Pushing Limits Transcript
(Approximately 15 minutes of the 30 min. interview)
EDDIE YTUARTE: OK, good afternoon. This is Eddie Ytuarte here on Pushing Limits radio program, disability radio for and by the disability community on KPFA 94.1 in Berkeley.
We’re gonna talk a little bit about capitalism. Capitalism is about money. Capitalism is about 80% of disabled people who are not employed full-time. Capitalism propaganda sorta determines the way we think. And does capitalism also tell us it’s OK that the majority of people in jails have learning disabilities, mental disabilities, brain injuries, and physical disabilities? This is, for example, one topic that commercial radio doesn’t talk about much. So capitalism does affect us in ways that we don’t always see.
We’re pleased to have today disability activist Cheryl Green who will tell us about some of the ways capitalism has influenced the disability experience as well as that of other oppressed people. Cheryl Green is the prime force for StoryMinders, where she works as a filmmaker and educator and advocate. She lives with a brain injury, and the work of StoryMinders focuses on folks who have experienced traumatic brain injuries. Welcome to our program, Cheryl Green.
CHERYL: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
EDDIE: Can you give just a little bit of background to yourself and what work you’ve done in the disability community?
CHERYL: Sure, sure. So yeah, like you said, I’m a filmmaker. I’m also a blogger. I’m a podcaster. I help produce a show in a feminist collective in Portland’s community radio station, KBOO. And I bring disability topics to that feminist radio program. I also am a Closed Captioner because anybody out there who works in independent media, you know that you cannot pay your rent with that. So I’m a Closed Captioner, and I am halfway through my training to becoming an Audio Describer for film. So I’ve done a lot of presentations and trainings on challenging and disrupting ableism but then also doing some trainings for speech therapists and occupational therapists in how to be more humanizing and respectful in their rehabilitation and really focus on people’s identities, rather than just trying to make them “normal.” So that’s the work that I do.
EDDIE: OK. And a lot of it, again, is done through StoryMinders, based up in Portland, Oregon.
CHERYL: Yep, that’s me. Yep. I just had to come up with a business name, so. cripping Capitalism
EDDIE: Yes. Now, what came to my attention, I saw you and another activist, Caitlin Wood. You folks did a workshop called “Cripping Capitalism,” which I found on YouTube, and it’s something that I would recommend to other folks. What does cripping capitalism mean to you however?
CHERYL: I have to say, your introduction to the show is cripping capitalism. So what did you mention? You mentioned 80% of disabled people are unemployed or not–
EDDIE: Not fully employed, yes.
CHERYL: Right. And then, you mentioned prisons. And that is cripping capitalism. So when people go about talking about capitalism this, capitalism that, and you don’t include the realities of the disabled experience, then you’re leaving a ton out. So when we talked about cripping capitalism– Well, let me back up. So this was for a Gender Studies symposium at Lewis and Clark, which is a college up here in Portland. Our main focus was to figure out how to talk about, hey, all of you feminists out there of any gender, feminists out there, you’re not talking about disability. And not only are you not talking about disability, but you’re using ableism to bolster your feminist arguments. And this is not OK because there are disabled feminists, and just disabled people exist period. So if you are fighting for equity in any area, then you have to include disability in that.
So I’ll be honest–I think it might be my brain injury–I do not remember how we came up with the idea to focus on capitalism for this Gender Studies symposium! I just simply don’t remember. But we really talked about prison, we talked about freak shows, we talked about reproductive rights, and we talked about work. The way that we cripped capitalism was to look at some of the early feminism. So for instance, hey, women are not inferior to men. We’re just as good as men. Or we’re superior to men. These might feel empowering to some people, but these arguments re upholding this idea that some humans are superior to some other humans, and some are inherently inferior. That’s white supremacy, but that’s also ableism.
So we feel like anytime women say, “We’re valuable people because we work, and we earn money,” or whatever the reason is, what are you saying about people who don’t work and don’t earn money? And what are you saying about disability community who is often incarcerated, who is often left without homes, who are sexually and physically and emotionally abused and assaulted at very high rates? Every time you step up and say, “I’m superior because I’m more like a man,” yeah, just that reinforcement of inferior-superior in general. So that’s the big picture of what we talked about. Prisons, race, and disability
EDDIE: Let’s talk a little bit more about that prison part.
EDDIE: OK. So we’ve had prisons in this society since the start of it.
EDDIE: I’m thinking about after the Civil War in the South, the way Black people were oppressed in different ways and because they were poor. And they found themselves in Southern prisons and other prisons in disproportionate ways. Now, what happened to a lot of these folks who have been in those prisons? They do chain gangs where they work, and often times the prisons–run by the state at one time, and they still are–but they would contract chain gangs out and get some very, very, very cheap labor.
EDDIE: And that connection, there’s the similarity between people with disabilities who are in the prisons currently, and there’s a high number of us that are there who could be easily exploited.
