December 13, 2020
1 of 12 guest speakers for Speak On It! Allies in Action. Hosted by Black Designers Ignite.
Ways we can use the basics of empathy being marginalized as fuel to truly show up for the Black community in meaningful ways by removing the ego and de-centering ourselves from the equation.
Internal page. Live with auto-captions. Adapted transcript by Jess.
Speaker: Jessica Oddi in English. Approximately 6 minutes and 36 seconds. With a live panel discussion afterwards [not recorded]. Replay of the full event here.
Allies in Action title next to the Black Designers Ignite Logo.
I’m Jess. My pronouns are she/her. I’m a disabled graphic designer that focuses on accessibility and representation, inclusion in design.
I’m actually from Hamilton, Ontario Canada which is on the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas.
I’m on Instagram oddi.jessica but also importantly I run with my sister Lianna The Disabled Life on Instagram. Which is something we created to joke about our disabled experiences.
So before I begin I’m just gonna copy… I have an are.na channel for like all of the resources from my presentation. So i’m just sending that there so that we have it and I will begin.
So my talk is on the power of solidarity: showing up as disabled allies. Where i’m going to dive into the ethics behind cross-community activism and recognizing our privileges in marginalized spaces. So we can support the Black community in meaningful ways.
Going back to basics here with an actual definition.
Empathy is the ability to identify with or understand another situation or feelings.
I feel like I’m like back in school doing a presentation but it is an important reminder.
Empathy has had a bad reputation mainly for how it’s been used in modern society. That feeling is not an opportunity to try and relate to someone’s experience by making it about yourself.
You know we’re not saying here “Oh my god I feel you” and then insert big paragraphs about myself.
It’s simply a way for someone to acknowledge the truths of another human being.
We’re saying “I can empathize with your pain. I know that feeling of being disregarded. So I’m going to do my best to validate your experiences by being part of the solution for you.”
So it’s time to get back to the basics of empathy. Remove our egos so we don’t turn the narrative back on ourselves. We should use it as a tool to support each other by holding space for the differences in our lived experiences.
There’s a history of solidarity in activism. One of my favourite examples is from the film Crip Camp. Documenting the disability rights movement which shaped accessibility laws of today.
Directed by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht. Executive produced by President Barack and Michelle Obama.
So quick backstory here. Part of the film covers an 11 day sit in protest back in April 1977 by disabled people for section 504 inside the Regional Housing Education and Welfare Office in San Francisco.
Members of this protest endured through innovation and sheer determination thanks to Judy Heumann as a major organizer.
But part of their endurance was also thanks to major help from the Black Panthers who came to serve hot meals and support during those 11 days.
When protesters look back on that moment one recalled asking the Black Panthers why they came to help anyway. And their response was simply: “You’re trying to make the world a better place and that’s what we’re all about too.”
And what a better example of the purest form of empathy in action right?
So we need to come together as marginalized communities to support each other’s causes. And in order to do that authentically it starts with de-centering our own injustices when we’re supporting someone else’s.
That’s not to say we should erase our own causes ableism exists along with racism and other prejudices. But when we use our platforms to compare these experiences we’re really creating a divide that allows the system to continue working against all of us.
Which is why it’s so important to start by acknowledging our own privileges. I may experience ableism and sure that is valid. But it does not wave the large amount of white privilege that I occupy within that space.
There are intersections here. Black disabled people experience both racism and ableism. And to dismiss that is harmful.
It’s hard to move forward without each other you know? disability activism cannot exist without Black perspectives and vice versa.
And that support starts with expanding our circles. Here are a few accounts that I love and can cram into five minutes.
Imani Barbarin aka Crutches and Spice is a communications expert sharing her experiences as a Black woman with CP or Cerebral Palsy.
Speaking of Black moms we love! Jen White-Johnson is a neurodiverse and disabled Afro-Latina artist and designer for collective liberation. She’s a mother to an autistic son and one of my personal favourite designers who actually created the Black Disabled Lives Matter campaign.
There’s Jillian Mercado: model, actress, activist and founder of the Black Disabled Creatives database. She hits so many notes on representation and created this amazing space for Black disabled creatives to be recognized and hired.
Community support too. There are so many avenues of action to participate in allyship.
Spread the wealth support Black owned businesses. Here’s a local one in Hamilton called Blk Owned by Abygail, Alexandria and Ashleigh Montague.
Or join mutual aid fund groups online.
And I know disabled folk don’t always have the funds or can’t necessarily safely join in protests right now. So support your local organizers, sign petitions, do what you can from home.
We have great organizations like March for Black Lives Canada by Amani Williams.
And as freelancers we can show workspace support. Just because I’m not corporate doesn’t mean I can’t give within my own practice.
When we make one-on-one connections and share our resources, investing in the equity of Black designers becomes a daily practice.
Plug into your community channels your area of expertise can aid in the growth of others. Like I can offer free accessibility techniques for people.
You know? We all have our thing and marginalized communities support each other. We know how to build a better future. So by sharing our resources and supporting without comparisons. It will only lead to a better more intersectional space.
Every action no matter the scale has an impact.
And that’s all she wrote! And by she, I mean me.
Jess focuses on disability-led practices. Balancing lived experience with community spaces in her discussions.events + features
A white disabled woman smiles with a cappuccino. At a counter in her power wheelchair. She has green eyes, and brown-silver hair. Wearing a white collared shirt over a black jumpsuit. Photo and editing by Garry Tran.