Listen to The Conversation with Roosevelt Mitchell then Read My Review of His Book, Diary of a Disability Scholar

Leroy - Posted on 10 February 2014

Leroy Moore/Roosevelt

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Guess where I met the author of Diary of a Disability Scholar Roosevelt Mitchell? Yes, on Facebook, but this was after I ran across Mitchell’s Kickstarter page for his book. I was excited about his book, being Black & disabled & putting out a book, got me stoke to get it. As I read & listened to the video on Mitchell’s Kickstarter page, I had questions from the start like the write up about Mitchell of him being the first person to write a sociological introspective viewpoint. When I post his book on my Facebook page many of my friends who are activists, educators, scholars & writers in the disability community had the same questions and wrote on the post, “He is not the first!” I tried to put everybody at ease by writing that I’ll interview him & write a review of his book. So here it is.

Before I received the book in the mail, I interviewed Mitchell that you can listen to at the below link on Poor Magazine at my column, Krip-Hop Nation. The second question in the interview was about the quote on his book, being the first sociological book on people with disability from a scholarly introspective viewpoint.

Reading that interview question at that time the late Paul Longmore & other disabled scholars who laid down the foundation in disability scholarly writings years even decades ago were going through my brain. Then Mitchell told me that it was his publisher who wrote his kickstater page & the book’s statement on the back. We both agreed that many publishers & people in power who have the authority on what gets out there have many times misrepresent people with disabilities like saying “He/She/it’s the first…” just to sell the product or brand. It sounded like Mitchell was stuck between a rock & a hard place. He could stay quiet thus don’t put his publishing contract at risk or say something if he knew that he wasn’t the first.

Anyway the book arrived in my mailbox & it was my Xmas reading of 2013. The book cover is a picture of Mitchell with a clean shaved head with a white dress, a light greenish tie & a dark vest on. He is sitting at a large desk with two stacks of books on each side of him and his nameplate in front. The book has nine chapters with the usual acknowledgement, preface, introduction and epilogue. Every chapter starts with one of Mitchell’s own poems that were a treat for me being a poet too.

For me the introduction laid out what the book was about and where the author is coming from. It was clear why Mitchell, a special education major in graduate school who became what the publisher wrote, “ an intellectual activist, writer & speaker in the battle against social injustice” he wrote his book.

He was tired of reading textbooks about people with disabilities by non-disabled authors. And yes I feel him on that big time however on the other side when I read his book I wonder did he know about disabled scholars and their books/writings that I brought into my undergrad classes in the late 80’s? I knew for me as a Black disabled student in high school that I needed to educate my teachers about my history and I also know now that it takes a strong family at home to build up that confidence what Mitchell pointed out in the book that was missing in his home growing up especially when it comes to disability.

Mitchell’s childhood was beyond rough & disability pride & education were not promoted but some how school was very important even when his disabled father took the kids but was abusive and spent every cent on beer. The father taught his boys to be tough but that was it. Poor Magazine could relate to Mitchell’s young adulthood from being put out by his own parents, poverty, living in a homeless shelter and being teased about not only disability (born with only one full hand) but being poor.

Not seeing or being encouraged to strive as a person with a disability I can see why through his book he did not once mentioned the importance of the activism of the disability rights movement that lead to laws because like many poor people especially poor people of color the disability rights movement didn’t touch him at an early age.

However as an adult with two masters, I don’t understand why he didn’t include it in his book. The reason could be that it, disability rights movement, was not taught in his school years all the way up to graduate school if that was the his only avenue of learning. On the other side it seems that Mitchell has a firm grasped on Black historical moments, people and music when e talks about WEB Dubois’s classic Soul of Black Folks & Amiri Baraka’s Blues People. To Mitchell’s credit he does recognize that he is apart of the legacy of disabled Black slaves and at the same time questions, why he doesn’t see himself when Black History Month comes around.

There were many common experiences that Mitchell has talked about in his book that many of us, people with disabilities goes through like not finding employment in your field even though he has two degrees, not knowing if the discrimination toward his disability or race. His experiences of rejections from publishers & agents is common among writers with disabilities to be face with the same sentence that a lot of us get, “There is no market for your writing.”

When Mitchell is talking about his field he is right on like chapters 7-9 but there are places that I must disagree. Although Mitchell’s reason of why he wrote his book & clearly states of feeling like non-disabled people need to learn from us, people with disabilities in the epilogue, he uses an organization’s philosophy as a scare tactic to prove a point. The organization was Autism Speaks (an organization that is not control by autistic people & promotes treatment not acceptance). Mitchell goes on to use Autism Speaks’ popular stands & that is looking for a cure aka treatment returning to the medical model of disability.

He goes on to say, “if we don’t do anything about the rise of autism we’ll become The United States of Autism!” For one thing as I’ve learned from autistic advocates that Autism Speaks don’t speak for people living, striving & advocating with autism plus Autism Speaks don’t have any autistic people on their board. By using Autism Speaks it goes against his book main goal of not having non-disabled people in control of people with disabilities thus learning about autism from an organization who don’t have autistic people in control.

Like I mentioned before Mitchell never talked about disability advocacy but when he uses events like when Hip-Hop artist used autism in a negative way in their songs he only points to people who are in powerful places that create change like changing ablest lyric but don’t see the advocacy of the community who also has pushed for change & most of the times before organizations get involved. To say the above I think the major flaw of the book beyond what I already mentioned is a lack of research or knowledge to present a fuller picture on subjects Mitchell writes about outside his own experiences.

Mitchell hits on topics like media, global discrimination, the church & charity all relating to people with disabilities but for me he doesn’t go further to display many sides that sometimes exclude the history, writings, advocacy and improvements that people with disabilities shared & experience.

I respect Mitchell’s Christian beliefs & using biblical verses throughout the book however if Mitchell is going to use faith base to explain disability in & outside the church with their charity philosophy then there has to be a disability historical activist voice that shows the full picture.

As a journalist & media critic, I’ve always questioned the notion that everything would change for a certain group of people if they were only included in mainstream media. Mitchell puts out this claim in chapter six where he gives praise to a television series “Scandal” and its diverse characters especially people of color and a gay character.

He writes “this is when issues like those make it to mainstream television where it is viewed by millions. This is what is needed to bring disability to mainstream to give kids & adults with disabilities hope & role models. I must say that mainstream media is powerful tool to change perceptions but like I mentioned over & over and that is the beauty and power of advocacy of the culture that have cultural movements like the Black Arts movement to today’s disability arts/cultural movement that have helped push mainstream media to put on sitcoms like Malcolm in The Middle to Brothers both with Black disabled main characters.

I’ll end this review by thanking Mitchell for mentioning the alarming rate of abuse against people with disabilities in-group homes, in schools & from society in general! His views & experiences in the mental health & special education fields as a Black disabled man are needed! As an upcoming publish writer and an intellectual activist, I treasure his first book, Diary Of A Disability Scholar I hope he and other intellectual writers/activist mix street activism, art, journalism and past & present scholarly writers will show up more and more in his future writings/books.

By Leroy Moore Jr.
For more information about his book, Contact Roosevelt Mitchell III, Email
Phone 314-708-9180


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