Black History/Disability History

As archives unfold and become populated, whose identities get romanticised, whose histories have weight, and what are their relations? In one workshop, with a group of graduate students in a cross-cultural trauma class, this question had come up. Crip history has no romantic appeal, holds no mythic foundation. To even call Anarcha a crip feels like appropriation to many.

But maybe, to me, and my ears, to call them black grandmothers feels equally appropriating: these young women, less than 20 years old, excluded by all, operated on again and again, left to their own devices. What were they? What did they think they were? Maybe slave narratives give us the answer. Maybe answers come to us in the embodied or fantasized connections we seem to want to engage in when we ‘recreate' the slave shack in the studio. Maybe.

In the residency, we have a foundation myth in the room with us: a moment in Alabama, when I lifted a rope to walk into a roped off area in a weird recreated village, and sat down on a bench. Anita was horrified at this, and writes about remembering how in the South, black people got arrested, even killed, for that kind of behavior: -- I don't think that we should do that.-- And she writes: White German woman has the privilege to access the forbidden spaces without penalty.

This is hard to read and hear for me, and in every retelling of this story, this moment never gets easier. As we work together, we work things out, and have patience with one another. But things get remembered differently: I can hear that privilege is an important part of this for my colleagues. But for me, that moment was about sitting down there or elsewhere, but no more standing, definitely no more standing or walking, as my legs were collapsing. So who remembers what? What are the times and memories of privilege?

Anita, have you ever been in prison? I know you know many people who have. Is that what you remembered, in this moment, or did you identify with people who you never met, people long dead? I feel strong compassion here, but I ask for it in return. And I, what do I remember, try to touch? As I am writing this, I can make up memories to fit this issue: months in hospital beds in Germany, forbidden to move, and the textures of the wallpaper. But my core response at the time wasn't sadness for the child I was. It was and is anger: all the anger at all the spaces I can't get into, today, in a post-ADA world, spinning my wheels at the bottoms of the stairs, leaning on my cane, grinding my teeth. I know I live with my own sense of exclusion, lack of privilege, turned away from walking and standing places.

The exclusion of disabled people from public places, and institutionalization, the taking away of freedom, are not in the past, just as slavery isn't, in important ways. And yes, I do romanticize this anti-crip injustice, use it as platform, call for 'crip culture'. I want to know: how different is that from African-American culture, from the seemingly unbroken line of song, ritual, knowing in one's bones, this sense that seems so present, so lived, to our African-Amercian collaborators. I am jealous of that ease with which I see communal identity invoked. And maybe I fantasize that ease, most likely I do. My identity is deeply etched into my skin, flesh, bones, too, and I feel kinship with fellow crips, tenuously -- but how can I articulate the pain of not being seen that way?

I have asked my black collaborators during this residency, at times: do you not feel excluded from this history? What is the drift between the archive and the individual? How can performance rehearse and recraft stepping over the rope, under the rope, roping off -- those sets that are impossible to conceive?

-------- Petra Kuppers