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Aunt Vi, #QueenSugar, Black Women, & Our Disabled Bodies: Why We’re Still Whole

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Image of 3 Black women against a light colored background. All 3 are facing and smiling into the camera.
Image credit: Pixabay

If you haven’t watched the show “Queen Sugar,” I don’t know what you’re doing with your life.

The new season premiered on OWN last week, and the series is spearheaded by the talented Ava DuVernay.

In this season, one of the beloved characters, Aunt Vi, has an illness that is a part of her character story.  It was brought to my attention that some people are having difficulty in watching Aunt Vi live her truth with illness, and Ava gave the incredible response to that in her tweet.

I decided to tweet about the reactions to seeing disability/illness depicted on the small screen because this aligns with my desire to discuss the experiences of Black women with disabilities/illnesses for my Patreon (which will debut on July 19th, in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of Ramp Your Voice!).

Below are the thoughts I had on the matter, which touched on the problematic nature of refusing to see someone as whole with a disability/illness and how that projection impacts the way Black women and femmes especially view their bodies and attain acceptance.

Thank you @Ava, for stating what we all should know – that Aunt Vi is WHOLE with her physical illness.  #AuntViIsWhole #QueenSugar

I want to dive into why thinking that sickness/disability tarnishes a person’s “wholeness” and the implications of such ways of thinking on Black women’s/femmes bodies.  

First off, I, & so many others, have discussed the problematic opinions of those in the Black community surrounding disability, sickness, & wholeness (as it relates to religiosity & and collective group think).

Aunt Vi’s value or life isn’t any less devalued because she has an illness.  This way of thinking is stating that disability is a flaw in a person’s humanness that is unsightly or to the extreme sense, is a marker of shame.  

Disability/illness is neither – it is simply a part of the human experience.  Disability is the ONLY marginalized identity that someone can become a member of at any given point in their lifespan.  

The “shame” or “fear” of becoming disabled is disturbing, particularly when “wholeness” or “value” is attached to how we deem someone who is or becomes disabled.  

Why are we so uncomfortable with seeing disability/illness, esp in the Black community?  

Well, it’s due to many factors:  1) How disabled enslaved bodies and lives were discarded & abused by slave owners.

2)  How religious teachings and practices discuss and degrade disability – the “placing hands on people” or “praying hard enough” to be healed/cured mentality (that never works – shocker!).

3)  How we have stigmatized disability/illness in our community by downplaying the impact it has on those we love & not wanting to watch or see them “suffer.”

That avoidance is selfishness – it is about OUR uncomfortable nature; and we, intentionally or not, project that to our loved ones about their bodies and disabilities.

Yes, Aunt Vi is my fave QS character, but I also want to see her journey with an illness to be flushed out and done correctly.  Why?

BECAUSE BLACK WOMEN/FEMMES HAVE DISABILITIES AND ILLNESSES!

One thing I noticed is that we do not give BW/femmes the space to openly discuss or accept their disabled bodies, regardless of if their disabilities are visible or invisible (non-apparent).

I see BW/femmes whom I’m friends with on here talk about their disabilities/illnesses openly and DO NOT identify as or realize that they are disabled and/or spoonies.

So, for me, as someone who is always looking at gaps due to my social worker & disabled woman lens, I plan to change that by developing a series on my Patreon that’ll dive into this very thing.  

Black women/femmes, esp., need to be given the space to share their stories AND know from those they love that their disabilities/illnesses are NOT imperfections; it’s a part of who they are, just like their 4C hair or shapely hips.  

If we constantly state to “love Black women/femmes,” then that needs to include when they are disabled as well.  We can’t wish for their disabilities to be “reversed” because it’ll make US, not THEM, feel better.  

I know Aunt Vi is a fictional character, but art imitates life – there are BW/femmes out here who are being told by their families that their “broken” bodies are “too much” to deal with or hear about.  

This creates and breeds silence, loneliness, and isolation – all of things that can be more detrimental than the actual disabilities/illnesses themselves.  If you don’t think so… you haven’t read compelling pieces by Black disabled women/femmes on the matter.

Aunt Vi, AND all of us, deserve better.  We deserve candid conversations about disability/illness – not just merely whisper about it, hoping to not disturb or cause frustration to other people who don’t want to see us in our entirety. 

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