2023 Update

This is a personal blog started in 2011. It is no longer active, updated, or maintained. Unfortunately, it appears that I've also irreparably broken some of the links by accident.

06 January 2017

Racism, Ableism, and Much-Needed Reminders on Chicago Torture Case

Content/tw: mentions and brief descriptions of sexual violence, torture, racism and specifically anti-Black racism, ableism

photo: a set of six street signs that say, Racism, Sexism, Heterosexism, Classism, Colonialism, Ableism. in the middle is a green banner that says Intersectionality, which is a term coined by a Black woman scholar, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.

(1) The vast majority of everything I've said here, other people have been saying also (even if in different words/language), including and *especially* Black Disabled people. Like Cyrée Jarelle Johnson and Mrs. Kerima Çevik at Intersected. Listen to them. Follow them. Amplify their voices.

(2) What happened to this young white disabled person in Chicago -- his name is Austin Hilbourn, according to some sources -- was wrong. (For those who somehow missed the news, four people tied up a disabled person and beat him, cut off parts of his scalp, and taunted him, while livestreaming it to Facebook.)

(3) This attack was deeply ableist.

(4) The four people who targeted the disabled victim knew him from their school. That means it is highly likely that they knew Austin is disabled, even if they didn't know anything specific about what kind of disabilities he has. As a former disabled high school kid, trust me, everyone can peg the disabled kids. It also means they very likely targeted him because they knew he is disabled and therefore vulnerable and easy to attack.

(5) This type of ableist violence is NOTHING new. The reality for disabled people is that our entire lives are often marked with violence and abuse -- violence that is extremely more likely, more deadly, more brutal, and more erased when the victims are disabled AND marginalized, targeted, or oppressed in other ways. The statistics are horrifying. Anywhere between 83% and upwards of mid-90's-something percent of developmentally disabled "women" (people designated that way by researchers) are raped at least once in their lifetimes, and somewhere upwards of half of that number at least 10 times by the age of 18. Somewhere between half to 70% of all people killed by police are disabled, making Black Disabled or Indigenous Disabled people the most likely to be targeted in police killings. The numbers go on and on and on. They are appalling not just because of what they are but also because they attach to real people's lives and repeated, compounded trauma. Violence against disabled people is SO FUCKING ORDINARY and so often dismissed in the icky approach of "omg who would ever hurt a disabled person?! so horrible!" as though it never happens when in reality it happens all the time.

(6) The only new things in this instance, that are being sensationalized wildly by the media, are that the attackers, who are Black, yelled at the victim, "Fuck Trump supporters" and "Fuck white people." Prosecutors have charged the attackers with a hate crime. Because of these facts, (white) media has decided that this is a case that must be about anti-white racism.

(7) Anti-white racism does not exist. Racism is not just individual bias or prejudice; it's a system of power relations in white supremacy where racial bias and prejudice are backed by claims about science, political institutions, and social/cultural/economic structures.

(8) Obviously the attackers are *prejudiced* against white people. No one aware of the known facts here could possibly think otherwise. But again, (a) prejudice is not the same as racism, which requires an entire system/history/structure of devaluing people (not) in a racial group; and (b) it should be pretty fucking obvious why four young Black people might be prejudiced against white people given how violent and pervasive in all parts of society white supremacy continues to be.

(9) We know Austin is white. We have no idea whether or not he is a Trump supporter, or could even vote and if he could, whether or not he voted for Trump. Anyway, it doesn't matter whether he voted for Trump or not. This kind of violence is not okay no matter who it targets. It is wrong. It is fucked up. And as someone who is extremely anti-Trump myself (which should be obvious to anyone who follows this page), it's additionally fucked up that the attackers did this in the name of resisting Trump.

(10) BTW, even the police have said they believe the victim was targeted for being disabled, not for being white. Though, to be clear, even if he was targeted for being white, (a) he was also targeted equally for being disabled, and (b) it still doesn't mean the attackers are reverse racist; it means they're prejudiced against white people, and ableist assholes to boot.

(11) Yes folks should be outraged that this happens. Feel outraged that the attackers did this. Feel outraged that the prosecutor described them as kids who made mistakes but shouldn't have their lives ruined over them. But where was your similar level of outrage every single damn time Black Disabled people are tortured, abused, raped, and murdered? Whether by caregivers, teachers, the police, or strangers? And where the violence is *clearly* tied to disability, to race, and often the entanglement of the two? And where similar words are spoken -- that they're good kids / good parents / good teachers / good officers, who made mistakes / snapped / lost it -- those words result in zero accountability? Where is your outrage for Korryn Gaines? Tanisha Anderson? Kajieme Powell? Melissa Stoddard? Terrance Coleman? Kayleb Moon-Robinson? Neli Latson? The young Black Disabled person who was brutally and viciously raped by several white football players, all of whom have gotten off scott-free for their attack? And many, many others?

