Everywhere and Nowhere: Constructions of Whiteness in the Lives

Everywhere and Nowhere:
Constructions of Whiteness in the
Lives of white Physically
Impaired/Disabled People
Lani Parker
MA Research
Birkbeck College, University of London
Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane 3rd International Conference
26th- 27th June 2012, University of Chester
Research Aims
• To explore manifestations of whiteness in white
disabled people’s identities.
• To open up debates around people’s perceptions
of themselves as racialised subjects.
• To look at the patterns of how white, disabled
people as racialised subjects both reinforce and
resist racism in the context of wider power
structures in the everyday.
• To look at the interaction between racism and
Racism, Racialisation, and Britain
• Racism affects everyone, this is not to say
everyone is targeted by it.
• Critical race theory argues that racism is an
inherent part of modernity, and integral to
neoliberalism (Goldberg 2009; Omi and
Winant 1994).
Why is whiteness important for the
disability movement?*
• Links between oppression and struggles for
liberation (Finkelstein 2001).
• Disabled people forced into becoming agents of
oppression through cuts and personalisation
• Whiteness affects the way that we think about
key concepts like independence, individualism,
and privilege.
• Absence of the voices of people of colour from
the Academy and movement (Bell 2002).
Critical Whiteness and Disability
• ‘Whiteness’, ‘blackness’, and ‘disability’, are
relational concepts (Knowles 2003; Nayak
2005; 2007, Thomas 2004).
• Critical Whiteness Studies is a response to
people of colour’s call for white people to look
at issues of racism.
• No-one yet has looked at how disability acts as
a marker in defining or disrupting whiteness.
Whiteness as Normalising
• White people seen as ‘just human’ in contrast to nonWhite people who are seen as Black (Dyer 1997;
Frankenberg 1993; Garner 2007).
• Normalising process helps to prop up racism by
constructing ‘commonsense’ notions of what it means
to be human (Lawrence 1982).
• Links between the construction of hetero-normative
ableist and racist concepts (McGruer 2006).
• Construction of ableism as a hegemonic structure
arising out of modernity and Western society
(Campbell 2009).
• Self-identified selection
• Semi-structured interviews
• Follow-up interviews if necessary
Talking about Race, Whiteness, and
Q: How do you think other people see your
ethnic heritage?
‘Well I don't think people really analyse their
ethnicity that much to be honest, I think it's
just one of those things you put down on a
‘No, I don't think people generally think about it
that much ... I don't ... I can't speak for
anybody else really’
Q: How do you think other people see your
ethnic heritage?
‘Well I imagine they see the same thing, I think
the disability's the only thing that puts people
off. And I think that only puts people off
because they wonder how they're going to
Internalised Ableism
• Internalised ableism, for the purposes of this
paper, is defined as the internalisation of external
practices and messages, which tell disabled
people that they are less than good enough, that
they are less than human, and therefore should
be ‘more normal’ (Campbell 2009; Thomas 1999).
• Reinforced through repetition* and the material
barriers which are put in place by society.
*See Ahmed (2004) and Fanon (1952).
Different effects of internalised
‘I formed the sort of model, if you like, that there
was my personality which was unaffected,
running alongside this disabled body that I
couldn't fully control. That allowed me to cope
with the two sides. I'm quite sure the activists
would be horrified but that's how I
rationalised it, and that gave me a path, a
way to cope.’
• For another, the silence around anything
personal, including interaction with me in the
interview, was itself reflective of her
experience of an ablist system:
‘Sorry is this part of the survey or...?’
What needs to happen in order for
disabled people, both non-white and
white, to have useful conversations,
both within academia and activism,
around issues of racism?
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