Chat with us, powered by LiveChat I therefore welcome the oppor- tunity to consider the ways in which ableism worked in concert with racism | WriteDen

I therefore welcome the oppor- tunity to consider the ways in which ableism worked in concert with racism

I therefore welcome the oppor-

tunity to consider the ways in which ableism worked in concert

with racism to undermine justice in the government’s response

to the Katrina disaster. We must craft a vision of the right and

the good in society that is adequately nuanced with respect to

all social boundaries and the ways in which they interact with

each other.

Discussing the inconsistent and inequitable provision of

emergency services during and after Katrina, Zack observes

that “prior disadvantage included at least disability and age, as

well as race and class” (Zack, 100). The available statistics on

Katrina-related deaths are broken down by race (with a signifi-

cant amount of missing information), gender, and age, but not by

di

sability status.

1

According to the National Council on Dis-

ability, however, 23.2 percent of the residents of New Orleans at

the time of Katrina—over 102,000 people—were disabled.

2

I

have heard surprise at this figure (“nearly a quarter of the resi-

dents of New Orleans are disabled?”), but it is consistent with

national statistics. According to the 2000 census, 19.3 percent of

the United States population age five and older are disabled.

3

In an insightful blog posted shortly after Katrina, Michael

Bérubé—a Penn State literature professor, social critic, and dis-

ability rights advocate—reflects on the invisibility of disability

in our nation’s public discourse. Bérubé begins by noting scath-

ingly the media’s racism in representing the harm done to poor,

Race, Disability, and the Social Contract

Anna Stubblefield

Rutgers  University

104-111Stubblefield.pm

5/22/09, 2:55 PM

104

Race, Disability, and the Social Contract

105

black residents of New Orleans through the mishandling of

emergency response to Katrina. He argues that while focus on

Katrina made race visible in our national discourse for at least

a brief moment, sometimes in useful and much more often in

harmful ways (for example, the portrayal of black residents as

“looting” while white residents “searched for food”), disability

remained invisible, even when it was right there in front of us:

recall the image of the dead woman in the wheelchair outside

the Superdome. As Bérubé writes:

We

saw people in wheelchairs. We saw patients on gurneys. We

read about people abandoned in nursing homes; we heard of people

with cognitive disabilities trapped in houses with rising water. We

heard about the sick and the elderly and the dying … but nowhere

in mainstream media was this rendered, or understood, under a

more general heading of ‘disability’ … Individual persons with

disabilities were depicted as objects of charity, or horror, or pity;

but disability as a category of human identity, disability as a social

and political fact, disability 

as a factor in public policy

remained

inconceivable.

4

We

cannot create a more just nation 

if we do 

not ac

knowledge

disability as a sign

ificant pu

blic policy concern. In 

approaching

this c

hallenge 

as political 

philosophers, 

we must address dis-

ability in our theoretical work.

Zack’s paper is drawn from her forthcoming book, 

Ethics for

Disaster

in which she argues that government within the social

contract tradition has an obligation to assist citizens in disaster

preparation and response. But who are these “citizens”? All too

often, theorists represent people without disabilities as self-

sufficient and disabled people as dependent, thereby excluding

disabled people from participation in the social contract. Dis-

cussing the responsibility of citizens to prepare for disasters,

Zack states:

Any small group can prepare for disaster by … thinking about

what they would do and what their normal obligations to care for

themselves and others require them to do in a disaster. Collecting

rainwater, basic first aid, and light search and rescue are examples

of survival skills now within the reach of all U.S. residents….

Everybody  who  has  dependents,  whether  professionally  or

personally, can begin to figure out what their needs would be in a

disaster. (Zack, 96)

It is not the case that “collecting rain water, basic first aid,

and light search and rescue” are survival skills within the reach

of all U.S. residents. Some disabled residents of the United States

ma

y not be able to perform these functions. The conjunction of a

reference to survival skills with a call to those “with dependents”

104-111Stubblefield.pm

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105

106

Anna Stubblefield

to plan f

or the needs of their dependents constructs those who

cannot perform survival skills as dependents who cannot parti-

cipate in planning for their own needs.

When we conceive of the social contract in the Lockean sense

as an agreement between autonomous, self-sufficient heads of

household to protect first and foremost their property rights,

anyone who we take to be dependent is excluded, both practi-

cally and theoretically. Women of all races and nonwhite men

have historically been 

outliers 

to the social contract on this basis,

but so have disabled people.

The notion that disabled people are inherently dependent is

captured by what disability studies scholars call the medical

model of disability. According to the medical model, what makes

people either normal or disabled is the way their bodies and

minds function. “Normal” people have sound bodies and minds;

“disabled” people have damaged or dysfunctional bodies or minds.

A person who is disabled can only become able if his impair-

ment is cured. If it is permanent, the person simply has to live

with limitations. If these limitations prevent individuals from

either participating as full citizens or from receiving equal pro-

tection under the law, then this reflects the fact that something

is wrong with their bodies or minds.

