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Furthering The Case for Black Disability Studies as Praxis

Fri, September 1, 11:00am to 12:30pm, Sheraton Boston, 3, Beacon A

Abstract

“Furthering The Case for Black Disability Studies as Praxis” addresses the challenge posed to African American and Black Studies scholars when attempting to discuss, embrace, and engage disability and disability studies. This paper argues that Black communities have carried the burden of being racialized non-normative bodies, and as such, have faced challenges specific to the intersection of race and disability. African American, Black, and African Diasporic studies (AABADS) scholars have long been engaged in conversations regarding the body and disability, however, such investigations have neither been named, nor claimed as work related to and in dialogue with disability studies. Historically, AABADS scholars have addressed the violence of slavery, lynching, the misuse of Black bodies in medical experiments, and the disciplining of laboring Black bodies, but has done so without making explicit links to disability studies scholarship and theoretical interventions. This article explores the ways in which ableism has historically worked and failed to mitigate racialized oppression in African American lives. The article answers the questions: what work would acknowledging disability within African American studies do? We outline the methodologies and critical perspectives of a new field, Black disability studies. Black disability studies builds on Black feminist epistemologies, particularly calls for intersectional approaches that consider race, gender, class, and sexuality. Black disability studies is both a theoretical and activist project and we explore our own complicity and resistance to an ableists understanding of Blackness as a way to embody a Black disability studies praxis.
Our work is twofold: we want both to illuminate the ways in which investigations of and a commitment to exploring embodiment has informed African American and Black Studies, while also examining the ways in which ableism has crept into the field to obscure a broad range of bodily experiences, understandings, and histories. We want to situate disability, blackness, and stigma with one another in such a way that we build on previous efforts to understand the complex ways in which ableism and cultural expectations for the body in Black cultures impacts how we might frame the question:
“what is disability” (Dunhamn et al.)? We are quite aware of the erasure of raced bodies– specifically Black bodies – within mainstream Disability Studies. For this reason, we
believe it is imperative to further the development of Black Disability Studies – an intersectional theoretical approach to the bodily experiences of raced bodies that utilizes varied methodologies to more comprehensively consider and construct the role of disability and notions of the “normative” body in the lives, labors, and experiences of
Black people.  We are not simply calling for a theoretical intervention by furthering the work at an intersection that many have worked in before us. We are claiming Black Disability Studies as praxis, one that requires us as authors in the academy to reexamine our means of production and labor in a profession profoundly shaped by institutional racism and ableism.

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