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Disability: the Consequence of Racism

In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) ravaging our world, our communities, and our hospitals, millions across the globe have been impacted by this fatal disease. Many have lost their lives. Many have also recovered, a beacon of light and hope, during these unforeseen times, as there is no known cure to date.

While COVID-19 has impacted many in the United States, there have been conversations on social media emerging  about it being some sort of “great equalizer.” Some people believe that because so many people are affected that there isn’t a gap. However, the data shows otherwise. According to an analysis by the Washington Post, “Majority black counties have three times the rate of infections and nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority white counties.” Black communities are disproportionately impacted by this disease for various reasons including they are at higher risk of underlying health conditions, and lack access to proper healthcare,  many are essential workers, and live high dense populations.

Society looks at these circumstances as isolated from one another, but they all lead to an underlying source, racism. In Building Access, Universal Design and the Politics of Disability by Aimi Hamraie, the author dedicates an entire chapter to unpack disability, race, and segregated citizenship in US history. The phrase that stands out the most in the chapter is  “the consequence of racism, in other words, was disability.” Essentially, they are intersected. Intersectionality is a concept that refers to the complexity of our identities  (race, gender, class, etc.) because they overlap.

Traditionally, the term disability is limited to physical impairments that may impact the way we engage in our daily lives, or what society perceives as normal. In the text Hamraie goes on to say whether racial difference can be measured in biological terms, racial inequality has materialized through systems of colonialism, slavery, and segregation, which produce racial difference as a mechanism to control and exploit nonwhite bodies.” For Black communities, the disabilities that stem from slavery, generation of institutionalized racism, and systemic oppression go beyond the naked eye.

These disabilities are those underlying health conditions from circumstances like living in food deserts. The fact is it’s easier and more affordable to get McDonald’s in these communities than it is to have access to farmers’ markets. It’s the high stress from working and living paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet.  It’s contracting COVID-19 in our homes because “social distancing” is a death sentence when you live in a compact and dense community. These are the few of the many consequences of racism.

America paints this narrative that it is in the age of post-racial progression because laws, on paper to an extent doesn’t condone racism, but our black lives, our black bodies, the lack of care for it, says differently. The text says it best. “in response to the post-racial position that these laws had solved the problem of racism, however, black intellectuals such as Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton argued that racism is a system-wide pattern of discrimination that is illegible in mundane, everyday life (even in the absence of overt malice). These ideas made racism legible as something that occurs beyond the reaches and mandates of the law.” An example of this system-wide pattern of discrimination is the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp making the decision to open malls, beauty supplies, nail and hair salons, and barbershops, in the midst of a pandemic. All the places that are typically populated by people of color, and putting them at risk of contracting this disease.

 There is this mentality in this country that removes the responsibility and blame from governments, institutions, and leaders to individuals and communities. Hamarie states ”by this logic, any remaining inequalities that communities of color face, particularly those resulting from the legacies of slavery, historical patterns of racial segregation, or ongoing state violence, are not caused by systemic racism but rather problems inherent to those communities.”  These institutions have a responsibility to us, to our communities, but historically continue to allocate blame and perpetuate cycles rather than bridging the gaps and helping us help ourselves. 

So where do we go from here? Why does this matter? What does St.Joe’s take from this? Through Project Bloom, you were introduced to the complexities and potential solutions towards accessibility. As we conclude this academic year, we hope this project challenges us to evaluate in what ways we can make our campus more accessible and bridge the gaps, across the board.  Building accessibility should not only be in our physical spaces but also in the areas we may overlook.

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