Uplift & Breakdown: Troubling Narratives of Race, Disability, and Freedom

Presenter: 

“Of Obstacles and Analogy: Writing Race and/through Disability at the Turn of the Century ," Prof. Todd Carmody, English

Presenter2: 

"Stuart's Sister: Race, Disability, Debility, and the History of Cultural Studies," Prof. Susan Schweik, English

Date: 

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Location: 

691 Barrows

Uplift & Breakdown: Troubling Narratives of Race, Disability, and Freedom

Of Obstacles and Analogy: Writing Race and/through Disability at the Turn of the Century
Prof. Todd Carmody, English 

After succeeding Booker T. Washington as the head of Tuskegee Institute in 1915, Robert Moton argued that African Americans needed “to see that existing handicaps are not made any heavier [and] to remove such disabilities as already obtain.” Around the same time, progressive educators in the North and participants in the home missionary movement sought to introduce white readers to the achievements of prominent black Americans like Moton and Washington – as well as Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois – in works with titles such as The Handicapped Winners, In Spite of Handicaps, and Handicapped Among the Free. My talk tracks this vexed and often troublesome history of analogy between race and disability through a series of disparate spaces and genres in order to ask how the malleable figure of the “racial handicap” effaced connections between them – between New Negro (auto)biography and pedagogical handbook, between racial uplift and national progress, and between the enduring ethos of individualist achievement and the rise of the rehabilitation movement.

Stuart's Sister: Race, Disability, Debility, and the History of Cultural Studies
Prof. Susan Schweik, English 

There is an origin story some historians of cultural studies tell: in Kingston, young Stuart Hall’s sister is forbidden to marry a man because he is “black,” she has a “breakdown,” she gets shock treatment, and for the rest of her life she is trapped at home, caring for her parents and her blind brother. Hall escapes to England, telling interviewers that his sister’s life was “one of the reasons I have never been able to write about or think about the individual separate from society.” This might well be called a narrative of disability, or, to use the term Jasbir Puar has taken from Julie Livingston, debility.  In this talk, in conversation with Puar’s recent writing on "ecologies of race, sex and disability," I will explore the burying of Stuart’s sister at the crossroads where cultural studies is born.