Re-presentation, race and disability: How people see us and how we see ourselves

So far in my research around stereotypes I found that dominant – that is popular and or important – representations of disabled women were represented very narrowly, and while the representations have changed with time and fashion disabled women have largely either been absent from any representation aimed at saying something of what is it is be a disabled women or represented as a victim or freak, and so been a discourse or representation has been wholly defining in terms of disability rather than women and disability. However I did find four small strands that countered such views and categorized these as:

  1. The “I’m normal” category that tried to ignore the impairment;
  2. The Supercrips category where the impairment can be seen to be an obstacle that has been overcome and;
  3. The Take me as I am category; and the
  4. New Aesthetics category where the impairment related features are displayed with pride

Now I want to explore the representation of disability in respect of race to see what commonalities and differences exist. This is commonly termed intersectionality and I’ve been searching to find such links but failed quite miserably. Indeed even if one forgets issues of visual representation and just focuses on research there is still not a great deal of material on the subject. I did find one interesting article though. It wasn’t about visual representation but more on the commonalities found in the treatment of these groups.

The authors’ (Ben-Moshe and Magaña, 2014) positions
The idea that “disability,” “race,” “gender,” or “family” are monolithic constructs that can be interrogated on their own is false.

The authors define it as a fluid social construction and so contextual rather than biological. That is it is focussed on certain kinds of minds and bodies. But more than that, disability should be seen not as a binary but as a continuum.

The first intersectional point: higher rates of illness and impairment amongst black people due to economics
Ben-Moshe and Magaña make the point that Black people are at greater risk for losing ability capacities, often in conjunction with lower socioeconomic or immigrant status and that there are numerous barriers for disabled Black people in obtaining quality rehabilitative and specialty services and health care services.

The second intersectional point: segregated “special” education
They make the point that where as many disabled children are sent to segregated schools based on the premise that their education can be better tailored for the disproportionate number of Black children categorised as disabled and suffering from emotion disturbance, ADHD, and, historically, “mental retardation”.

The third intersectional point: family views of disability and appropriate roles
They also note how parents may be focussed on securing a cure for a condition whereas disabled people may focus on the lack of societal recognition of the barriers created in respect of it and such differences can be seen to undermine disabled people being seen as autonomous decision makers and that the lack of autonomy is also shared by Black people.

Their conclusion
Ben-Moshe and Magaña argue that such analysis, foregrounds the importance of intersectionality as a critical tool of analysis and action, as opposed to interpretations that favour analogies (“race is like disability”) and hierarchies.

And so it is with this view in mind that I have begun my research into race and disability.

Definition, question and objective
For the purposes of this research I am defining Blackness in terms of a social construction – see here. How are Black disabled people represented in art and popular culture? This is a big question and so I propose to break it up and explore various aspects.

  1. Important classic art,
  2. 19C and early 20C Photography and culture,
  3. In contemporary photography, art and mainstream popular culture, including online culture.

You can see by the plan that there is a widening of forms of representations over time. However my aim is not to carry out a comprehensive research into all representations – rather it is just to obtain an understanding of how black disabled people are defined visually.

Liat Ben-Moshe and Sandy Magaña, (2014) Women, Gender, and Families of Color Vol. 2, No. 2 pp. 105–114 Available here Accessed on 25/03/2015


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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