JD Weaver is a 20-year-old singer songwriter from Crewe, who was diagnosed in primary school with muscular dystrophy. Not that that’s stopped him: he claims to write as many as 20 songs a week, last year released his debut EP Where Eagles Fly and is working on his first album, Neon Soul, this summer. He is also an activist, not just for the disabled but for LGBT rights and racial matters also. I spoke to him about his upcoming record, but first he painted to me a sorry picture of the state of attitudes to, and support for, disabled people in Britain in the 21st century.
Can you briefly outline your daily experiences as a member of the disabled community in Britain?
Recently hate crimes against the disabled are actually on the rise. I talk to a lot of people inside the community, and many of them have been attacked, some of them hospitalised – and very little of it has been reported. There are people I know who’ve been beaten up. I’ve been out on the street and verbally abused by elderly people.
What have people said to you on the street?
Words that should be gone by now, words like ‘spastic’, ‘cripple’, ‘retard’… I’ve been told to go and euthanise myself. All the terms that have been used over decades against disabled people, wrapped up in one.
It’s shocking to me because, as you say, it’s not often reported: and in my mind nobody uses those words anymore…
I always say to people that just because you don’t see something, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because I haven’t been racially abused, it doesn’t mean I don’t know that racism isn’t there. The best way to gain knowledge isn’t to read false statistics. One of my Native American friends says that to find truth you have to go and seek it yourself, not try to get it through somebody else – the best way to find out about these things is to ask people from these communities directly; say to them “tell me your experiences”, don’t tell them what’s going on. Somebody tells me how disabled people are treated, but it’s rarely the reality. That’s the reality they write for me. Over 60,000 disabled people are attacked every year in the UK. 80% of disabled people are out of full time employment. The government will try and confuse that by saying it’s actually 60% who are unemployed but that fails to take part-time jobs and volunteer jobs into account: volunteer jobs make up around 15% of the 80% they claim. People don’t know that disabled people are 70% poorer than the average member of society in the UK.
But you do try and campaign to get that information out there.
Yeah, but it’s not just disabled stuff I campaign around. As a member of a minority community it’s my responsibility to look out for people who’ve been hurt historically, and still are being. That’s our responsibility. Just because we’re aesthetically different as people, we aren’t different where it matters, but that isn’t the way people think about things. Most of my friends are Ghanaian or Nigerian. Somebody said to me that 80% of knife crime in London is done by black people, which is deeply untrue. At the end of the day, figures like that are just used to demonise people in society so you don’t feel as bad for the way some black communities are treated by certain white people in this country. Even if that statistic were true, which it’s not… look at where the poorest areas of the country are, and look at what percentage of those populations are not white. It comes full circle.
“Over 60,000 disabled people are attacked every year in the UK. 80% of disabled people are out of full time employment”
Like you say, racism feeds into creating that situation in the first place, and it’s going to take a change in attitude to break that cycle.
All my life I’ve been demonised in that way. When I was diagnosed in primary school I went through some of the worst bullying – some things which I haven’t even told my parents about because it’s so hard to go over, though I still think about it. Now I’ve realised that 98% of the friends I had then weren’t friends – when I look back, most of the people I called friends used to throw mashed potato at my wheelchair, or put signs on the back of it saying “hit me”, or draw a disabled sign on a piece of paper and stick it on my back. That’s the sort of thing I’ve had to endure just because I happen to have been born with muscular dystrophy. I wasn’t handed a menu and I said “ooh I want that please”, I was given it. And why I feel so passionately about fighting racism etcetera is because I know others have been through the same kind of thing because of the colour of their skin, or their religion.
People have said to me ‘well white people don’t have legal protection’… the last 300 years suggest otherwise. In fact, the only reason that doesn’t exist, is because they don’t need it. White Europeans made the law.
That’s happened through history. I was reading a study by Walter Rodney where he pointed out that while there are “international trade laws” (the word ‘international’ implying they were universally agreed upon), as you say: they were really written by white Europeans, and called International.
Like the Dawes Act in American in the late 1800’s, which was United States law but designed to take Native American land away from them. There was never a law which said disabled people were going to be effectually sterilised and euthanized, which happened in this country for hundreds of years. Up until the 1960’s there was a eugenics movement inside the UK that people want to forget. In fact many British icons through history, when you look deeper into them, turn out to be pretty awful when it comes to this stuff. Winston Churchill said that “the unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feebleminded classes, coupled with steady restriction among the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a race danger”… “superior stocks”! He was also one of the biggest anti-Semites in the country. Even Charles Darwin said that in an ideal world disabled people wouldn’t be allowed to have children, and his son went even further with that. But we as a society like to brush it off and say “that never happened!”.
