Re-presentation, race and disability: How are Black disabled people represented in Post WW2 photography, art and mainstream popular culture

“The criteria for beauty in this society is set by white folk. In the books you read, in the television programs you see, the movies, the magazines, and the newspaper. If she’s beautiful she’s got: thin nose, thin lips, stringy hair, and white skin—and that’s beauty. Yeah! And they’ve made you believe this beauty so much that our women run around yet bathing in magnolia cream from morning to the night! From morning to the night! Yeah!
(Stokely Carmichael, Speech given at Garfield High School, Seattle, Washington, April 19, 1967 – see here)

This quote really resonated with me when I first read it some time ago. It encapsulates just what hegemony is by showing how one culture so dominates another. In this case its White culture and it could be about gender or age or disability.

When I explored race and disability in post WW2 imagery Black consciousness seems to pervade much of it and accompanied the changes to Black peoples’ lives and experiences. For example, in mainstream publications such as Life in the USA the civil rights movement dominate much coverage of race and the popular press in Britain the arrival and settlement of Black and Asian people in the late 1950s and 1970s are presented. However little imagery can be found representing Black disabled people. For example, there are images of segregated schools for each group but these are distinct from each other in representational terms.

Indeed the commonalities that the representation of Black and disabled people shared when viewed through the lens of eugenics seemed to have wholly disappeared save for their both being viewed as a minority. For example, in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s wonderful exhibition entitled Staying Power Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s see here we see a whole raft of representations where the common experience is one of poverty and working class roots, of assimilation, and outright rejection see here. These images strongly resonated with me because many showed a time – the 1960s and 1970s and places South London where I grew up. Yet I could find no images of Black disabled people.

However one of the most powerful images did not contain any people.


This is the type of thing I really like. However whereas Charlie Phillips created an image that is very evidential and documentary in style I want some of that approach but also to impart a sense of how I feel. This research has been very thought provoking though.


About anomiepete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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