Hello everyone! My name is Diamond, and I joined the Groovy Garfoose in February 2023 as a music therapy intern. I have plans to finish my internship and earn my MT-BC credential this summer. During my coursework at Cleveland State, I was placed at many different practicum sites including JFSA-Horvitz YouthAbility, Campus International Schools, and Olmsted Falls Early Childhood Center, serving a variety of ages and abilities. Music has always been an important part of both my community and life, and using its power to accomplish individualized goals in therapy has only brought a deeper fulfillment and joy along the journey.

As one of the few(er) black music therapy interns, I have faced a different world than that of my counterparts. As such, it has become a mission of mine to encourage the research, reflection and curiosity of exploration of the many different communities we are all serving in. Thus acknowledging the difficult realities that are often ignored in favor of being comfortable.

Comfortable in daily life.

Comfortable in the struggles of daily life.

Maybe even comfortable within the uncomfortable challenges of daily life.

Sometimes we are unaware and ignorant, but other times we blatantly choose blindness as “putting in the work” is…too much work.

Unfortunately, that is another luxury. As the systems of this country run on knowing how much commitment and self awareness it takes to truly dismantle it’s ‘works’. Leaving BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) persons experiencing a world our counterparts have not lived, thus cannot understand.

For us, there is no such thing as being able to ignore. It is our lives.

Differences Can Be What Makes Us Strong

The human race is vast, contrasting and beautiful. This beauty often stems from how different we are! With these differences, we sometimes make up for what our counterparts lack. That way, we can flow naturally along with one another.

It is important that we diligently work towards acknowledgment, awareness and understanding. The ignoring of these differences can prove harmful, as that means, ignoring parts of the many identities. Recognizing these differences help better serve different communities, individuals and society as a whole.

Brown boy sitting in a classroom. His book bag hangs from his mobility device. His hand on his mouth as he looks away. On his tray is a pencil pouch, and a notebook with a drawing of a heart and dog.
Black student in a mobility device looking at his classmates beside him and being pushed by black teacher who is smiling down a school hallway. A young white girl standing to the left of the black student smiling and holding a green book bag. An asian boy behind the white girl holding the straps of his book bag. Another black boy standing on the right of the black boy making a surprised expression.

Racism and Ableism Walk Hand in Hand

There is a lack of acknowledgement of the ties between racism and ableism within our society. It is often believed that ableism is an entirely separate form and system of oppression. However, this would disregard the experiences of people of color who have disabilities, and history, as it was often used as a means to justify discrimination against minority and ethnic groups.

In Isabella Kres-Nash’s work, she brings to light the many ways in which society treats people of color to create barriers. These barriers include poor conditions that create disability. With the concept of such, disabilities are a source of justification for discrimination against these groups. And thus, assigning various disabilities will benefit the status quo that they see fit. This idea was confirmed with the creation of several diseases specific to Black people.

1. The general idea that African Americans lacked the intelligence to participate on an equal basis in society with white Americans (Kres-Nash, 2016).
2. Drapetomania: a mental illness that, in 1851, American physician Samuel A. Cartwright hypothesized as the cause of enslaved Africans to flee captivity (Cartwright,1851).
3. Dysaesthesia Aechiopis: a “condition” that was particular to Black peoples. Often referred to as “Rascality”. It was said to be accompanied with physical signs or lesions of the body. This resulted in a desire to avoid work and encourage bad behaviors or wrongdoing (Cartwright, 1851).

Specific Ableism and Dangers Toward People of Color

Institutionalized racism has created underfunded, unsupported and tossed aside environments. Leaving these communities without the resources to identify and create even the most basic plans of care for disabilities. This leaves communities of color with the highest numbers of individuals with mental illness.

African Americans, for example, are diagnosed with schizophrenia, given antipsychotics more often and in higher dosage, and institutionalized involuntarily more frequently than their white counterparts as racial stereotypes do affect psychiatric assessments in terms of their “dangerousness”. A key factor as to why current medical models of disability are inadequate across varying communities.

About one-third to half of the people who are killed by police are disabled Black persons or persons of color(Chisholm, 2020). N. Jamiyla Chisholm spoke of an experience in her work “To Be BIPOC, Disabled and Fighting for Justice” in which, “it is a risk for people of color who are disabled and who have physical disabilities because our movements are sometimes incorrectly interpreted as being suspicious. For example, I’ve heard stories about sign language being misinterpreted for gang signs.”.

The continued use of racial stereotypes to diagnose, and the general danger of possessing a disability while of color will forever intertwine ableism and racism. Abelsim is an instrument of racism through its creation of societal barriers that promote disability. Kres-Nash perfectly sums up, “The social model of disability that the disability community is embracing by definition includes people of color, and yet the disability community is not inclusive of the struggles of people of color. Understanding the historical connection between racism and ableism should lead to a connected effort to disable these systems of oppression. The ultimate goal of meaningful inclusion for the disability community will never be fully realized until black and brown people are also free.”.

There was a lot of information in this post. I wouldn’t be surprised if it left you wondering “Well, what now? What do I do?”. And I can proudly say, I don’t have that answer for you. As a black person, it is exhausting to have to find the answers for every question. I didn’t build this system, and I certainly don’t benefit from it. I am also very aware that everyone is different! We all process and think in different ways, too. Some of us will have to sit with uncomfortable feelings, and others will feel compelled to reach out and discuss this matter with someone who is deeply trusted.

However, I will leave you with a few tips!

1. Research, research, research!
2. Expanding your circle helps expand your worldview. Ask your friends of color how their challenges are different from yours (the trick is to listen without judgment of others AND yourself).
3. The voice of the oppressed is not something that can be negotiated. They see your struggle. They are aware you also live a life that is not easy. However, they chose to be vulnerable and share their experience and knowledge. There must be a level of acceptance that as much as the system was not made for those with disabilities, it was DOUBLY not made for persons of color with disabilities. And those challenges are VASTLY different.

Kres-Nash, I. (2016, November 10). Race and ableism. American Association of People with Disabilities. https://www.aapd.com/racism-and-ableism/
Chisholm, N. J. (2020, September, 1). To be BIPOC, disabled and fighting for justice.Colorlines.https://colorlines.com/article/be-bipoc-disabled-and-fighting-justice/
Cartwright, S. A. (1851). Diseases and peculiarities of the negro race. De Bow’s Review. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3106t.html

Diamond Wilson, Music Therapy intern photo

Diamond (she/her) joined The Groovy Garfoose in February 2023 as a music therapy intern. Music has been an important part of both her community and life, and using its power to accomplish individualized goals in therapy has only brought a deeper fulfillment and joy along the journey.