Accessibility note: The image descriptions for this series, since they are very long, can be found under the image .jpgs in each installment, rather than in the alt-text field.
Introductory remarks: I completed the following multi-part, miniature graphic work on whiteness, white privilege and physical (dis)ability in 2010 as part of a final assignment for an anthropology class on the construction of race and ethnicity–and, old as it is, I’ve decided to share the entire work on Disability Intersections for what I hope are fairly obvious reasons. I’m not a professional artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe very strongly in both the accessibility of graphic work as a tool for anti-oppression work, and how graphic work can allow certain things to be conveyed that cannot always be conveyed in writing–particularly academic writing.
Of course, this work isn’t perfect–in general, although it’s meant to be a short exploration of questions surrounding the intersections and interactions of (dis)ability, health, and whiteness, I readily admit that I (particularly as a white person) have many spots where I could, in activist parlance, do better. At the same time, I believe that examining and working through whiteness and white privilege is an essential part of anti-racist practice. There are a couple of moments in this work that I don’t technically dislike, but am not too pleased about in hindsight–particularly the inclusion of Tim Wise as one of my sources (I wrote and drew this work long before I had read any of the much-deserved criticism of his work from PoCs, and before his extremely public Facebook meltdown in 2013, which was nicely analyzed by Trudy of Gradient Lair and many others). Also, my title for this work in 2010 seems so awkward to me now that I am giving it a new title.
I also do not want to position myself as an expert on white and PoC disability relations with this work, even as I am concerned about the continued effect that whiteness and white privilege have had (and continue to have) within disability rights and disability studies–and I have had academic and activist experience in both. So, overall, I’m sharing this in the hope that it will be a jumping-off point for other people–especially white people with disabilities who may think (incorrectly) that their anti-racist work is somehow “done” because they’ve acknowledged their privilege–to explore their own relationship to white privilege as it intersects with disability. And I hope we can continue to change things together by helping to make the disability rights movement a better place for–and, also crucially, with–people of color with disabilities, mental health issues, neurological conditions, chronic illness, and chronic pain.
Click the pages to make them full-sized:
Image descriptions, page 1
Top text: One fairly common idea in Critical Race Studies is that whiteness often “masquerades as a non-identity” (McRuer, 2006).
Image: The cartoonist, Annaham, a young white woman, stands with a pad of drawing paper and a pencil. A thought bubble forms above her head, with text: “How do ya draw that?”
Bottom text: I would argue that able-ness/able-bodiedness also does something similar; both whiteness and able-bodiedness are “norms.”
Top text: What might be some of the intersections of whiteness and able-bodiedness, particularly in terms of privilege?
Image: A venn diagram-style illustration with images marked “white,” “abled,” and “disabled.”
Bottom text: What about intersections of white privilege and physical disability?
Top text: These issues are important—and intersecting—because of the “non-identity” of both “normal” (ie: non-disabled) ability and whiteness…
Image: Annaham gestures to images of a bottle of medication, a stethoscope, various pills, a large dollar sign, and a health insurance card.
Speech bubble: …And white privilege, in conjunction (often) with economic privilege, can affect who gets what quality of medical care, how chronic illness/pain gets diagnosed and treated, whose pain gets taken seriously, and a whole host of other issues!
Image: Annaham speaking to the viewer.
Speech bubble: Obviously, all of these things have important implications for people in every racial group.
Top text: To make it plain, the intersections of (dis)ability and whiteness are not just a “white” problem, or a “people of color problem.”
Image: Annaham speaks to the viewer while gesturing with a cane.
Speech bubble: Or a problem for persons with disabilities to fix! It’s everyone’s issue.
Image descriptions, page 2
Top text: As writer Mab Segrest contends, “Part of the mythology around racism is that it only affects People of Color” (Segrest, 2001). Very often, this mythology allows white people to sidestep any responsibility for combatting racism, and white privilege.
Image: Two white people dancing, with text surrounding them: “Do the Side-Step! It’s so easy (if you’re white)!”
Speech bubbles: “I love this dance!” “Me too!”
Bottom text: This is similar—though not completely analogous to—how rights for PWDs and ability-related issues are not thought of as a problem that abled people need to be responsible for fixing, or involved with at all.
Text: Race, by the way, is not a biological reality—it’s a particularly thorny social construction that has real-life effects (see Frankenburg, 1993).
Image: Nine hands and arms of various shades reach into the frame.
Top text: Various disability activists have argued that disability is not easily reducible to “physiological pathologies located within individuals” (Longmore, 2009) that, according to the medical model of disability, must be “cured” or corrected somehow.
Image: Annaham, bottle of medication in hand, dramatically gestures while speaking to the reader.
Speech bubble: The medical model also assumes that all disabling conditions can be cured!
Bottom text in parentheses: For me, taking meds does not equal “cure.”
Top text: Both race and disability are social constructions, and the unquestioned “norm” (white, abled) is a huge part of both.
Image: A plain figure with captions surrounding it: IT’S…NORMAL MAN! WHITE! ABLED! WOW!
Image: Annaham pulls apart a set of paper dolls made to look like the “normal” man in the previous panel, but which have text spelling out “race” and “ability” at either end.
Speech bubble: So let’s explore some of the more…interesting intersections of these two systems!