SBA Statement of Solidarity with Black Lives Matter – Toronto
Students for Barrier-free Access (SBA) is a group of mad and disabled students at the University of Toronto (U of T) that advocates for the removal of barriers to accessing education. Anti-black racism directly shapes student experiences and the barriers they face in accessing education. As mad and disabled students, we are committed to resisting anti-black racism on campus and within the larger community. We are actively learning from Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) and queer Black movements before them, as well as from First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. This includes locating our advocacy work in a decolonial framework.
We acknowledge that we live, work, and organize on occupied land. The university that houses us is built on the territories of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of New Credit. It benefits both economically and politically from actively colonizing the land and ways of knowing. As an institution, U of T is an integral part of the settler colonial project. The University acts as a gate-keeper of knowledge by appropriating Black and Indigenous knowledge, limiting the ways in which knowledge can be shared and produced, and institutionalizing what is considered appropriate forms of learning. SBA, as an organization that works with this University, is complicit in these ongoing settler colonial relations.
In our role as advocates we view it as our responsibility to educate our community, as well as university administration, staff, faculty, clubs, and other organizations about settler colonialism and anti-black racism and its impact on access to education. We use an intersectional approach in our advocacy practice, which originates from the Combahee River Collective, a collective of Black lesbian feminists. We believe their intersectional analysis has been an essential and foundational piece to the disability justice movement. The disability justice framework was introduced by queer and trans disabled and mad Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC), who have been historically marginalized by white supremacist disability rights and mad movements. Students for Barrier-free Access locates itself within the disability justice movement.
We witness the ways in which racialized students in general and Black students in particular, are seen as suspect and met with hostility when they disclose their disabilities or self-identify as disabled. Disabled Black students are often portrayed as asking for an unfair advantage when requesting the accommodations that they are entitled to. They are regularly told to provide additional proof of disability, even when they have already submitted the standard required documentations. This attitude and heightened surveillance, which is an example of the intersection of anti-black racism and ableism, directly contributes to student distress and disproportionately affects access to education, including an increase in drop-out rates. These dynamics mirror and overlap with Black, queer, and trans people’s encounters with police and law enforcement in the community at large.
*Content warning: descriptions of police violence*
Colonialism, anti-black racism, ableism and the history of slavery often combine to create a false perception that Black people are terrifying, dangerous and disposable. This works to justify the violence against, and murder of, Black people, as well as the culture of impunity that follows. This representation of Black disabled people in particular as dangerous and disposable is evident in Ontario. This past year, Abdirahman Abdi and Abdurrahman Ibrahim Hassan, both Somali immigrants, were beaten or restrained to death in response to their known mental health histories. The link between anti-black racism and ableism clearly illustrates that challenging anti-black racism must continue to be central to disability justice movements.
We end this letter by voicing our solidarity and gratitude to Black Lives Matter Toronto for their labour of love during Pride 2016, and their continuous work for Black liberation on all fronts. This gratitude comes from a place of recognition that Black liberation is crucial in dismantling the power structures that ensure the supremacy of an inherently colonial and racist educational system. As an organization, we affirm our solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto and Black students. We reaffirm our commitment to eradicating anti-black racism at U of T and the broader community.
Students for Barrier-Free Access