When will Disabled Black Lives Matter?
Zahra Bei, No More Exclusions, shares one story of systemic disablism and racism children and families in Britain face daily – of structural oppression, struggle, solidarity and a rising collective resistance that must be told.
This is a painful story to tell during Black History Month or Disability History Month, or for that matter any month, or any year. We are now living through the second wave of a devastating global pandemic that has magnified social inequalities and injustices experienced by disadvantaged groups in society. It has been reported by UNISON that Disabled Black people are at the highest risk of loss of employment and access to support and care they are entitled to due to the restrictions implemented under emergency legislation. We are in the throes of a global recession, civil unrest, climate catastrophe, and rising authoritarianism is rearing its ugly heads, under many guises and in many languages across continents. In spite of this blique backdrop, there are signs of resistance and organised efforts to ensure that the lives of disadvantaged and minoritized people that share multiple identities are not forgotten.
As Co-Founder of No More Exclusions I want to share with you one intersectional story amongst the thousands of stories of systemic, everyday disablism and racism that children and families face in Britain on a daily basis. It is a story of structural oppression, struggle, solidarity and a rising collective resistance that must be told.
No More Exclusions too have joined in support.
On October 7th, a family from Dudley, Birmingham, was celebrating a short reprieve. Their 22-year-old son, with various labels including autism, was released from prison after serving 2 and half years of a 5 year-sentence. Osime Brown was convicted as a teen for the theft of a mobile phone – a theft he had in fact tried to prevent – under the joint enterprise legislation. Osime is now facing imminent deportation to Jamaica, a country he has no memory of, having left age 4. At the time of writing, over 300,000 signatures have been collected through a petition by the campaigners trying to halt Osime’s deportation. Osime’s story is sadly an all-too common one. Apart from the lack of support from the school, and struggling his entire school career, Osime was diagnosed at the age of 17, after being permanently excluded from school, taken into care against his family’s wishes (Black children are disproportionately placed in care) and it was during this period that Osime – excluded, and away from home – was exposed to even more to criminal exploitation. Osime experienced what can be safely described as a textbook horror-themed catalogue of state systemic failures. At every turn, Osime and his family were prevented access to the education, care, protection, support and justice that all children are entitled to.
Osime’s mother, Joan Martin, told us that:
“Osime was not accommodated in school, firstly because his autistic behaviour was seen as a defiant and disruptive Black boy. The system saw a Black boy, now a Black young man, and they cannot get beyond colour, to see the human crying out for help and understanding. They did not want to accommodate him, see his needs, nor believe me, his mother, that he needed support and to be understood as a lost young person who was in a different place from his peers and as one who understood the world with the mind of a child, who trusted people too easily.”
Osime’s future now lies in the hands of the Home Office. But there is hope.
Osime’s mother, her family and community campaigners are working tirelessly to halt Osime’s deportation. A big question remains. Even, if their efforts are successful, how will the historical wrongs experienced by Osime and his family throughout his life at the hands of a cold and uncaring system and society be put right? How can we stop the enactment of a well-oiled school to prison pipeline that sucks in droves of Disabled Black people every day? How do we raise the alarm and get society to recognise and care about Disabled Black children’s lives caught up in the British school to prison pipeline? This is a pipeline that extends the punishment to include the permanent physical removal of individuals from British from British soil – a blatant disregard of human rights.
It is hard to fathom how this is happening to Osime (and to so many other minoritized individuals every day) and that it is happening in Britain in 2020 – a country with some of the most (apparently) progressive equality legislation in the world. The Equality Act 2010 establishes that equality must require adopting measures that account for disabled people’s impairments, including treating disabled people more favourably than others. The legislation places a duty on the public sector to have “due regard” to identified protected characteristics. Like many Disabled Black children and young adults, Osime was and continues to be multiply-marginalised and subject to exclusion instead of education, and punishment instead of protection. Disabled Black children are less likely to be afforded the benefit of childhood innocence. Isn’t it interesting that individuals such as Osime can get caught up, and wrongly accused and sentenced through the legal notion of ‘joint enterprise’ and yet his personal identities as a Disabled Black young person are denied in law? Succinctly, the issue of intersectionality is ignored, and individuals are left stranded.
The process of discrimination, exclusion, state violence, marginalization and pathologization start early, as soon as Disabled Black children enter the education system.
Osime is just one of thousands of Disabled Black children for whom the historical continuum of institutional abandonment and systematic exclusion are an everyday reality – all of which too often occurs intergenerationally. The experience of Osime highlights how immigration policies work alongside other discriminatory state systems to deprive Disabled Black individuals of their human rights as citizens, forcing many to be stateless with limited opportunity to legal recourse. Disabled Black children are either hyper-visible or invisible in society; their identities are perpetually constructed and reconstructed as either worthless, criminal or deficient. Their sense of self-worth and belonging are constantly under assault.
For Disabled Black people like Osime life is compounded by the overlapping of intersectional systems of oppression. For Osime equality, equity and inclusion are non-existent. Osime’s experience highlights the discrimination inherent in education, health, social care, criminal justice and immigration systems. Multiple injustices are deeply entrenched. When will Disabled Black lives matter?
By Zahra Bei
Co-Founder, No More Exclusions