Korryn Gaines: Narratives of Race and Disability

Vilissa Thompson, one of the most important writers on race, gender, and disability, has written a powerful and moving piece on Korryn Gaines, the black disabled woman killed in Baltimore County recently. Thompson writes:

To be Black, disabled, and female means that you always have eyes on you. You must be “on” at all times; must be willing to “perform” for White, Black, & non-disabled Americas. You must be perfect and a good cripple, or be crucified at the cross, as we saw when Korryn’s story unfolded.

There were two matters in particular that struck me profoundly about the coverage surrounding Korryn’s fatal police incident: the way Black men discussed Korryn’s story on social media, and the Black community’s continued miseducation regarding disability.

Please read the whole thing. Also, while you are at it, read Talila Lewis – Achieving Liberation Through Disability Solidarity (on Rios/Kinsey, but relevant):

In the wake of Charles Kinsey taking a bullet marked for Arnaldo Rios this week, I am renewing the call for Disability Solidarity. Disability solidarity means disability communities actively working to create racial justice, and [non-disability] civil rights communities showing up for disability justice.

Disability solidarity is such a core concept, but one that gets too little attention both inside the broader civil rights movement and the broader disability rights movement.

Meanwhile, the media fails. Here’s a post on Korryn Gaines and disability from the Washington Post, in which reporter Tom Jackman writes:

The police killing of Korryn Gaines in Baltimore County on Monday has the potential to be America’s next explosive racial powder keg. Or it could be defused by viewing it through the race-neutral prism of mental illness and the tragedy of lead-paint poisoning.


Jackman seems to think two false things: One, that mental illness and lead poisoning are race neutral. Two, that adding disability to a police killing makes it less explosive, rather than more. He may be right when it comes to the second point, because it allows an ableist mentality to explain away the violence, but that doesn’t make it less offensive. As for the first – while disability itself extends to all communities, something like lead poisoning is part of environmental racism. Mental illness, meanwhile, sparks radically different responses from authorities and civilians alike, depending on whether the disabled individual is white, brown, or black.

Nothing in America is race-neutral. The fact that Gaines was disabled makes her killing more a sign of discrimination, not less.

Leave a Reply