African-Americans in the Disability Community
School to Prison Pipeline, Incarceration, Poverty & Disparities
The experience of disability is different for members of the Black community. From birth, many African Americans are born into a world which does not make all resources available for them to flourish and succeed. Many of our Black male youth, especially with disabilities, experience the phenomenon called the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline” where they are put on a life-path that will result in them dropping out of school, getting involved in crime-related activities, and later being incarcerated for the acts they performed. There is a link between students with non-apparent disabilities, where there is also an over classification of impairments with challenging behaviors, that are put into the fast track of the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline. One of the main arguments that revolve around the causation of this phenomenon is that “Early contact with police in schools often sets students on a path of alienation, suspension, expulsion, and arrests” (Rethinking Schools). The normalization of the presence of law officials and of classmates of African American descent being removed for their actions can strongly attribute to the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline” phenomenon. These instances become more of life-style expectancy rather than a lifestyle that can be avoided all together. Another argument used to explain the cause of the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline,” is that it “begins in deep social and economic inequalities, and has taken root in the historic shortcomings of schooling in this country” (Rethinking Schools). It should not come as a surprise that certain school districts in this country receive less funding and the majority of the students that live there are the minority. Poor resources and a lower proficiency level of educational professionals contribute to the non-stimulating and non-preparing classroom environments that produce members of society that can’t compete with others who have a better educational experience.
Incarceration rates are at an all-time high and are known to be made up of 60% of minorities (alternet.org). Every 1 out of 15 African-American males are imprisoned each year compared to 1 in 106. It was also found that 1 out of 3 African-American ales can expect to go to jail at some point in their lifetime (alternet.org). Our society focuses on the word “criminal” and does not invest enough time or interest in the rather large issue that lies inside of these institutions. 60% of the inmate population has some form of a learning disability alone, which omits other existing disabilities whether it is apparent or non-apparent. The struggles that inmates face on a daily basis vary, however, they share the common experience of having their disability either undiagnosed or ignored. Many cases we see inmates being reprimanded and disciplined for inappropriate behavior and not following rules and regulations of the facility. Most of the time their physical or cognitive impairment are not taken into consideration and unfair punishment is served. This again highlights the school to prison pipeline due to the simple fact that while attending school their disabilities went unnoticed or diagnosed incorrectly. This inmate population is then composed of a group of African-Americans who are left to navigate their world with a known or unknown impairment whether it is physical or cognitive.
Poverty runs rampant in the African-American community. In 2010, it was recorded that 27.4% of Blacks lived in poverty compared to 9.9% of Non-Hispanic Whites (National Poverty Center). This affects the lives of these community members in various ways. This determines where they can live, where they can send their children to school, and what services are available or unavailable to them based on their financial status. When the addition of disability is added into the picture, the experience of poverty becomes an even worse situation. Access to transportation or the use of other people to get places becomes harder when the funds are not available. Any medical needs either take up most of their aid that they receive or there just isn’t any money at all to utilize. The community of Blacks with disabilities faces a double hit due to them being marginalized in two different ways but affecting both situations that they struggle in. It is not hard to believe or expect that White persons with disabilities have an easier time receiving aid and resources than those who are Black. The disparities based on race are on-going and don’t give a break to those in the disability community.
Disability from Violence
Often times we do not think about disabilities acquired after the birthing process; we think of individuals being born with it. Even less times we think about disabilities acquired after accidents or acts of violence. In urban communities, which house many African- Americans, the amount of crime and gang-related violence is extremely high. When it comes to gun violence, a lot of people assume that individuals are dying from these acts of violence; people are actually acquiring disabilities. It has been found that gunshot victims are actually four times more likely to become disabled than die as a result of the injuries. Gunshot injuries are found to be the second most common cause of disability in urban areas. Gunshot injuries are the primary cause of disability for African-Americans and Latinos.
Remarks on slavery
The period in which slavery occurred was a time of great struggle, oppression and violence. Various punishments were given for disobedient behavior and attempting to escape. Hobbling was a common form of punishment because it rid the punished slaves of the ability to run. They would be forced to walk around unevenly, which naturally can be understood as an example/warning for others to not try and run away. Various forms of physical punishments caused great bodily harm which resulted in disability. Looking at the situation from another angle, those who were enslaved that had cognitive or physical disabilities were treated even worse than those who were considered to be “able-bodied.” This is the case because they were looked down upon because they did not have the full-range of abilities that they needed to execute all the tasks that were being given. Slavery either resulted in disability because “able-bodied” persons were trying to escape their situations or were not given the accommodations they needed depending on the specific cognitive or physical disability/impairment. Overall, slavery left ugly marks in the lives of all who were forced to participate.