the school-prison pipeline. But Andrea Ritchie has a new book, Invisible No More, which focuses on the state of violence of women and girls of color and has a chapter specifically devoted to disability. Moya Bailey is working on Black disabled feminism.   Liat Ben-Moshe and Jamelia Morgan are writing about the intersections of disability and incarceration.

And then there are a lot of activists. I want to make sure that this conversation isn’t just about academics. So activists—and I don’t even like, I think the terms sometimes, they’re really binaric, like an activist or an academic. And we can actually talk about public intellectuals, and I think that would actually ground a much larger group of people. But T. L. Lewis and Dustin Gibson are definitely writing about disability and incarceration.  Imani Barbarin, Alice Wong, Lydia Brown all writing about disability, gender, race. And of course, you. There are lots of people doing this work in really important ways but maybe not in the same frame that I am. We don’t need everybody doing the exact same thing.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Thank you for bringing us on as public intellectuals.

Subini Annamma:  I had to do a lot of footnoting because I’m an academic. But you will see a lot in the book, I really tried to bring out the work of a lot of the people I just named because I think that this line that we’re drawing between who gets to have thoughts and whose thoughts are valid and whose ideas are valid is another way of being part of the neoliberal, capitalist production machine. There’s not only one place of knowledge, and I really try to teach that to my students, both in graduate school but also undergraduates: that knowledge comes from, again, if we’re really committed to this intersectional lineage of thought, then knowledge is most likely to come from the people who are most marginalized and the solutions.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  In your book, you wrote that Black girls with disabilities don’t get the empowerment in disability culture and disability as a political identity. Please explain your thought around that.

Subini Annamma:  I mean what I was trying to get at in that part was really this idea of how we speak in schools. Particularly in schools, we tend to erase disability or only see it as a deficit, right, as something to intervene with, something special educators think that it’s something that we can accommodate for, and then you go into class, and you don’t have one. And I think part of that is because of the way we teach: we either erase disability, or we teach about it as a deficit. But I think one of the things that we can really think about doing is really looking at our history and stop erasing disability when our cultural and iconic heroes have it, right? Fannie Lou Hamer was disabled. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler: all these people that we think as people we teach about, right?

And a lot of times, we get this really gorgeous Ethnic Studies curriculum, and I’m in support of Ethnic Studies, and there are beautiful people doing really great work around Ethnic Studies and how important it is in the classroom. So a lot of times, even Ethnic Studies tends to forget that there are these interlocking oppressions people face, and they put the focus on racism. I’m not at all saying we want to stop focusing on racism because racism and white supremacy and anti-blackness are the things that our society is organized around. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the identities or the oppressions that we don’t understand. Of everybody, Fannie Lou Hamer is the one I always come back to because she tends to be really well known in Ethnic Studies circles as this mother of the Civil Rights Movement and this just brilliant, thoughtful person. One of the things I wrote about in the book is that she fought against the “Mississippi appendectomy,” which is a term she came up with for the forced sterilization of Black women, right? And that disability is something that you can be born with or that you can acquire over time though, as she did, through polio and when she had a severe infection, but also from resistance, when she was beaten almost to death in a Mississippi jail. And so if we actually talked about Fannie Lou Hamer as a great, brilliant, Black disabled woman who was a Civil Rights icon in multiple ways, we could see disability as a political identity with this beautiful lineage of resistance. And to me, we need to be talking about disability as something much more broad and much more honestly than we do right now because most of the time right now, we’re talking about it in very ableist ways or erasing it.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  In 2015, a school SRO, a police officer, in South Carolina flipped over a Black girl out of her desk to the floor, but her disability did not come up at first. How does this not mentioning disability in these cases reflect the invisibility of the abuse of disabled girls of color?

Subini Annamma: This is such an important piece: the attack at Spring Valley High that so many of us saw, and I think for so many of us, just it hurt our little Black and Brown girls’ souls. And for so many of us, it was such a reminder of how the state attacks Black girls. But yet, this active erasure of identity that society and we feel uncomfortable with is part of being in a white feminist, ableist, cisheteropatriarchical world, right? We sometimes believe that we can humanize victims of abuse by making them most like ourselves, and that’s when we erase parts of them.

