Thursday, August 12, 2021
Jasmine Harris (University of Pennsylvania), Reckoning with Race and Disability, 31 Yale L. J. Forum (2021)
Our national reckoning with race and inequality must include disability. Race and disability have a complicated but interconnected history. Yet discussions of our most salient socio-political issues such as police violence, prison abolition, healthcare, poverty, and education continue to treat race and disability as distinct, largely biologically based distinctions justifying differential treatment in law and policy. This approach has ignored the ways in which states have relied on disability as a tool of subordination, leading to the invisibility of disabled people of color in civil rights movements and an incomplete theoretical and remedial framework for contemporary justice initiatives. Legal scholars approach the analysis of race and disability principally as a matter of comparative subordination (race and disability; race as disability; disability as race). More recent scholarship, however, incorporates critical race and intersectionality to identify connections and center those most marginalized within racial justice and disability rights movements. This body of emerging legal scholarship creates fruitful points of entry, but still situates disability as an analytical tool for understanding racial subordination without due attention to disability’s co-constitutive function and its remedial lessons.
This Essay argues that aesthetic theories of disability discrimination offer a comprehensive, unifying lens to understand the roots of both race and disability discrimination, the nature of the harms experienced by those with intersectional identities, and, perhaps most useful, the construction of remedies that can meaningfully address the endemic aesthetic origins of inequality. First, an aesthetics lens shows how deeply rooted biases mark people of color with and without disabilities as deviant, incompetent, and unequal. These biases trigger affective responses that, at first blush, appear to be biological and visceral when, in fact, they are products of centuries of structural subordination. Second, aesthetics help explain why norms of race and disability together are especially resistant to change. Third, aesthetic theories surface a misplaced faith in the quintessential socio-legal prescription for inequality: training and education. While such interventions may be necessary, this Essay cautions against their remedial sufficiency and calls for training and education designed with due attention to the lessons of aesthetics.