(12) The four attackers in this case will most definitely end up in prison, with severe charges, and spend significant amount of time locked up, with hate crimes charges. The vast majority of white people who torture, abuse, rape, or murder Black Disabled people will not.

(13) White folks trying to call this the "BLMKidnapping" (Black Lives Matter kidnapping, for those unfamiliar with the acronym) are completely missing that (a) the attackers never once invoked Black Lives Matter as a movement; (b) even if they claim to be supporters of it, didn't do something Black Lives Matter actually advocates for; and (c) when white people commit obviously racist crimes, like the attack on a historically Black church in Charleston, it's not blamed on every white person nor are all white people expected to take responsibility and apologize or be publicly excoriated in the media.

(14) The rush to associate this attack with the Black Lives Matter movement, along with vicious and dehumanizing comments about the attackers -- like calling them monsters, calling for horrible things to be done to them, etc. -- calls to mind the lynch mobs that in a frenzy, would round up young Black people to publicly and brutally murder them in retaliation for crimes they supposedly (and maybe in some cases, actually) committed, while celebrating their violence. These rhetorical responses are racist as fuck.

(15) The attackers did something horrific and wrong. Perhaps unforgivable. The victim will have to live for the rest of his life with the trauma of not only the abuse itself but of having his torture livestreamed for the world to witness at the hands of his own classmates, people he probably saw on some consistent basis even if he did not really know them well or personally. He might never fully recover from what happened in some senses of the word. Undoubtedly, he won't receive disability culturally competent trauma-informed care. The attackers have done this. But in no way can or should caring and committed people attempt to turn this around and add to the racist shitshow by basically calling for the public spectacle of humiliation and violence against the Black attackers either.

(16) I don't believe in relying on police or prisons to promote "justice," so I'm not going to be calling for these four people to go to prison, because I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea that prison/punishment must be the only possible solution. HOWEVER, these clear and undeniable disparities in how these cases are talked about by media and treated by police, prosecutors, and courts, provide more evidence of how UNJUST the in-justice system is in handling hate crimes against multiply-oppressed people in particular.

(17) Remember, ableism and racism and part and parcel with one another. White supremacy depends on ableism to further its eugenic mission -- of deciding which people are valuable, worthy, and desirable, which people are functional, healthy, normal, and fit. The victim in this case is not just any white person -- this person is someone whom white supremacy would also reject as not the best standard of whiteness, e.g., ability. Stop talking about this case if you cannot understand one basic fact -- disability justice requires racial justice. Disability justice requires the end of white supremacy. Black and Disabled communities are not separate entities that must now be pitted against each other; they overlap in deep and intricate ways, and Black Disabled artists, scholars, activists, organizers, and community and cultural workers have already been working for decades or longer at the intersections. Folks like Leroy F. Moore, Jr., and Patricia Berne, and Talila (TL) Lewis, and Jazzie Collins, La Mesha Irizarry, and Brad Lomax, and as far back as Harriet Tubman, alongside many, many, many others. They understand/understood these truths because they live them in ways that I, as a disabled east asian person of color, still don't, because of how our experiences against racism differ profoundly.

(18) The latest events in Chicago have got me shaken up and enraged and devastated, because not only has a fellow disabled person been subject to appalling ableist violence, but that very same violence has already become an excuse for virulent and violent anti-Black racism that will inevitably target my Black Deaf, Mad, and Disabled comrades the most -- and unless those with relatively more privilege and power keep speaking and keep amplifying their work and their voices, they will be the only ones left defending their humanity and right to exist.


  1. Thank you, Lydia, for putting it into good words.

  2. This is an eye opener. Very well done!

  3. This idea that racism against white people does not exist is a counterproductive, unargued-for assertion, about the way a word works propagated by conventions in contemporary social science. Racism can and is widely institutionalized, but to say it's existence, or that the applicability of the word depends on institutional structures is obfuscation, and disrespectful of how words work. The truest racism is hatred. We all have prejudices; conscientious people temper their prejudices with reflection and awareness and principles of tolerance, fairness, and good faith. Maybe we call prejudice racism, sometimes. We definitely call hatred, hatred for and towards another race, racism. That is fundamental to how the word functions.