When we understand dis/ability as a social construction, a dif-

ferent picture emerges. What disables a person is not her physi-

cal attributes, but rather that the environment in which she lives

makes it difficult for a person with her attributes to function. For

example, what disables people who use wheelchairs is not the

lack of function of their legs, but rather architecture designed to

meet the needs only of people who walk. If buildings, sidewalks,

and parking lots were wheelchair accessible, people who use

wheelchairs would not be disabled. Furthermore, people who use

wheelchairs are disabled when others treat them as if wheel-

c

hair use 

makes 

the wheelchair user 

less 

human. P

eople 

who use

wh

eelchairs are not disabled in this way when others recognize

that requiring a wheelchair for mobility is simply an anomaly:

atypical for a human, but not a characteristic that undermines

a person’s humanity.

The social interpretation also applies to the concept of cogni-

tive disability. In this case, people are disabled by an environ-

ment in which the definition of a successful or full life is based

on limited notions of independence, mastery of certain intellec-

tual and social skills, and competitive accomplishment. People

who are unsuccessful in these narrowly defined ways are dis-

abled when they are therefore treated as less than fully human:

deprived of the opportunity to challenge themselves develop-

mentally, participate as citizens, use their skills and talents to

make contributions to society in ways that are beneficial to them-

selves and others and meaningful to them, and enjoy full protec-

tion of their rights.

104-111Stubblefield.pm

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106

Race, Disability, and the Social Contract

107

To

include people with disabilities as full participants in a

social  contract  model,  we  have  to  abandon  the  dichotomy

between self-sufficiency and dependence. Whether or not one is

financially self-supporting and making material contributions to

the general economy, whether or not one is able to engage in

basic life activities without assistance, or even—in the case of

cognitive disability—whether or not one is able to make and

carry out life plans without support would have to have no

bearing on one’s status as a fully participating member of the

social contract.

In 

F

rontiers of Justice

Martha Nussbaum argues that aban-

doning the dichotomy between self-sufficiency and dependence

in this way is inconsistent with social contract theory, and she

therefore rejects the social contract approach as failing to reflect

the needs of real human beings.

5

On the other hand, Anita

Silvers and Leslie Francis have argued for a revised under-

standing of the social contract that would include all members

of a society regardless of self-sufficiency. In “Justice Through

Trust: Disability and the ‘Outlier Problem’ in Social Contract

Theory,” they argue that the value of the social contract approach

to justice lies in its construction of citizens as deserving of

r

espect as choosers in a broad sense of the term. Consequently,

parties to the contract function as a source of political and moral

jus

tification. According to Silvers and Francis:

The challenge disabled people pose for social contract theory has

been misplaced and misunderstood. To embrace them, philosophical

theory need not discard the ideal that justice in principle should

emerge from committed participation by all. Meeting the challenge

requires instead letting go of the presumption that cooperative

human behavior reduces to reiterations of reciprocal dyadic inter-

actions between similarly positioned individuals.

6

In other words, we must move beyond conceiving of the social

contract as a glorified version of “you scratch my back and I’ll

scratch yours,” agreed to by parties who are equally powerful

and can manage without each other.

Revising the social contract to incorporate people with dis-

abilities is preferable to Nussbaum’s capabilities approach. In

F

rontiers of Justice

Nussbaum argues that all people have a

right to the 

means 

to ac

hieve certain 

forms of 

functioning. In

more r

ecent work in progress that she shared at a conference on

cognitive disability in September 2008, she argued further that

access to 

participation 

as a citizen—with assistance or by proxy

as necessary for people with significant cognitive or physical

restrictions—is a crucial aspect of well-being.

7

A vital element

of citizenship is lost, however, when we think first and foremost

in terms of welfare rather than in terms of participation in the

process through which welfare is provided. It is the subtle differ-

104-111Stubblefield.pm

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107

108

Anna Stubblefield

ence between beginning with welfare and including political

participation as a component of welfare, as opposed to beginning

with political participation as the means through which every-

one has a role in defining and providing welfare. Society has

value not only as a tool for ensuring welfare but as a cooper-

ative venture. The slogan of the disability rights movement is

“Nothing about us without us,” because for far too long our

society has at best constructed disabled people as dependents

with needs that should be met, but not as active participants in

the social project. At worst, and this is still the rule rather than

the exception, our society relegates disabled people to the mar-

gins and their needs are not met at all.

Despite the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities

Act (ADA)—the culmination of attempts by disability rights

advocates to align public policy with the social interpretation of

disability—the medical model still holds sway in the United

States. As a result, disabled Americans continue to be excluded

from full protection of their rights as citizens. Survey data

collected in 2000 indicated that only 32 percent of disabled

people questioned were employed full- or part-time, compared

with 81 percent of n

ondisabled 

people. Two-thirds of 

u

nemployed

dis

abled persons reported that they would prefer to be working.

