Category Archives: Black Lives Matter

2017 Graduating Student Reflection

This post was written by Darlene Murrain.

colour photo of Darlene Murrain at podium


Good afternoon everyone. I feel honoured and humbled to have been asked by Kathryn and Esther to deliver the Student Perspective speech today as well as being awarded the Jake Edelsen Award in Community Organizing. I want to also extend my congratulations to all the award recipients who have been recognized for their efforts and thank you to the donors for your contributions who made these awards possible.

If you were to ask me back in 2008 when I freshly graduated with my Behavioural Sciences diploma what my next endeavour would be, my answer probably wouldn’t have included Disability Studies. I didn’t know it existed until a former professor told me about it but in all honesty, I believe Disability Studies chose me and I’m glad it did. For a majority of us students, it all begins at the summer intensive, DST 501 “Rethinking Disability” with Esther Ignagni in what I like to call the “unlearning stage”. Unpacking and questioning disability was something I’ve never considered before and this opened up a whole new understanding of disability from the perspective of disabled people.. For me, this was not only revolutionary in altering my understanding but it forever shaped the way I interacted with the world: from the language I used, to the models and theories I referenced to the way I repositioned myself as an advocate and ally to the disability community. We were introduced to varying schools of thought by experts in the field like Kumari-Campbell, Razack, Freire, Finkelstein, Tregaskis, Garland-Thomson, Bell and Crenshaw just to name a few. What I loved most about the intensive was having the chance to spend a couple weeks with my classmates and bounce around our ideas and individual experiences with disability.

I always knew I wanted to be involved in community organizing for the inclusion of people with disabilities: I ran free a tutoring club for low-income children with learning disabilities, wrote a few proposals for international programs focusing on education for children with disabilities yet it wasn’t until I progressed about halfway through the program, I got that moment of truth. I learned about Inclusive Design in DST 614 and for me that was it, I found my calling! Now as a graduate, I can say that I have found a tangible way to apply my learnings and my passion for advocacy by considering future graduate studies in the field of Inclusive Design. My thesis project was a great wrap-up to my academic career at Ryerson as I explored inclusion for people with disabilities in the Anti-Black Racism movement. What I enjoyed most about the program is there were always opportunities to refresh your perspective and apply it to your everyday life. Let’s take the social model of disability for example. Think about how that one concept alone has altered the way you are in the workplace with coworkers, disabled people and their families. And also, how many teaching moments you had where you were talking to family and friends and you educated them about how societal barriers perpetuate disability. Sound familiar?

All-in-all, this program taught me how to think critically and consider new point of views. I never knew what a “critical lens” was before but eventually I found myself applying it to my studies. This leads me to give some advice to current students in the program. My first piece of advice to current students would be to take as many electives as you can and see what role a critical disability lens can play. The diverse range of elective courses give you the freedom to pursue other fields of study that enhance your journey through the Disability Studies program and I believe, makes you more well-rounded. One of the electives I took was International Community Development. I enjoyed this elective very much and being a Disability Studies student allowed me to bring the theoretical framework into it for my final essay about children with disabilities living in improvised communities. I also found that I was able to do that with a majority of my elective courses.

My second piece of advice is get to know the members of the faculty and staff. They’re awesome! They are so knowledgeable in the field and are so hands-on. Ask Paris about the random emails I sent her almost every semester about my course selection or Esther about the amount of times during DST 99 I showed up to her office just to pick her brain about my major research project. They were each always so gracious and accommodating to assist me.

My last piece of advice is to take your time through the program so you can really engage with the learning process. It took me a full 8 years to complete the program and it was not a fact I liked to share with people when they asked me but when I arrived on the presentation day for our final projects, I heard the journeys of other students and what it took for them to reach this point of completion. This made me proud of what taking this program has made me both professionally, academically and personally. I hope that throughout the remainder of your studies here at Ryerson, you will continue soak up all that comes your way to help you forge your academic path and ultimately become creators and influencers in the world at large.

I would like to end by thanking the biggest creators and influencers, our professors who exemplify the school’s motto of vision, passion and action. Your contributions impact not only our academic lives but help to shape the future climate of our society to be more compassionate, knowledgeable and inclusive. We appreciate all that you do to allow us to reach our highest potential in this field through your continuous support. You provide us opportunities to grow, to get involved and to lead. For me personally, your mentorship has molded me into the woman standing in front of you today. Thank you for choosing me 8 years ago to be apart of the Disability Studies family.


Intersectional Black Lives Matters: Placing People with Disabilities within the Anti-Black Racism Movement through a Disability Justice lens

This post was written by graduating student, Darlene Murrain.