    I'll never understand the insistence on comparing outrages. How is it appropriate, when something very wrong happens, to go around saying, 'yes, but...' - yes, what happened to so and so in Chicago is wrong, but what about what happened in Baltimore to a someone else at a different time? How is there anything to express besides shock at the brutality of aggression and sadness for the pain of the victim?

    Because when something like this happens it seems to have clear political indications somehow, perhaps. What a tedious and misplaced thing to say, that you understand why the teens would be 'prejudiced' against white people. Of course it's understandable. Does that erase the hatred? The hatred is the problem. I lived on the west side of Chicago for a time. It's a scary place, in a lot of ways. It's third world. It is, to be sure, the result of truly institutionalized racism, entrenched in the geography of that city, echoing now, unofficially, the once official patterns of segregation. I don't blame black people living and growing up in such conditions for resenting white people, whom they will inevitably see seeming to prosper in comparison. That doesn't mean it isn't racism when they hatefully act out that resentment.

    The most racist white people I've ever met were men who had been to o prison, where, by all accounts, racial segregation takes on its most brutal and animalistic forms. I don't blaim them for there resentments, which are clearly based on more than po-dunk upbringing, though they had that as well. These were men who certainly gained little or nothing from the 'power structures' you, in your social scientific sophistication, want to claim is the basis of racism, but they were certainly racist.

    Hatred of another race is racism. Denial of humanity another's humanity because of there race, is also racism. It would be absurd to say the Nazis weren't racist until they came into power. The idea that black people can't be racist is itself racist, because it denies the agency of black persons in taking responsibility for their own attitudes, and places a lower expectation on their responsibility for their own moral perspective, and gives them a pass for crude attitudes and poisonous thinking that amounts to condescension.

    I am not more outraged by this crime than by others. But it is sad and frightening in its own right, and it is understandable that some white people might find this kind of brutal expression of hatred alarming and unnerving in particular for those dimensions, never mind whatever stupid things I'm sure they're saying on Fox News, et al.

    1. Lydia's post wasn't an invitation to argue about why you think racism against white people exists, but rather a very important reminder for us all to counter the mainstream story of what happened and why.

      Major media outlets are trying to make this hate crime story all about race and using the idea of "reverse racism" as a framework, and Lydia's response reframes the crime for what it is--an ableist hate crime attacking somebody due to his disability.

      The difference between racism, as a system of oppression, and prejudice is important here, because there is NO system of oppression against white people, while there is institutionalized oppression against people of color across the board (that is, racism.) So, one of Lydia's post's points is to remind people reading about the hate crime that while people can show prejudice against white people, it's not the same as racism, because it's not systemic oppression against all white people across all facets of society. Racism and ableism are related and intertwined. So, if you want to fight against ableism, you also have to fight against white supremacy. It's not right to be shocked/horrified that somebody attacked a disabled person, but not work against the discrimination that people of color, including disabled people of color, continually face.

      The reason why it's relevant to bring up the fates of disabled people of color in other cities is to show how far we as a society have to go. We need to be shocked when disabled people of color face police brutality and murder, yet the reactions in too many of those cases is not close to the reaction that this hate crime survivor's story is getting.

      By focusing the story on the hate crime survivor's whiteness instead of his disability (which is why he was targeted), the media fuels anti-black racism, which will harm black disabled people most of all.

  4. I am saddened and angered by this crime, as I have been by similar and worse atrocities done to others including those who are people of color, whether disabled or not, whether the perps were white or not. It's the deed that horrified and frightens me. A terrible reminder of how cruel and mean we people can be

  5. Society has never been so divided and shown so much hate and racism. And for those who voted Trump, your wishes will come truth and more and more crimes and division will follow.
    Btw: I hope wholeheartedly those 4 punks animals igorant beasts spend good 30 years behind bars.

    1. I'm not completely comfortable with calling these people "animals" or "beasts"--even if what they did was monstruous--simply because those are words that have been used to describe black people since the days of slavery.

      It's kind of like if a Native American committed a gruesome murder, and you referred to the perp as a "bloodthirsty savage." I'd see where you were coming from; but the choice of words would draw on a tradition of racism and so wouldn't be the best.

  6. Sad, angry, and with mixed emotions. If only world peace was possible


Hi! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I manually approve comments, so sometimes it takes a few weeks, months, or even years to find and approve comments. This delay is normal. As this is a personal blog, I also reserve the right not to publish comments.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.