t present, there remains a great deal of debate about what constitutes disability and, similarly, what is considered inherently political. Regarding the simultaneity of disability politics, these debates are frequently conditioned by a host of other considerations like race, gender, class, and embodiment. Now, we have a text that opens up space for the intersectional culture work and interventions that Black disabled people have long demanded.

In Black Disability Politics, Sami Schalk focuses on the contours of Black disability and health while accounting for the ways that this work moves us closer to justice and liberation. Specifically, Schalk (11) defines Black disability politics as the way “Black folks engage with disability from a liberation and justice perspective.” This framework allows us to locate disability within and across a host of explicitly personified and implicitly manifested physical and bodily characteristics that are frequently taken as essentialist heuristics within an estimation of the political possibilities of movement work. These characteristics are also often the formative basis upon which many Black organizers situate themselves amongst communities and others. But, what are the ways that a disability framework has already and always existed among Black culture workers? Further, how can we, as scholars of intersectionality, consider Black disability politics as both central and expansive enough to translate and make legible the freedom claims of previous movement moments? Schalk answers these questions in this text.

Importantly, Schalk begins the exploration of the intersections of Black liberation movements and disability organizing with an investigation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) and the ways that they conceived of Black survivance and aliveness via entries in the Black Panther newspaper. While much of the interactions between BPP and the formal disability justice movement of the 1970s remain under-documented, Schalk works to reclaim and unveil the ways in which the BPP was deeply rooted in understanding Black people’s health and access as a core facet of liberation. Schalk (36) illustrates as much when she notes that Brad Lomax, a disabled member of the BPP, “referred to being Black and disabled as ‘multi-disabilities’.” This, as she notes, was a decade prior to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s coining of the term “intersectionality.” While, as Schalk notes, the BPP had not fully divested itself from ableism—themselves occasionally using language that relied on ideas that valorized disabled people for overcoming systemic hardships or other constraints—their work to support the activism of San Francisco Bay Area disability activists was just an extension of their conception of a Black health access framework that already incorporated disability as a component of justice for all Black people.

One of the most imperative contributions of the text is its focus on what Schalk (50) calls “psychiatric abuse” or: “ the oppressive or violent practices within the psychiatric industrial complex, including, but not limited to, involuntary commitment, forced pharmaceutical treatment, psychosurgery, electroshock therapy, prolonged restraint, solitary confinement, coercion, and a variety of other harmful conditions and practices within institutions such as forced unpaid labor or the denial of access to food or human contact.” This vastly expansive definition of what might be considered under this umbrella reflects the ways in which the BPP connected mental and psychological health to the prison industrial complex. I would argue that this is the book's most important intervention primarily because it works to explicitly name the ways that institutions and systems work in tandem to deprive Black bodies and people of necessary resources and sustenance in an effort to both pacify them and control their behavior. Likewise, this conception of the connections between disability and Blackness sharpens our focus on the consequences of systemic and institutional processes that both directly and indirectly shape the lives of vulnerable people. As such, Black disability politics are at-once concerned with Black groups and individuals and with the institutions and processes that seek to eradicate them.

Contemporarily, Schalk turns to the National Black Women’s Health Project (NBWHP) as a broader example of the ways that Black organizers have addressed the disparate health conditions facing Black Americans while holding space for the holistic, historical, and ancestral practices within which these communities have formed their political and social beliefs. She (Schalk) refers to their work as “Black feminist health activism” or “health activism by Black people that is critically attuned to intersectional gender, race, and class politics, whether or not the word feminist was used by the organizations or activists involved” (82, emphasis added). For example, in working to address the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, the NBWHP created a array of documents, and pamphlets to educate people with HIV/AIDS and to encourage prevention among Black Americans. As Schalk notes throughout the text, this is a critical aspect of Black disability politics because it works against the debilitating effects of anti-Blackness and white supremacy. Essentially, this sort of Black Feminist activism and organizing combats disabilities that are the result of or exacerbated by white supremacist violence and what Cheryl I. Harris calls “whiteness as property.”

Essentially, in this interdisciplinary text, Schalk calls us to consider that disability work has never been a tangential or divergent consideration of Black movement makers and justice seekers. Yet, we have rarely had the language and lenses with which to fully interrogate and make legible those concerns. Via a host of interviews with current Black disability activists, Schalk illuminates the social, political, spiritual, and emotional frameworks that undergird Black disability politics. A necessary contribution, Schalk’s work is resonant and relevant.

Fundamentally, Black Disability Politics is a critical intervention in a field that remains tethered to white ways of knowing and being. Disability activists, abolitionist organizers and educators, and other community-based culture workers will find this text useful as they engage with diverse Black communities seeking to name themselves and reclaim their political lives and livelihoods. Moreover, young scholars seeking to better understand the ways that disability studies have long overlooked the specific experiences of Black disabled people will find this book informative as they build their literary repertoire. All audiences, whether disabled or otherwise, would benefit from engagement with this text.

There is no doubt that on-the-ground practitioners of disability work would argue this book is both timely and necessary. In a political moment when questions continue to emerge about the role and significance of disability studies and politics in our day-to-day lives, Schalk (160) makes a clear-headed claim: “This cannot be a politics only held and enacted by disabled people or when disabled people are visible at a protest. It must always be a part of planning and executing this work.” As such, Black Disability Politics illustrates how we can move forward toward a more liberatory future in our fullness.

Jenn M. Jackson (they/them) is a queer, androgynous Black woman, an abolitionist, a lover of all Black people, and an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University in the Department of Political Science. Jackson’s research is in Black Politics with a focus on Black Feminist movements, racial threat and trauma, gender and sexuality, policing, and political behavior. They are a columnist at Teen Vogue and the author of the forthcoming books BLACK WOMEN TAUGHT US (Penguin Random House, 2024) and POLICING BLACKNESS (University of Chicago Press, 2024). Jackson has written peer-reviewed articles at Public Culture, Politics, Groups, and Identities, Social Science Quarterly, and the Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy. Jackson received their doctoral degree in Political Science at the University of Chicago in 2019.