I have a confession to make. For most of my life, I think I have confused silence with peace. When I was younger my parents and brother would bicker and ask me who I thought was right and most of the time I would pick the argument that would most likely to put the matter to an end as swiftly as possible and allow the quiet to return. So, it should come as no surprise that when I was accused of having “an obsession with being black” in high school, after I inquired as to why we never learned black history, that I said nothing. For the next few years, I laughed at jokes I didn’t think were funny and answered questions I shouldn’t—all in the aims of not causing a stir. It wasn’t until my senior year that I was forced to stop being so silent. During a slow day in class towards the end of the school year, my teacher decided to play a game of hangman and chose a student to choose the word. The student decided to choose N_GGER. He said it was to be NAGGER after a sketch from South Park, but he conveniently left out the most important letter (the blackboard looked like the invitation to a lynching). I was the only black person in the room and didn’t think it was at all funny and for the first time in four years I didn’t just laugh along, I spoke up. The room felt smaller and it felt like I had cotton in my ears as I uttered each word, but each syllable seemed to free me of a weight I didn’t know I was carrying.
So what does this have to do with disability? The freedom and relief I felt after I spoke up opened the door for me to explore all of the things that I buried with silence—including thoughts I had about disability. In college, professors allowed me to explore topics that I now found important to me; everything from media representations of the disabled to my own experience. I (almost) feel like I have to thank that kid for his tasteless joke because it forced me to make some noise. That has been an invaluable lesson—one, in light of recent events, I feel is necessary to pass along: sometimes you have to make a little noise to get a little peace.