EDDIE: And the other thing about the prison system is that prison affects disability, creates disability, or makes disability worse. That’s why I don’t see, unfortunately in the disability advocacy community, we’re not really talking about that much. To me, it’s one of the biggest, one of the major civil rights issues that people with disabilities are having, is that we’re ending up– One of the reasons, because of our lack of education opportunities, we end up in the prisons, we get disabled, or we’re easily exploited by the new trend in the prison system of private contractors that run these places.
HEARD and Deaf Justice
CHERYL: Yeah, yeah. You know, one group that I love–and we didn’t talk about this in our presentation, but a group that I love–is HEARD. Do you know about them? Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities?
EDDIE: No, tell us about that.
CHERYL: OK. HEARD is just, oh my gosh. I can’t say enough good stuff about this organization. They are a non-profit, and they really work on wrongful imprisonment, and especially for Deaf, DeafDisabled, DeafBlind, and Disabled people who are incarcerated. There’s a heavy emphasis on Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. But it starts at the beginning. It starts with people saying things like, “Michael Brown: He looked like a demon. He didn’t even look like a man.” So it starts there with the dehumanization of somebody, specifically a Black man, making them less human in any way that you can. So to say that his face looked like a demon to make him less human.
And then in terms of, in the case of, say, a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person who maybe is pulled over by the cops, they are often not given an ASL interpreter or provided communication in a form that they can access even though it’s their federal right to have those things. So they can’t defend themselves, they can’t explain, they can’t have a communication with the cops. Then they’re taken into prison. They’re not given access to communication or interpretation at their hearings, at their bookings, once they’re in prison.
You mentioned exploitation. Well, imagine what it’s like to be walking down the hallways or in a cell or wherever, and you don’t hear a perpetrator coming up behind you because you’re Deaf.
So people are getting perpetrated against. Prisons and jails all over the place are having hearing inmates “interpret” for Deaf people when they don’t know any signed languages. So there’s bribery, there’s sexual exploitation, there’s sexual assault. You might have a prison guard come up and call out to you, and you don’t follow the instructions because you didn’t hear them. Well, now you’re non-compliant.
You can’t access the classes and the rehabilitation programs that everyone else–or that some people–can access that you have to access in order to get out of prison. So that cycle continues of looking at somebody as inherently criminal, inherently inferior, and as not capable of reaching a higher potential or of getting out of prison. When in fact, we put them in there and then shut them out from communication, and yet somehow expect them to excel.
Like you said, acquiring disability in prison. I mean, assault. Anybody who’s assaulted may sustain trauma, and that can be very dis-enabling and disabling. But then also, I mean people are getting their heads hit. They’re sustaining traumatic brain injuries once they’re in prison. And they’re not getting out and going to rehab like I got to do. I mean, the cycle doesn’t end because we won’t end it. Because the prison system has always been a place to just lock people away and get free or cheap labor and to reinforce white supremacy. So that’s my thought on that.
EDDIE: Do you know in Oregon if any of the prisons now have been contracted out to private, for-profit companies?
CHERYL: Yeah, yeah.
EDDIE: Yeah, I’ve heard in California, some people in the prisons are even sent out of state for a contract or private prisons. Folks, this is a real problem we’re having. To me, this is one of the really prime examples of the relationship between oppression of people with disabilities and capitalism. I mean, we’re commodities. That’s what we are.
EDDIE: And we shouldn’t be there many times. Disability and other marginalized identities Anyhow, are there other similarities that people with disabilities have had with people of color and women and folks in the gay and lesbian community.
CHERYL: Oh sure. That’s a great question. And this is something that Caitlin and I touched on in this presentation, and I bring it up in the lot of the presentations and trainings that I do. And that is that we use ableism and disability discrimination as a way to oppress any group that we want to. For instance, homosexuality was considered a mental illness or psychiatric disability, and some people would still casually say, “Oh, that’s sick in the head.” But it was a real medical diagnosis. And in the system that we live in, if you have a medical diagnosis, then your job is to get fixed and get normal. So it’s not just that you’re sick in the head, but you are deviant and non-compliant and need to get fixed. And that’s a way to oppress people who are not monogamous and heterosexual is by calling it a disease or a disability.
Do you know the diagnosis drapetomania?
EDDIE: No, I don’t.
CHERYL: OK, this is one that I think that you will be very intrigued by. Back in the times of chattel slavery, this was a diagnosis. It was coined in 1851, and this is a psychiatric diagnosis given to people who African or African descent who ran away from their own enslavement. They would deemed to be mentally ill because if they were sane and intelligent, they would understand that being enslaved is part of God’s plan and the natural order of humanity. Because they were naturally considered to be inferior. And so the simple act of running away to try to live out their own humanity, they were just given a disability diagnosis and told that they needed medical treatment. No other purpose, this served no other purpose than to continue and to bolster white supremacy. And this would be assumed a supposed inferiority of people of African descent. So yeah, you talk about similarities and commonalities. Those are two big ones that really stand out to me.
The last 15 minutes are only available on audio here.
This program aired on 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPFB in Berkeley, 88.1 and online at KPFA.org.
The program originally aired May 5, 2017