As a scholar of DisCrit and social movements, I find Robert Chapman’s account of ever-narrowing “neurological norms” for workers in post-Fordist capitalism compelling. It is imperative to understand how our dominant political economy refashions disability to serve the market. In order to draw in racial justice and other grassroots activists, however, Chapman must ground this critique beyond one-dimensional, instrumentalist accounts of the Black Panther Party. To benefit movements, a critique of Liberal Neurodiversity must recognize the decades of organizing that have reimagined the relationships between race, disability, and the economy.

Insofar as law can only pretend to be impartial toward existing power imbalances, Chapman and I agree. Politicians and commentators across the political spectrum typically confine discourse about disability justice to liberal and legal liberal politics. Consider the neoclassical economic assumptions embedded in our Reagan-era disability laws. Conservative members of Congress and regulators sought to stifle the Americans with Disabilities Act’s marquee accommodations mandate. Before and after passing the law in 1990, they made “reasonableness”—the standard that determines whether an institution must provide a disability accommodation—dependent upon cost-benefit analysis.

A theory cannot unify or grow movements unless we also listen to, and credit, existing discourses.

Thus, lawmakers diluted disability activists’ visions of large-scale change by relegating accommodations to a private, “interactive process” between worker and employer. This arrangement did nothing to combat systemic racial, gender, and class inequalities, allowing legacy practices of exclusion to endure. Big business and courts successfully weaponized law and dominant economic language to eviscerate labor organizing by undermining collective action, as was evident by the late 1970s. As a result, by the 1990s, disabled people were left to bargain individually for their own “right” to integration. The devastation wrought by COVID-19 has made shamefully clear how race and class still drive occupational and institutional harm.

Despite this cautionary tale about law, we ought not let nostalgia for a bygone era limit our vision and ability to elevate contemporary abolitionist movements. In the United States, they have reshaped multiple discourses, making room for more liberatory deployments of law, histories, and economic theories. Thanks to groups such as Critical Resistance and cross-racial feminist coalitions, intersectional analysis and other critical frameworks have deepened our diagnostic sensibilities. They have shed light on the ways race, disability, and class intertwine across communities through policing, prisons, public and private violence, and the role of law and government. Groundbreaking activist-theorists who shaped my own thinking in these ways include TL Lewis, Dustin Gibson, and other members of the Harriet Tubman Collective, Mia Mingus, Aimi Hamraie, Andrea J. Ritchie, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Jamelia Morgan, Amna Akbar, Liat Ben-Moshe, and Marta Russell. We would do well to note that even if thought leaders do not themselves identify as anti-capitalist or neurodiverse, we must avoid replicating the schisms of identity-based debates and prioritize engaging with present-day, solidarist organizing.

I find it worthwhile to examine the role of law in Chapman’s call to resist liberal capitalist politics—not just neoliberalism—altogether. Although law ultimately lends hegemonic force to the state, scholarship in the critical race theory tradition has shown that law may play additional roles in this work, including: (1) generating crucial forms of agency, (2) spurring new ways of thinking, and (3) and pointing to alternative visions for policy in revealing the limitations of current regimes.

First, a view of the state such as Chapman’s must be flexible enough to accommodate systems of care that are presently state-dependent. At the most basic level, disability and other anti-discrimination laws remain the primary means of survival and confronting oppression amid growing precarity. Laws remain so even if they are differentially fulfilled and (without further activism) risk reifying sociopolitical group identities.

Second, laws create an epistemology. The civil rights achievements of the Second Reconstruction are a case in point: they continue to embody expressive demands for racial justice and related movement ideations, even as many consider them to be diluted, simplistic, or selectively effective in the hands of judges. As right-wing extremists try to drive out race consciousness from all educational institutions, law remains a visible, intersectional reference to ideological contests over the levers of power. Students must retain access to the full range of theories and histories that allow them to interpret the world for themselves. To paraphrase my Critical Legal Collective colleague Frank Valdes, social change ideation is collective work; and there is no way for each generation to avoid having to do the work anew.

Finally, we must recognize the inherent tendency of political elites to privatize public law and public goods while invoking liberal principles. Chapman aptly observes that commodifying the “talents” of neurodivergent people undermines their dignity and ability to imagine political alternatives. Many movements vigorously oppose policies that scapegoat individuals with psychiatric or other mental conditions and spurn community-led demands for safety. In New York, the rise in incidents of violence against Asian Americans—virally publicized only when committed by Black people with psychiatric disabilities—underscores the need to discuss abolition across communities and understand the role of carceral systems in channeling ideas about disability and race.

Black disability studies is an essential resource in this work. Chapman argues for Neurodivergent Power on the model of Black Power and invokes the Black Panthers in particular, but the Panthers’ legacy on disability justice is even richer than Chapman suggests. In Black Disability Politics (2022), Sami Schalk documents how the Panthers embraced the social model of disability in a variety of ways, including opposing psychiatric abuse of Black prisoners, hospital patients, and vets, all while cultivating practices that were “intersectional but race-centered.” At the same time, Schalk concludes, “their approach to disability politics did not always align with the language and tactics of the white mainstream disability rights movement.”

We must broaden the tent for those who oppose the predations of ableism, racism, and capitalism. A theory cannot unify or grow movements unless we also listen to, and credit, existing modes of discourse that “takes them on together.” To do so is not only critical praxis, but our best chance at lasting social transformation.