One of my houses at school was named after Lord Robert Clive – but I read recently that when he established the East India Company, and took the land in Bengali with private armies – within the first 2 years of their being there 10 million people died of famine, because the land had been plundered of resources. That’s was around a third of the population… And we had a house at school named after that person!!
That kind of thing wasn’t even rare during the days of Empire, and it’s still not acknowledged today. People talk about the industrial revolution and say it was great for England. Yeah. Great for England, and great for a certain type of people: the white middle class. Yes, it’s history, but it shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. We can move on from that history, because it didn’t affect us like it did them. Some people can’t move on from the exploitation of history because their history is their present. That can be said about disabled people: we are in the position we are in because for hundreds of years politicians didn’t care about the disabled.
We now obviously believe that we’re in a far more liberal and open minded society. To what extent do you think that’s the case, from your experience?
I think young people are. I think people who can make a change aren’t. When I see Theresa May and her cabinet, I see the leaders I’ve been learning about 200 years ago. She claims she wants to help the disabled, even though she voted for every bill that would cut billions off the disabled. Proportionately she actually has one of the most consigns on bills which hurt disabled people in this country. The people she cares about most are white, middle-class, elderly people. She talked about tackling racism and then put Boris Johnson in the foreign office, so she can’t be that serious about it… he is a racist! I think Theresa May, because of what we’ve seen from the voting records, will go above and beyond – we’re going to look at her and go, bloody hell. Queen Elizabeth will seem tame next to her.
So what support do you feel you get, as a disabled person, from the government?
It couldn’t name much. [Pause] No… all the stuff I’ve got here we paid for. We got a grant but we had to pay it back, we brought my wheelchair through normal means.
Have you had help from charities at all?
Yeah definitively, but non-governmental ones. There was no assistance. We use the guise of being an open society, but behind that banner there’s people doing all the same stuff to people who are disabled, people who are gay, of another race, are here from another country… It happens all the time.
From my limited experience it seems that the climate this year has changed for the worse, when I walk through my University town of Nottingham and there are EDL marches… do you think that’s true?
Hate crimes have gone up 500% since the EU referendum. I’ve had it – I haven’t been attacked but I might have been had I not gotten straight out of there when I was being berated… who knows. I know people who have been beaten up, spat on – I’ve heard of young women having their burkas ripped off them. In February of last year in North Carolina a white man shot dead three young Muslims. It wasn’t widely reported here, and wasn’t called terrorism there, even though a white man going to kill three Muslims is terrorism, by definition. They called him a ‘lone gunman’, and as I said to someone: what you wear doesn’t make you dangerous. This man was wearing shorts and a top and went out and shot three people in the head because of their religion. By focussing on one rather than the other you are feeding that fear even more.
As a disabled person in the UK, do you feel demonised in a way British women who wear burkas might by that coverage?
I always say that when you demonise someone, you trap them. What can you do to succeed? When some gets angry about discrimination and in retaliation lives up to your perception you go ‘ha!’, but you created that! What’s it going to change? When people tell me that despite my disability they believe in what I have to offer, I’m more inspired that when someone says “you’re a cripple, fuck off”. That’s true for anyone. What you’re doing is setting a barrier for them by defining them as worthless before they can prove their worth as human beings. Some people think of people like myself as a lazy burden, but when we try to get work the jobs aren’t there and the facilities aren’t there for us to do them, so what can I do that I’m not doing? Nothing.
“When you demonise someone, you trap them”
If so many disabled people in a first world country like ours feel trapped in this way, and in this system, what can be done about it?
Firstly, you have to not believe everything you’re told: question it. Instead of hearing about it on BBC News, through my campaigning I went “hey person, can you tell me what it’s like to be you?” and they’ll tell you. Before my campaigning I knew a lot about native American history, but I didn’t know everything. So my native American friend pointed me to the key repressive acts that were put in place. That’s the only way to get education on equality – you have to ask disabled people, ask black people, ask Native Americans, ask Muslims what their life is like and what it’s like in those communities, that’s the only way to gain true knowledge, human knowledge, about these issues. Able bodied politicians keep telling me what disabled people need to do and then cut four billion off the budget and bring in the Bedroom Tax which vastly hurts so many of us. The guy in charge of disability policy isn’t even disabled! What’s fair about that? Disabled people only gained full protection in 1995, with the Disability and Discrimination Act. You cannot make up for 300 years in twenty. Legislation is one thing but people’s minds and perspectives are another.
(Continued in Part Two, discussing JD’s music and upcoming LP. )
Jason’s efforts to move to his own house in a community in which he feels more accepted can be supported at his GoFundMe page here: https://www.gofundme.com/2ktm9yss
Tracks from his first EP Where Eagles Fly can be found below:
JD Weaver was Speaking to Theodore J. Inscoe.