disability

“Tried (It) Again” – Examining ableism & homo-antagonism in Burrell’s sermon

Let’s talk about what’s going on in the Black church, at present.

On Dec. 30th, I spent an evening-to-morning good time with my gurls from my college years. It’s not often that we get to see each other, so we spent most of the night sharing life updates and talking about almost every topic under the sun. Despite those good vibes, I woke up late the next morning (read: early evening) to a barrage of texts & inbox messages about singer & pastor Kim Burrell’s homo-antagonistic sermon.

My initial response was anger.

My thoughts swirled for days after, as I reviewed the sermon itself, her subsequent faux apologies, and many spot-on analyses from friends, peers, and colleagues.On a personal level, I needed to wait to weigh in. Far too often, the name of the game is to “cover xyz topic first” and in this case (like many others), there are far more connections to make – and some of the connections take some mulling over to explore or even articulate.

One such connection, for me, included Kim Burrell’s display of both homo-antagonism and ableism in her recent sermon. She begins the clip by lambasting the LGBTQI community with a barrage of insults and accusations of “perversion”. She, then, goes on to use Andrew Caldwell – recent internet sensation best known for the viral clip from the COGIC Convention in which he states he was “delivered” from being gay – as an example. This is where she implicates that sexuality and disability are both at the whim of ‘spirits’; and / or and indicator of ones relationship with God.

Burrell states:

“Mr. I Am Delivert with all these different types of spirits… on Jimmy Kimmel… you see what the enemy is looking for?… The minute somebody comes out with a deaf and dumb spirit… a mute spirit… one that can’t even talk… and that has a perverted spirit says that ‘I am delivert’ and makes it all the way to Jimmy Kimmel. You think the enemy isn’t trying to make a mockery of the church?”

To be clear, her sermon was primarily (read again for emphasis) antagonistic for community members within the LGBTQI community. This was her key focus, and the reason why she has been / is being uninvited from many opportunities.

However, what she also did as (a perceived) “aside” included situating gender identity, next to disability, next to sin. The implications here are HUGE – because in this, she implies that both LGBTQI identities as well as disabled persons are inherently possessed by spirits / dealing with sin.

Inclusive Jesus, help us.

Dr. Fiona A. Kumari Campbell (2007) asserts:

“A chief feature of an ableist viewpoint is a belief that impairment (irrespective of ‘type’) is inherently negative and should the opportunity present itself, be ameliorated, cured or indeed eliminated. What remain unspeakable are readings of the disabled body presenting life with impairment as an animating, affirmative modality of subjectivity” (p. 5-6)

Thus, Burrell’s sermon included statements which were both homo-antagonistic and ableist. Whether or not this was intended is beside the fact.

We ought to know that it is highly offensive to even use the phrase “deaf and dumb”. It is even an issue to suggest that the ways in which folks walk through the world (as it pertains to both queerness and disability) are due to “spirits”. So, to check* her (a colloquial term, rooted in AAVE, which means to correct and / or unequivocally challenge) via social media on one aspect, without examining both is something we can’t afford to do.

Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being LGBTQI does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (as resources, please refer to Darnell Moore’s works on this, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’ 1999 text Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s 2015 text Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, and then some…).

Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being disabled does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (refer to Belser & Morrison’s 2011 article, What No Longer Serves Us: Resisting Ableism and Anti-Judaism in New Testament Healing Narratives).

Surely, we ought to be able to see that in this instance (like so many others), further marginalization happened from the pulpit – and as a minister of the Gospel – this should not be so. At this point, we need to understand that systems of oppression are inextricably linked – especially when we cannot / refuse to see its connections.

Additional Resources & Notes:
Belser, J. W., & Morrison, M. S. (2011). What no longer serves us: Resisting ableism and anti-Judaism in New Testament healing narratives. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 27(2), 153-170.

Campbell, F. A. K. (2008). Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory. Disability & Society, 23(2), 151-162.

*Title references Kim Burrell’s 1997 album & single by the name of “Try Me Again”

*This essay is posted with special thanks to those affectionately know as my “e-cousins” for helping me to flesh these thoughts out more fully

Photo credit: The MEPR Agency via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-ND

On Chronic Illness, Thriving, & Taking Breaks

Many of my consistent readers will notice that it’s been almost a full month since I’ve done a full post on this site. But I’m back so heeey ya’ll! 🙂

Now, my hiatus doesn’t mean I wasn’t up to anything – in fact, I was over at the Mudroom & YoungBlackFeminist.com telling my entire business and writing / talking about authenticity, womanhood, self care, academic success, and more. However, I was also in the process of slowing down due to something I have only briefly named on a public forum…

This month has been a month of intentional rest and healing for my body. During this time, I’ve gotten REALLY acquainted with both the hilarity and reality of Chronic Illness Cat and have also been highly reflective on chronic illness, thriving, and the importance of taking breaks.

As you know, the overall mission here is to “offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion…”. And that hasn’t changed. In the past few months, I’ve written about style & style politics, current events & media representation, mental health, and more. But I realized that I can’t fully embody that mission if I don’t touch a bit more on the subject of Chronic Illness, in a broader sense, as it is directly tied to issues of a) thriving and b) inclusion.

