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Reflection So Far (p1-100): The struggle for survival and Disability as a symbol for incompetency

Chewy Charis's picture

The transformation of the societal views on Disability confused me: How can it go from ordinary physical variation to symbol of incompetency and shame?

Before the Europeans arrived, native people had no words for disability, but they do attach the meaning of imbalance on extreme physical or mental variations. However, even when they see disability as a sign for having committed sin, being disabled was not a shame. (No one’s perfect after all.) However, after the Europeans arrived, things changed drastically for the Natives (well, if they were not already dead that is); with the Declaration of Independence and later the civil war, ableism becomes more of the focus. It seems to me that the initial reasons for the shift of meaning of Disability are the lack of resources and the need for labor. Yet the negative meanings mostly stuck when Disability became the justification for racism and sexism, when the removal of negative perceptions on Disability threatens the wealthy and powerful ones.

When Disability becomes the symbol for incompetency and inability, racists and sexists tried to justify the false views using the disabled bodies as proof for women and colored people’s inferiority. Interestingly, when activists tried to argue against the racists/sexists, they tried to sever the bond between them and the disabled ones. They argue for their capacity instead of completely overthrowing the negative views on disability. Indeed, the symbol is seen as the Truth itself, even by the oppressed ones.

The danger of symbolism manifests itself in the “freedom causes the black man to be insane” claim. Because people often only see what they want to see, everything they experience becomes proof for their belief; if things occur differently, they are either exceptions or more likely will be converted into the expected version, such as poor medical care for blacks of course led to weaker bodies.

Such are some of my thoughts so far.