Breath & Shadow
Fall 2016 - Vol. 13, Issue 4
"Black Kripple" and "An Interview with Leroy Moore"
There is a lot written today in Movement circles, any movement really, about intersectionality and the way different forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, and ableism overlap. You can ponder these concepts or watch them in action by reading Leroy Franklin Moore Jr.’s "Black Kripple Delivers Music and Lyrics". It's not so much that Moore reinvents the wheel in any of these poems/beats(perhaps a future edition might include a soundtrack so we might know what these would sound like as part of a BK performance), although they do stand alone quite well when treated as poems. But he does do a good job of adding "new chapters" to stories we already thought we knew, such as the tough and independent blind blues musician living by his wits and demanding no special treatment from anyone; or the sweet, respectable and able-bodied civil-rights activists melodiously singing "We Shall Overcome".
Moore puts them all in a modern historical context by adding in the facts of disability into areas from which it has been erased, whether willfully or as an accident of history. In either case, Leroy Moore Jr., does us a favor by correcting the record, drawing neat connections between disability oppression and the segregation experienced by all black artists within the recent past.
Moore also covers other eye-opening aspects of disability oppression, such as the hairraising statistic that, in America, the country where so many of us were told we were lucky to grow up disabled, those of us with disabilities face a risk of violent crime four to ten times that of a similar population without disabilities. (Women of color with disabilities fare worst, being the ones who carry ten times the risk of victimization compared to non-disabled peers).
At times, the Black Kripple can sound like a member of Black Lives Matter with his laser-like, as well as timely focus on police brutality and abuse on members of the disability community. However, he wastes no charity on cops, movement icons, or just ordinary Black citizens who "disability profile" their own people based on awkward gaits or garbled speech, as in the poem "Disabled Profiled" where he writes:
Can't look at me in my face
His mind is made up
Looking for my tin cup.
and describes the pain of being mistaken for a drunken beggar in the course of living daily life to be "triggering" and the kind of pain that "makes a grown man weep'. While I have not quite shared the same experience, it is not as hard for me as it might be for an able-bodied reader to feel this pain.
You might think this would render the book too painful to be enjoyed, but there is a lot of joy in life in this small volume, from tributes to famous people such as Curtis Mayfield and Ray Charles, to poems about family, to the unabashed eroticism of "Sexy Blues" "Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood", as well as my favorite poem in the whole book, an antidote to the cliché misogyny of a lot of hip-hop called "I'm Beautiful!" where even the author's note calls black women who have been overlooked "Fucking Gorgeous.” I wish reading these words were all that would be necessary to feel them inside, but, all the same, the words being said at all are long overdue, especially by a disabled man of color who proudly calls himself a feminist.
"An Interview With Leroy Moore"
Leroy Moore, junior, is a busy man. I’m moving my phone interview around to accommodate a conference call about increasing disability presence in the media and he is fresh off a tour of his award-winning film about police brutality Where Is Hope: The Art of Murder, in venues throughout the Bay Area.
Still, he is always careful to make sure I understand, and not just because his speech is not always easy to follow, at least at first. We settle into a rhythm, though, and I sense that he is a quick thinker with a strong laugh that breaks out often despite the heavy topics of much of the interview.
Being careful when he speaks doesn’t mean mincing words, however. In the YouTube trailer for the award-winning film, made with collaborator and former police officer Emmitt H Thrower, he says, “Brutality is an end result of socialization that people with disabilities, especially black people with disabilities, have no value.” For that reason, he is careful to tell me that his work on brutality is not just a standard police-education project. “There is too much focus on the police. We want to raise awareness of the resources outside of the police.”
“Born into activism” at the same time he was born with cerebral palsy in the ‘80s, both from a family history of social engagement and his mother’s advocacy for him in the school system, young Leroy quickly noticed a gulf between his white and black disabled peers. “White disabled people were fighting about curb cuts…black disabled people about police brutality. It was all very different.”
One thing the two groups share, however, is a history that gets buried and shared very seldom in schools or in the mainstream media. “It all goes a lot deeper than [disability icon] Helen Keller.” says Moore, whose own poetry features disabled artists, civil rights figures, and the like.
Born too late to snog a Kennedy, but a smidge too early (and too disabled) to sweat it out in the park with Occupy, sometime journalist, activist, and fiction writer Erika Jahneke often feels caught in multiple worlds. Current ambitions include a future for her novel, a nice vacation and a legal way to keep MSNBC's Chris Hayes in her pocket in a Jiminy-Cricket style conscience arrangement.