My dissertation argues that disability profoundly shapes the thematic and aesthetic choices of black women writing in the post-Brown era, despite arguments that suggest the contrary. For instance, Gayl Jone’s Corregidora is told from the first-person perspective of a black woman diagnosed as insane and incarcerated in a psychiatric prison for murder. The use of the first-person results in what I argue, building on Michael Berube’s work, is a disabled text. Moreover, a through the protagonist’s story, a stark critique of misogynoir and ableism emerges. Thus, while taking seriously disability studies scholars’ arguments that African American writers and activists dissociate disability from blackness, thereby marking disability as truly deviant, I demonstrate how black women, like Jones, have engaged a radical disability discourse in writing of this period. Drawing primarily from black feminist theory, crip theory, and the nascent sub-field of black disability studies, I argue that, though these women do not often use the word “disability,” much of their art and theory anticipates current conversations about disability and makes early interventions in how we discuss bodies and minds that society considers disabled. In fiction, life-writing, and essays by authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Gloria Naylor, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Octavia Butler, the medical model of disability is challenged, black communities are forged through common disability, disabled black motherhood is empowering, and, more generally speaking, aesthetic and formal practices reflect a disability consciousness. In making these arguments, I force African American literary scholars to recognize disability as a validating identity category in these women’s works incorporated into their self-fashioning, and that I demand disability studies scholars to consider how celebratory identity politics can deny multiply marginalized women their complicated, often ambivalent experiences of disability.
Until very recently, black women’s texts have remained mostly marginalized or ignored by scholars of critical disability studies; my work begins addresses this gap. I also push for scholars of critical race theory to recognize disability as a central thematic and political concern in these women’s writings and to engage critical disability studies as more than just the new trend, but as critical to conversation and theorization about race in the U.S. and elsewhere. My dissertation unearths the bridge between the supposedly parallel but never intersecting paths of critical race and disability studies.
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Hinton, Anna, "Refusing to Be Made Whole: Disability in Contemporary Black Women's Writing" (2018). English Theses and Dissertations. 5.