In recognition of Black History Month, DAWN Canada has asked Black women with disabilities to share their reflections and analysis of how race and disability affects their lived experiences. In this blog, Laurie S. Alphonse talks about how she negotiates this on a day to day basis.
Laurie S. Alphonse
At different times in my life I have struggled with deconstructive labelling. I have had people question my identity as a black woman with a disability imposing their views and values as they went. I have been called" a differently-abled woman of color" and other politically correct terms such as physically challenged but in the end what matters is how I identify myself, "I am a strong black woman living with a disability" plain and simple. It was 20 years ago standing outside on my first protest march I heard someone say, "Where did that woman of color go?" I looked to my left and to my right before realizing that she was referring to me. I have since learned a great deal more about perceptions in the world around me but my core value for knowing who I am has not been altered in any way. Regardless of labelling I do not exists to make others comfortable with their ideas about disability or racial identity. I may aim to change perspective on those elements of my identity but whether others are comfortable is not my principal concern. Understanding and mutual respect are what I'm trying to achieve.
I have never considered myself terribly concerned with image. However, I do check myself in the mirror before important meetings and decide my wardrobe each morning on the activities of that day. An example of this is never going to work or church in jeans. Some people might consider my wardrobe choices as small but for me it has far deeper meaning. Although I can thank my mother for the," never going to church in jeans" rule instilled in me as a child I have always believed the adage "dress for success" and for the most part it works well for me. Dressing for success meant conformity, and while a lot of people rage against that conformity, I find it comforting. Some people strive to stand out. I have done the opposite trying to fit in. While at the same time not allowing my disability to be the element that sets me apart, I want to be noted by my work, my activism, and the satisfaction of the people I help. However, the reality is if I want to master the hurdle of the way people see me, I must address the disability and the perceptions that surround it in order to be taken seriously. My academic and professional qualifications make me an overachiever in the eyes of some but during the completion of my degrees and over the course of my career. I found that my identity flows freely beyond the aspects of my gender, disability or my ethnicity to someone who strives for an identity that is more than the sum of its parts. I am ME. Who is ME, is the jigsaw puzzle of the intersectional identities mixed with a richness of experiences that make me appreciate colors and shapes in my world enriching and embracing positives of the diversity that I get to share by just being me!