University of Wisconsin-Madison Gender and Women’s Studies Professor Sami Schalk recently released her second book “Black Disability Politics.” The book was designed to bridge a gap between Black activism and disability activism because, as a disability activist, Schalk said the Black perspective is often neglected or not seen in the disability studies field.
“For a long time I was often the only Black person at disability studies conferences and doing presentations, so I just noticed the lack of folks doing this kind of work,” she said.
According to Schalk, the way scholars would discuss disability and health issues in the Black studies field often differed in perspective from the way disability scholars discussed the same topics.
“Black people have been doing work on disability politics for a long time,” Schalk said. “It doesn’t look the same way as the mainstream, predominantly white disability rights movement.”
In her book, Schalk shows that Black activism and disability activism are interconnected. She emphasizes that racism and violence toward Black people can affect their physical and mental health.
“A lot of Black activist work is in response to state violence, state neglect, medical racism, discrimination, environmental racism and a lot of these things have disabling impacts on Black people,” she said.
As a Black disabled person, Schalk’s personal experience inspired her interest in this field of Black disability activism. She was also largely inspired by the Harriet Tubman Collective, an activist group responsible for getting the national Movement for Black Lives to eventually include disability in its platform.
The Harriet Tubman Collective consisted of “Black disabled people all around the country organizing electronically in order to create change,” which is particularly inspiring, Schalk said.
Schalk is passionate about her book’s accessibility, and she said the university provided her with research funds to make the book free for students, scholars and readers worldwide.
Furthermore, Schalk made sure her book was readable for people other than scholars or those with college degrees.
“[The book is] written in a way that's meant to include and bring people in, instead of just speaking to other people who have PhDs,” she said.
Although the book has been out for only two weeks, it’s already helping Black disabled people feel heard and understood, according to Schalk.
“I had one person tweet about it saying that the book was bringing together ideas she had been thinking about as a Black disabled person for a long time, and kind of giving language to that was very nice,” she said.
Schalk is hopeful this book will inspire more students to take disability studies classes, as she believes it is helpful for many professions.
“Disability studies is an ever-growing field, and I hope more students look into taking classes in disability studies,” she said. “We have a lot of them in [UW-Madison’s] Gender and Women's Studies Department.”