Race, Sex and Disability: Intersectionality and Health as a State of Being

B. Katz Rothman, City University of New York (CUNY)
Heather Dalmage, Roosevelt University, Chicago

Defining “Health” is rather like that old line about pornography – I cannot define it but I know it when I see it. Perhaps the best one can say is that health is a state of being in which the body is not causing one much trouble, and in which the body is sometimes giving one some joy. Health is always and inevitably contextual. A person who cannot sit up, cannot eat solids, cannot coordinate hand and eye movement is healthy: if they are two months old. A person who can only walk slowly, has some visual and some hearing loss, and has some urinary incontinence may also be quite healthy: if they are 92 years old. Health is a body that meets standardized expectations. Our expectations involve race, sex, disability – every divisive bodily concept. We mean ‘divisive’ both ways here – we divide people by those hard-to-define, contentious categories, and then use them politically and socially to treat people differently and create divisiveness. In this paper we will explore the intersections of race, sex and disability as we are currently confronting them in the increasingly contentious areas of American politics and society. In this country the best route to get social resources and services for pregnancy and birth (time off from work, a seat or other accommodation at a job) was to call it a disability. The ability to create a new human being is, in this country, a disability. Children who are experiencing the long-term consequences of generations of race-based poverty and discrimination can get educational resources by claiming disability. Disability – conditions that can be colonized by the biomedical industrial complex and thus be profit making – is one of the few viable claims to achieving social justice, even as it further disempowers those so labelled.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 268. Understudied Racial Populations