And a lot of what we have done with the Civil Rights Movement, where we tend to try to get people “closest to the norm,” right? Rosa Parks refused to get up. We can’t have Claudette Colvin because she’s 16 and pregnant. Or we have to have Martin Luther King, but not Bayard Rustin because he’s queer. The problem is you suggest in your question is that we invisibilize who we are targeting for space and interpersonal violence because we don’t want to talk about the intersections, right?

And this isn’t just an individual thing, right? We do this in movements, just like I gave some examples about. But this is because we have also seen it done in our government and our institutions. So for an example, we know how many Black children are over-represented in youth prisons, and we know how many disabled children. But we don’t know how many Black disabled children there are because the government does not collect that data in intersectional ways. And this erasure makes it harder to understand who is being targeted for incarceration, and therefore, harder to disrupt and dismantle.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  So true. Talk about your relationships to the girls that you mention in your book. And did you stay in contact with them after the book was published?

Subini Annamma: Yeah, this is actually such a good question. My relationship to the girls in the book got really deep because I spent a couple of years with them, and I did certain things to support them. I advocated for them in their schools. And for one girl, I testified at a hearing, a parole hearing for her. So I mean we definitely had a really great relationship. But this is what is especially complicated about any time we are working in youth prisons because we’re at the mercy of the discretion of the Juvenile Justice Department or the state Corrections Department, whatever it is called, at all times. It’s one of those things about turning our children over to the state, there’s very little oversight done in the name of protecting them while in custody. But really, this lack of reporting only makes them more vulnerable.

So in my case, the state Juvenile Justice Department read my work and did not like my findings and then cut off all my access to the girls. So it was actually a really trying time for me and the girls. Basically, they cut off all my access, and so I could not return to the prisons. I could not return to the institutions.  I have since tried to find the girls, but I haven’t been successful. So it’s been really hard because as much as I say I’m doing everything I can to support them, I lost touch with them. But I lost touch with them, I want be really clear, not because of my own lack of commitment to them but really because this is how the state takes away our children in multiple ways. This is how the state makes sure that this removal is something that is much more permanent, and they work to cut out relationships. And they do it all in the name of protecting the kids, when really, it’s often about protecting themselves.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Give us a short historical view of Special Education field. When did it go from a place to help students to a place of segregation?

Subini Annamma: Yes, this is a great question because it is really complicated, right? Because integration, Special Education, and disciplinary mechanisms were all born and implemented around the same time in many school districts. So even though Brown vs. Board was started in 1954, and Special Ed was in 1975, because of the pauses and the lack of all deliberate speed that actually happened in Brown, students were being integrated in the 60s and 70s. So for an example, in Colorado, at the same time busing was being fought, discipline laws were actually created in 1963. So integration was happening, and all of a sudden we have no way to remove kids from school to be disciplined. And then Special Education was also being started within that same decade. So though the original intent of Special Education was indeed to serve students in public schools instead of institutions, and I really want to emphasize how important that is and was, I think in some schools and districts and states, it was immediately used along with discipline to re-segregate within schools that had to integrate.  I mean again, the intention of Special Ed and what it became were two very different things, and it became that fairly fast. We started seeing over-representation very quickly in Special Education. What it has been used for historically and systemically is to re-segregate within schools.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  How can the Black and Brown community outside of academics help to support your work, writing, and activism on disabled girls of color in the school-to-prison pipeline?

Subini Annamma: Of course, read the book. Read the book and come talk to me. And I so appreciate the interview because it gets the book out there to people who might not have access to it. One of the things that happened on your Facebook page when you mentioned the cost of the book, and I really do empathize. The thing that’s terrible is the authors have no control over the price of books, but there are ways to get it cheaper or for free that I can help with that I posted on your Facebook page. But there’s a flyer I can give you with a discount code. If somebody offers to review it, they can get a free copy. And if not, I’m willing to send copies to people. I mean, I have to pay for it, but I would rather because this book needs to be out there.  But beyond that of course, there’s several things, right? The reason I use the word “school-prison nexus” instead of “school-to-prison pipeline”—I talk about this in the book—but in the school-prison nexus, the idea is there’s so many points of this web. And that’s why I like the word “nexus,” because it’s really a web, right? It’s not just a straight pipeline from education to youth prisons. There’s a web of systems and institutions like foster care, immigration reform, welfare, right? There are all these things that make a child more likely to end up in youth prison. So part of it is becoming involved in wherever your expertise lies. So if you’re a social worker, you can still use information in this book and the understanding of the school-prison nexus to do some work to dismantle it.

