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CFP: Special Issue of African American Review, Blackness and Disability

In 2006, the late Christopher M. Bell lamented “the failure of Disability Studies to engage issues of race and ethnicity in a substantive capacity.” In recent years, scholars like Michelle Jarman, Jennifer James, Cynthia Wu, Nirmalla Ervelles, and Terry Rowden have filled this lacuna with essays and books of their own. Though it may no longer be necessary to think in terms of failure, we still have a significant amount of work to do in exploring the scholarly terrain where disability and race intersect. In an effort to continue this conversation, this special issue of <em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>African American Review seeks essays that probe the connections between blackness and disability and think beyond the idea that one is simply like the other.

We define disability as the existing social, legal, and cultural conditions that make the world un-navegable for people with impairments, drawing a distinction between material realities and the consequences of social (in)action. We recognize the historical relationship between racializing and disabling discourses as complex and dynamic. In this issue, we aim to challenge, expose, and analyze the way these discourses shape literary and cultural production.

Centralizing disability in discussions of blackness revamps our understanding of what blackness was, is, and could be. In terms of history, it asks us to recast Harriet Tubman as mentally disabled (based on her head injury), and by extension the conception of slaves as extremely abled. The use of amputation as a punishment for seeking freedom challenges us to consider that blackness and disability are simultaneously constructed as anti-thetical to freedom itself and dangerous to the nation-state. If we are to think about how black citizens must traverse structural inequality regularly, how might that be complicated by an inability to get inside the actual structures one needs to enter? How might the back and side ramp entrances to government buildings create a permanent but vexed easement into institutions for black disabled folk? In terms of scholarly work, performance studies and cultural studies seek to reimagine the black body as outside the strictures placed upon it, but generally do so in abled terms. In short, I ask a question similar to Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith’s inquiry for their collection on black feminism: if all the disabled are white, and all the blacks are abled, what are those of us in the middle? This special issue would be groundbreaking because it asks for nothing less than a retooling of the very terms of blackness and disability. To view the two together is to disrupt and change both.

We welcome essays that examine the wide range of possible literary and cultural texts available though we are most interested in work that explains how discourses of disability and blackness transform each other. Our primary goal is to expand the repertoire of critical approaches to texts (broadly defined) that deal with blackness and disability.

Potential Topics:

Slavery and the Politics of Disability

Memoir/Autobiography

Afrofuturism/Black Speculative Fiction

The Graphic Novel

Disability and Black Queer Culture

Black Disabled Characters in Film & Visual Culture

Differential Politics of Disability (how disability impacts the lives of people of different ethnicities and classes differently)

Disability and the Black Arts

Abstracts of no more than 500 words and a brief CV should be sent to Theri’ Pickens c/o Intellectual.Insurrection@gmail.com by June 30, 2015. The invitation for full papers will be sent out on September 1, 2015 and completed essays will be expected by February 1, 2016.

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