Dr. Sami Schalk, associate professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented “Articulating and Enacting Black Disability Politics in the National Black Women's Health Project” at Niagara University on Feb. 12, leading off a series of events sponsored by NU’s Ostapenko Center for Ethics in Medicine and Healthcare.

Drawing from her book “Black Disability Politics” Dr. Schalk started the presentation with a definition of Black disability politics as “anti-ableist arguments and actions performed by Black cultural workers which address disability within the context of anti-Black racism,” and identified four common qualities: intersectional but race centered; not necessarily based in disability identity or pride; contextualized and historicized; and holistic and broad.

She argued that the National Black Women's Health Project and its self-help groups in the 1980s and 1990s were an example of Black disability politics because their holistic, cultural, and global approaches to health included disability, and this was evident throughout its projects, publications, programming, and “overall Black feminist health activist philosophy.”

The Black disability politics of the NBWHP “demonstrate how black health activism can be inclusive of disability politics, even as the world may emphasize concepts of health, wellness, and healing that are typically considered antithetical to disability, inclusion, and exception,” she concluded, adding that “it is critical that scholars take a culturally contextualized approach to analyzing health activism and engagement with alternative healing practices, including spiritual ones, within racialized, poor, and otherwise marginalized communities to understand the place of disability and disabled people within this world.”

Made possible by the generous gift of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, the Ostapenko Center for Ethics in Medicine and Healthcare is dedicated to investigating the various ethical issues related to healthcare and medicine facing our local and global communities.