But more specifically, beyond engaging where your expertise is, there are a couple things; become involved in local youth prisons. A lot of youth prisons, even though they seem very enclosing from the outside, and they make it really hard to get in, they actually want people involved. Because a lot of people have thrown these kids away; they have discarded them. So becoming involved in local youth prisons. Engaging formerly incarcerated youth in schools and after-school activities and mentoring and support. One of the things girls talk about is leaving prison with very little support, very little. A lot of the messaging from the prison, the people inside the youth jail, so they might have spent a year to two years during really formative times of their life, and are told “stay away from bad people. You’re not bad, but you have to stay away from other bad people.” And that is useless advice when everybody in your community is being framed as bad. So engaging formerly incarcerated youth, giving them support just to stay in school, mentoring them, helping with different resources. Advocate for the formerly incarcerated youth to become educators, to become counselors, to become part of the pipeline, because they are going to be the ones who can help us dismantle it. And teach critical theories for youth so they have a way to understand the world. That’s one of the major things I argue is, listen. Kids are smart. High school kids, middle school kids, and elementary school kids, they can all handle Ethnic Studies and intersectional, critical ideas. We just have to present it to them as a frame to see the world, just as we already do. We present them with lots of frames to think of the world, but that’s usually deeply rooted in meritocracy and hard work. We can present them other frames. So those are some basic ideas.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Can you explain why you use the term “dis/ability?”

Subini Annamma: Yes, yes. And I’m really glad this is a question because I have been grappling with it, to be honest. In one sense, as an academic, we’re constantly playing with language and trying to find the right way to engage. And so I think a lot of this was, my goal with the slash in dis/ability was to help people understand disability is a process of being disabled, not like a medical deficit, right? And also, to get readers who are unfamiliar with the term to rethink the ways they understand disability. So, understand it as a cultural process, a political identity, and all those things that I talked about.

My problem is that I have come to realize—and this is my own growth; we all grow in different ways, and I’m not justifying. I’m just trying to say what I was thinking when I was writing it—was that this situates non-disabled people as the audience for my book. And I’m uncomfortable with that choice that my goal was to help— I’m just, I’m struggling with that. I want more people to be exposed to disability and disability identity and disability issues, but I don’t want to do that at the expense of disabled people as the center of my book. So I really, honestly, I mean I’m moving away from the term. I’m not using the slash anymore. I’m trying to talk about why it’s problematic, why I used it, and why it’s problematic. And it was never meant to be a euphemism. It was never meant to be any kind of perfect, but it’s also not perfect. Language is imperfect and imprecise, and the best we can do is when we see that we need to improve is improve it.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: I totally agree. It seems we focus on the student level and not administration level to improve Special Education. What do you see on the administration level in Special Education that can be improved?

Subini Annamma: Yes, I mean I think it’s an interesting way to put it. I think more needs to be done at all levels: at the student level, at the educator level, at the teacher level, at the family level, right? We tend to hyper-focus on one level, wherever our expertise lies. And that’s not a bad thing, but I do agree with you that the administrator level is extremely important. For example, administrator beliefs have been shown in research to drive disciplinary numbers. So what I mean by that is if administrators are committed to reducing discipline, disciplinary incidents tend to go down. And conversely, if they’re committed to harsh, exclusionary discipline, suspension, expulsions tend to go up, right? So that’s obvious because if your administrator won’t let you suspend a child, you are going to look for other ways to engage the children. And this is very true about how Special Education is imagined and supported in schools. So we need to do a number of things at the administrator level.

So first, get more disabled people of color into administrator positions. And we also need to train more administrators about critical theories and link them with problematic and exemplary practices so they can understand how to best critique what is problematic and go with what is exemplary. And then support them in developing these positions, better critical implementing inclusion for all kids. If those administrators are committed to inclusion, they’re more likely to help teachers think of ways to be inclusive in their practices.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  If you could pick out three major topics from your book that needs to be worked, what would these three topics be?