Twenty-nine percent of disabled people were living in poverty

with household incomes of $15,000 per year or less, compared

with 10 percent of nondisabled people. Twenty-eight percent of

disabled people reported that they had deferred needed health

care because they could not afford it, as compared to 12 percent

of nondisabled people.

8

The effectiveness of the ADA has been

severely limited by Supreme Court rulings that have reinforced

a medical model understanding of disability by requiring plain-

tiffs, contrary to the intent of the ADA, to demonstrate that they

are disabled by impairment rather than by how they are treated

by 

o

thers.

9

But what does disability have to do with race? A complete

answer to this question could easily fill a book, so I will only ges-

tu

re at the answer. Turning to the past, chattel slavery was a

conspicuous producer of disability. Loss of limbs, vision, and hear-

in

g were common results of corporal punishment and physical

hardship. Poor maternal health and healthcare led to physical

and cognitive impairment in children, as did accidents and dis-

ease.

10

Beginning in the nineteenth century, the project of sup-

posedly m

easuring intelligence, upon which the classification of

cognitive disability continues to rest, developed as a means to

justify the exclusion of nonwhite and not-quite-white people

from the social contract.

11

This dynamic continues to play out

today, as schools disproportionately label black students in par-

ticular—along with Hispanic and Native American students in

many cases—as intellectually impaired and move them to segre-

gated special education classrooms and schools.

12

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Race, Disability, and the Social Contract

109

In contemporary society, poverty results in disability and

disability results in poverty. Because black and many other non-

white Americans disproportionately experience poverty, they

disproportionately experience disability. Disability results from

poor healthcare, low-birth-weight and premature birth, exposure

to environmental toxins like lead and air pollution, and violence.

W

ar causes disability, and black Americans constitute a dispro-

portionate percentage of the lowest ranks of the United States

Armed Forces, those who are most likely to be harmed while on

active duty. Being more likely to experience disability and less

likely to receive the best social services is a significant aspect of

the legacy of racism with which black Americans must cope.

Our nation’s discourse around disability and resources places

poor, black Americans—those who suffered most as a result of

the 

mismanagement of response to Katrina—in a double bind,

as captured in Bérubé’s blog. The blog is based upon a talk that

Bérubé gave a few weeks after Katrina at a Pennsylvania Asso-

ciation of Rehabilitation Facilities conference at Penn State Uni-

versity. According to Bérubé, conference participants on another

panel pointed out that Medicaid is the major funding source for

hundreds of disability-service providers throughout the country.

Ye

t legislators are loathe to increase support for Medicaid

because they do not want to be seen as proponents of “welfare

spending.” Rehabilitation support advocates at the conference

urged their allies to help legislators understand that supporting

Medicaid is not “welfare spending as you traditionally know it.”

The problem, as Bérubé explains, is:

We

already knew that the United States has the worst health-and-

human-services policies, for people in poverty, of any industrialized

nation, and we already knew that this had everything to do with

the fact that many Americans, and their elected representatives,

think of the poor as so many shiftless Negroes. But now we have

another dynamic to consider: according to the logic of stigma and

abjection by which American politics operates, disability advocacy

groups will be funded under Medicaid 

to the extent to which they

can rhetorically distinguish people with disabilities from African-

Americans in poverty

F

rom single mothers and their innumerable

babies. From welfare spending as you traditionally know it.

13

This is a rhetoric that pits the supposedly “deserving” and

“undeserving” poor against each other for resources. It leaves

poor, black Americans with disabilities—including those who are

single mothers—with the conundrum of how to distinguish them-

se

lves from poor, black Americans and single mothers.

If we try to address disability oppression without acknowl-

edging its entanglement with racial oppression and racial oppres-

si

on without acknowledging its entanglement with disability

oppression, we will not achieve social justice in our nation. If we

104-111Stubblefield.pm

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109

ase
keep the questions showing
and type your answers
beneath them. Thank you!  
Questions
1.
Throughout the article, how is disability discussed with relation to race, age, and
gender? Give 3 brief examples with their page numbers.
~Continued next page

Humanities 2319: Minority Cultures in the U.S.
Professor Stamper, Lone Star College, CyFair, p.
2
2.
On the first page, Stubblefield writes that she has “heard surprise at this figure . . . but it
is consistent with national statistics” (104). What is she discussing, and what is the
national statistic?
3.
On P. 104-105, Stubblefield discusses a blog post by professor Michael Bérubé. What
does he say about how people with disabilities were portrayed in the media during and
after Katrina? And, what “remained inconceivable?” (105)
4.
On p. 105, Stubblefield examines how the concept of “citizens” is understood and
portrayed – how is this concept written about in this section?
5.
What does this idea mean: “When we understand dis/ability as a social construction, a
different picture emerges” (p. 106)?
6.
According to Stubblefield, what has to happen to “include people with disabilities as full
participants in a social contract model” (p. 107)?
7.
Stubblefield argues that we need to revise the social contract on p. 107. How does she
think it should be revised,
and what do you think
about the idea/argument

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