Living with chronic illness/es can be intense, especially when it’s something people feel compelled to hide away or pray away. In my experience of living with chronic illness (which will not be named ’cause I do have SOME business I can’t splash on the interwebs ;), I have found that the pressure to hide comes from within AND without – as people admonish you not to share any health struggle at ALL, in order to avoid stigmas. Yet I have also found that when we hide, we sweep the responsibility away from folk to actually practice empathy.

From the genius that is Chronic Illness Cat *Full link below

We sweep away the expectation that inclusion an empathy IS a very real possibility in human interactions, in work places, in sacred spaces, etc. We deprive ourselves of acknowledging and affirming that battling chronic illness (of any kind and to any degree) while fulfilling any other responsibilities you have takes some true kicka**ness. Also, in my personal experience, hiding has showed up in overworking and stretching myself beyond reasonable lengths.

So, for the past eight years I’ve navigated the very tricky space of what to share & what not to share. Because my chronic illness is invisible, I’ve had to craft appropriate responses for when people say things like, “But you LOOK so healthy… but you are so YOUNG… but you DO so many things”.

From the genius that is Chronic Illness Cat *Full link below

Yet, I also acknowledge that because of the invisibility of it, there exists a “passing” privilege (meaning: undue benefits, rewards, and / or centering of experiences due to the fact that at any time, though I have a chronic illness, the invisibility allows a choice to “pass” and benefit from a construct of perceived ableism. This gets sticky especially because ableism is the very construct that assumes that every disability is visible). So, with that said, this month has been dedicated to two things. The first has been using opportunities within my personal life to speak to / about chronic illness using creative means, as I find that it challenges stigmas and creates deeper understanding.

For example, my partner and I ran a quick series of posts that talked about Dating w/ a Chronic Illness & other experiences. A few favorites from that include a quick rant:

… If I have to explain one more time that chronic illness doesn’t NECESSARILY mean that a) it will go away, or that b) you haven’t seen various doctors, specialists, gurus, reiki masters, acupuncturists, yogis, meditation specialists, masseurs, and your Gramma’s deliverance & healing service… I SWEAR TO BOB!

And the dating checklist:

Dating w/ a Chronic Illness, Pt 8: The Date Decision Checklist

a) Is there seating at or around this venue?
b) How much walking / standing is required? Are there wheelchairs to rent? Should I rent one if people are gonna act weird about it?
c) Will u push me if I rent the wheelchair?
d) Is it weird to bring my own lawn chair? Is there space to do that?
e) Would you be willing to carry the lawn chair, if needed?
f) Do you have the medicine or did I put the medicine in my bag already?
g) Should I take my medicine before we go or when we get there?
h) What does parking look like? How far is parking from the venue?
i) Is there a menu? Are there any dairy free options?
j) Is there immediate access to a restroom in case of accidental ingestion of a triggering food?
‪#‎Nosurprisedatevenuesplease‬!

This may sound like an incredibly complex checklist of things, but what’s underlying this relatively funny list are concerns about ACCESS – spaces where my body & being is welcomed, and spaces where I will have to make physical sacrifices to be a part of. Also, chronic illness does not function or exist in a different world,  from my other sociological identities. It is a very distinct thing to be a woman of color with chronic illness and / or disability. Navigating the ways that these identities intertwine with each other requires us to remember that when we challenge stigmas, we are rarely challenging just one. For example, in Carolyn Tyjewski’s brilliant essay on advocacy, disability, and intersectionality she writes:

Yes, the “Strong Black Woman” is a dangerous and limited trope. However, it is also used within the Black community to revere Black women, problematically or not. And if one looks at the historical figures that are most often called forth as the quintessential “Strong Black Woman,” most are Disabled Black Women.

Harriet Tubman had severe epilepsy. Sojourner Truth had a disfigured arm and hand. Audre Lorde was not only legally blind and a cancer survivor, she was a lesbian. And being a lesbian during her lifetime was unfortunately seen as a medically diagnosed psychological disability. I highlight the latter not because I agree with it. Disability is a social construct that shifts and changes over time, space and place. And one’s disability quite often disappears when one is a significant figure within history.  So, while I dislike reminding people of a recent medically created nightmare (re: Sandra Bland’s treatment), I wish to draw attention to the complicated nuances of and between Disabled people and the reading/naming of disabilities.

This is an appropriate reminder that when we talk about these things it behooves us to take a nuanced and sophisticated approach.

The second thing this month entailed for me was claiming the right to rest, heal, thrive, and to take care of myself in those areas where I needed to. This really wasn’t anything that I set out to do intentionally. Yet between working full time, blogging, and contributing, there is a great deal required from my body and from my mind. So, this month was a time to simply focus on the full time gig as we ramp up for a new season, and to let my blogging muscles take a short break before refocusing on new content. My ability to thrive depended on this. So, with that said, I’m happy to continue the dialogue and work that happens in this space and encourage you to check out the following works, in the mean-time:

To see what I’ve been up to during the break, check out my interview in the Meet a Young Black Feminist series.

All memes above are from Chronic Illness Cat, Featured image is by Createherstock.com.