Subini Annamma: Yes, I came up with four.  The first one is improving education in youth prisons to be more critical and intersectional. That is absolutely what we need to do. A lot of times when I start talking about working in youth prisons, there is a pushback that if I’m in youth prisons working, that I’m part of the problem.  I mean, sure, that’s true in the sense that if you work in any institution, you’re part of the problem. But I think that also means that if we’re going to go with that kind of extreme point of view, then I don’t know where we can work that is not problematic. For me, then we literally are sending those children to their deaths because they have no access to liberatory education. They’re just wallowing in prison, and I’m not willing to do that. So improving education in youth prisons to be more social and intersectional. Provide the support for children coming out of prison, and of course, educate teachers so that they can do these things. And then the major thing—those are all kind of small steps—and then the major thing is we should be working to abolish prisons, youth prisons but prisons outright. Prisons don’t work in the sense that they don’t rehabilitate; they simply harm. We haven’t seen any evidence that prisons make society safer, and we know that people who are targeted for prisons are our most marginalized populations. So to me, we need to be improving prisons while they’re still here and working to abolish them at the same time.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Mmhmm.

Subini Annamma: And there’s great people writing about prison abolition by the way, for example, Mariame Kaba is doing some beautiful stuff around there. She is under the handle @PrisonCulture on Twitter. She’s a great person to follow, and there are plenty of others. Again, reading Angela Davis. There are lots of people doing prison abolitionist work.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: I have two more questions. This is a new question that I just thought of today. In the documentary The 13th Amendment, which I liked, once again, disability was not included in that documentary. So how can we change the talking points, especially in cultural movements like films?

Subini Annamma: I want to give Ava DuVernay so much credit for doing 13th and how important it was and the work she continually does and the way she continually tries to engage race and gender and these types of things. And yet we want to constantly be encouraging people to think about what does it mean to include disability as more than a deficit? I just think it’s in people’s minds of either it’s a deficit, or they don’t know how to approach it; they don’t feel like it’s their expertise. And we have done such a good job at convincing everyone—between the medical establishment and Special Education fields.  We have done such a good job at convincing everyone that if they don’t have this specialized expertise, they should not talk about it, they can’t teach about it, they can’t learn about it. So we have really segregated and portioned off disability into a space that most people don’t feel comfortable going.

And so I think part of this is really assuming best intent for people who are doing critical work and holding them accountable. So I’m not saying that we just say, “Oh, thank you for doing your work.” But we constantly say, “Hey, Ava, have you thought of this?” We tweet at her, we try to get her attention in different ways, and we try to keep building the momentum, right? And that’s one of the reasons why I think the book is helpful because it gets people to think about these intersections who maybe previously have not.

And at the same time, we do whatever we can to amplify the voices of other people who are doing this work. I’m certainly not the voice of the generation. I talk constantly, Leroy, about how much you have taught me, just paying attention to your work and try to cite you consistently even though you’re not an academic, and trying to read your view really authentically. And I try to do that with lots of the public intellectuals who are doing this work in critical ways that really are leaving academia behind because it iss so far behind.

So I think we continually call people in, you know, instead of calling them out. How do we call them in with love? I really think that’s important for people who are critically minded and want to do this work but don’t know how. And I think when we act the fool and/or begin to call them out. I think part of it is the intention and how it’s being engaged in the first place, if that makes sense.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Thank you for always including, once again, public intellectuals. So the last questions; are there subjects that you want to mention coming out of this interview, and where can people buy your book? And what’s the future of your writing?

