How do you say the word “disability”? Does it feel shameful or derogatory, or does it roll off of your tongue, matter-of-factly? Writer and disability activist Keah Brown wishes we were all less precious when talking about disability, because while it may be a fact of her life, it’s far from the whole of it, as she reveals in her new, but already acclaimed book of autobiographical essays, The Pretty One, which has garnered praise from luminaries like Deepak Chopra and Roxane Gay, who wrote:
“What does it mean to live at the intersections of blackness, womanhood, and disability? In her admirable debut, The Pretty One, Keah Brown answers this question with heart, charm, and humor. Across twelve finely-crafted essays, Brown explores the matter of representation in popular culture, the vulnerability of facing self-loathing and learning to love herself, the challenge of repairing fractured relationships with family, the yearning for romantic love. Through her words we see that Brown is not just the pretty one; she is the magnificently human one.”
For those of us whose knowledge of cerebral palsy extends about as far as remembering “Cousin Geri” on Facts of Life, it’s worth noting that the title of Keah Brown’s debut book is a story, in and of itself. Aside from being born with cerebral palsy, she was also born a twin, just ahead of able-bodied sister Leah—who was often dubbed (you guessed it) “the pretty one” by classmates and potential suitors.
Keah’s reclaiming of the phrase came after reckoning with years of physical and emotional pain, insecurities, jealousy, reconciliation and ultimately, accepting her ridiculously talented, #DisabledAndCute existence, the hashtag that garnered the writer her first book deal (and earned her a spot on 2018’s The Root 100). Speaking with The Glow Up, Brown explains how she found her pretty—and why she neither desires nor will accept anyone’s pity.
The Glow Up: You have cerebral palsy, which you describe as a disability both visible and invisible. You also talk about having a part of your body “working for and against you at the same time.” For those of us unfamiliar, can you explain how that manifests for you?
Keah Brown: Well, CP [cerebral palsy] is different for everyone who has it. For me, I have a mild form of hemiplegia that impacts the right side of my body. This means my reaction times are slower, I have delayed motor function and the right side of my brain sends its signals to the right side of my body at a slower time as well. I also walk with a limp and tire quicker than your average non-disabled person. My body is working twice as hard to function. So, it’s working for me to live, which I love, but because of my disability, it’s also twice as much work so on the bad days it feels like it’s working against me.
Continue on to The Root to read the complete article.