Photograph of Jalani Morgan’s photography exhibit with Darlene Murrain silhouette over it.

From the beginning of my scholastic career in Disability Studies, I always looked forward to the Major Research Thesis Project. As I navigated through the core courses of the program, I became more and more intrigued with various schools of thought around inclusion, intersectionality and activism. I knew that I wanted to carry these themes into my final project. Choosing a topic for my final project was a daunting process but thanks to my supervising professor Esther Ignagni, she helped me narrow down my topic in a way that brilliantly captured all of my interests: Placing people with disabilities in the movement against anti-black racism movement using a Disability Justice lens. The aim was to look at various local activist organizations (e.g. Black Lives Matter Toronto) whose missions seek social justice for black people and to determine how disability is addressed in their organizing efforts. With approximately 60-80% of state violence victims being black people with disabilities, I felt committed. So my research question became: “How is disability taken up within the movement? This meant to explore representation, ableist assumptions about disability embodiment, the vulnerability of differing bodies without perpetuating that vulnerability, internalized attitudes of ableism within the black community, inclusive spaces, and creating alternate ways for people with disabilities who cannot take to the streets. During the research process, I had to be intentional about not criticizing or assessing the efforts of the community organizations to determine if they were successful. I just simply wanted to see how it was done.

The research methodologies I used were Ethnography and Discourse analysis. It was impossible not to place myself in the research as I am a black woman and there were moments when I experienced a wide range of emotions, especially when reading newspaper articles about state violence and discrimination against black people. I used these moments to interact with the material from a personal perspective as well as a researcher’s perspective. Ethnography permitted me this opportunity since it’s a research method that respects the research’s subjectivity and does not make the assumption that the researcher is separate from the research. Discourse analysis helped to complement Ethnography through exploration of discriminatory language and social concepts, which I did by locating our cultural understanding of the word “normal”.

I used many sources to collect information. I collected data not only from scholarly articles and informational interviews but I also read blogs, followed social media accounts, visited visual art exhibitions during Black History Month and attended community speaking engagements. Looking back, I believe I was quite over zealous because the amount of information I accumulated became really overwhelming at one point. However, I recognize that I did this because I had so little in terms of scholarly research explicitly on disability inclusion in the modern movement against anti-black racism. I really had to process and organize the data in a way that made sense to my research. I accomplished this by focusing on the shared experiences of black people and people with disabilities. Three concepts that stood out to me in this area that I would like to share are Consciousness, The Weather and Internalized Racism/Ablesim. They are defined below:
Consciousness: This is idea of a social movement group and it’s members adjusting its way of organizing or its “conscious” to address the changing ways of systemic oppression. An example of this would be taking up an intersectional approach to black issues that include various identities, because not every one who identifies as black faces the oppression in the same ways.

The Weather: This is a concept shared by Canadian Poet and Documentarian Dionne Brand who has written about racism and state violence in Canada. She describes racism against black people as “the weather”. It is anti-blackness rooted in white supremacy and it is accompanied by the glance and the stare. She says just like the weather, racism is constant, casual and happens every day.

Internalized Racism/Ableism: This is when the individual feels inward hatred and inadequacy because of how society discriminates against them based on their identity. Also media representations can have a negative effect on the individual’s perception of self and contribute to their feelings of internal discrimination.

So back to my burning research question: Is disability taken up in the movement against anti-black racism? Absolutely! How is disability taken up? For the sake of this post, I will not go into extensive detail but from the articles I read, the organizations that I interviewed and the events and art exhibits I attended, serious considerations are made for black people with disabilities, whether visible or invisible, to participate fully in the movement. This can be anywhere from the frontlines to leadership roles to social media engagement to adding disability-related issues to the agenda. My analysis revealed that in order for the movement to be successful on a political front, the organizers had to consider the intersectionality of the multiple identities that claim blackness within the movement itself. Space is the top consideration when inviting people with disabilities into the movement, making sure it is accessible, inclusive and safe.

Black Lives Matter Toronto advocating for queer-disability rights is an example of the intersectional shift of consciousness to bring to the forefront the issues that affect everyone, not just people of colour. At the 2016 Pride parade, BLM-TO halted the parade to present a list of 9 demands to the head of the parade. Although the backlash from the media focused heavily on BLM-TO requesting the removal of police floats, what they failed to acknowledge were that 2 of the demands were requesting improved accessibility for queer people with disabilities and hearing impairments, which is awesome!

To conclude, I believe that the modern movement against anti-black racism has done a great job of being a intersectional model of inclusive and safe spaces as well as a platform for black people with disabilities.

I want to end with a quote from Feminist and Civil Right Activist Audre Lorde that says:
It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those other identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make the strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.