Subini Annamma: Yes, yes. I mean, the subjects I always want to talk about are centered in understanding. I think the school-to-prison pipeline has become this really sexy phrase that people like to throw around, almost becoming stale in the sense that it’s now like “the achievement gap.” Everybody knows it exists, and nobody wants to do anything about it. So I’m really trying to get people, with the school-prison nexus, to understand how these things are connected—it’s like a web of inter-connected ideas—but also to understand that we have to engage in youth prisons that we have to understand who we are throwing into prisons. And then also that the reach of the carceral state is changing. As we have decided basically, in the last five years, prison populations are actually going down because in lots of places, because we don’t want to invest in prisons in the same way. So we are re-expanding the carceral reach with things like ankle monitors and probation and parole. And what that does is make it more likely we are going to continue to see prisons. Because my girls were going back to jail for things like coming late at curfew, running away from dangerous situations, being out on the street and smoking or drinking, these things called “status offenses” that are only illegal for kids under 18. And we know that status offenses are most likely to be, Black, Indigenous, and girls of color are most likely to be prosecuted for status offenses, right? It’s not white girls.

So again, really understanding the race, the gender, the able kind of dimensions to anything that we’re writing and reading and understanding that these intersections in the cisheteropatriarchy are always making people the most vulnerable, right?

As far as where people can buy my book, you can go to any local bookstore. I would love for you to go to a local bookstore instead of the big online retailers that we don’t even need to name. If they don’t have it, ask them to order it, and they will if they think people are going to buy it. So please, please go to your local bookstore. If you physically can’t get to your local bookstore, see if they’re online. Try them, try them, and try them. Another thing that would really help me, by the way, is review the book, review it on Amazon or review it in different places because that actually makes the difference of whether or not other bookstores choose to stock it if it’s being reviewed and read. So it does not have to be a journal or an academic review. Even if people just want to leave a review on Amazon or other places.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Thank you so much. Once again, how can people contact you, and how can people get the book?

Subini Annamma: Yes, getting the book: feel free to go to your local bookstore. Check them out. If you can’t get to your local bookstore, you can see if they’re online. You can email me at my first and last name, which is Yes, shout out on Twitter, shout out if you are reading the book. Please let me know. It’s so great. People have been tweeting themselves in pictures reading the book and highlights of things they found interesting. And I know it might feel weird to do that. But I can’t tell you, as a new author, it’s so touching to know. It is about these girls and their stories and how important they are. And so for me, that’s why I want people to read the book. I want people to understand how brilliant these girls are and who we’re choosing to lock up. And if we’re choosing to lock up these girls, why? And really start questioning the whole idea of criminals and how we construct criminals out of bodies that we don’t want or that are unwanted in our society.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.:  Thank you so much for doing the work. I tell you, when that book came out, I said finally! So thank you, thank you, and thank you.

Subini Annamma: Good. I’m so glad. And Leroy, I want to say again, your work is so, so important. Krip-Hop has been such an important thing for those of us who love Hip Hop and are also interested in disability. Just the work that you do, I just want to turn around and say thank you to you. I’m so, so grateful that your voice is in the world, and I’m doing whatever I can to support you as well.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Thank you. You take care.

Subini Annamma: Yes, solidarity.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: As Subini has noted there is much work to do.

I think it is important to acknowledge for several decades there have been individuals and organizations doing the work on inclusive education.  While there has been moderate success in suburban schools, for the most part urban districts and charter schools have been resistant to inclusive education.

For some communities there are long deep rooted beliefs in the “Talented Tenth” which do not include disabled students. There are many other attitudes and outdated beliefs in the Black community pertaining to disability and yet these are the communities where the majority of our Black disabled students attend school.

There is also much work being done in the juvenile justice systems.  Where family advocates work year end and out for systems change in public policy, and also in the area of youth incarcerated in adult prisons.

There are also Black groups who are willing to learn and incorporate disability into their work, for example the New Jersey Black Issues Convention consistently makes disability links whenever discussing Black issues in their work and annual convention.

And lastly, it is important for activists to sit, listen and talk with incarcerate Black youths.  Jane Dunhamn of NBDC told me while facilitating a group of formerly incarcerated youth, who talked about their disability as a label or diagnosis, were astounded to learn that they belong to a community and that their disability was a part of their identity.  They were eager to learn more about disability activism and how they could apply the work to themselves. They said they only saw themselves as the only one in the class who was “different” and “a problem” and they knew their bodies and minds had a difficult time following instructions.  No one had ever said there were many people with body/mind differences.

Subini Annamma, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas.  Her research and pedagogy focus on increasing access to equitable education for historically marginalized students and communities, particularly students of color with disabilities.