Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Crip Mammy: Complicating Race, Gender, and Care in the Ride Together

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Crip Mammy: Complicating Race, Gender, and Care in the Ride Together

Article excerpt

Introduction

Chris Bell's identification of "White Disability Studies" named a critical exclusion at the intersection of race and disability. Subsequently, there has been significant progress and additional calls for future study (Bell, "Introducing"; Boster; Burch and Joyner; Chen; Erevelles and Minear; Pickens ed.; Rowden; Samuels; Wu). However, as Sami Schalk explains, the "ubiquitous citation of [Bell's] essay as the reference for disability scholars [...] simply underscores the need for more critical race scholarship" ("Coming"). This need exceeds simple analogies between race and disability that often populate scholarship (Ferri).1 As Nirmala Erevelles explains, the "act of correlating disability and race is often fraught with violent and oppressive overtones" (145). Rather than analogy, Erevelles suggests "it may be necessary to engage the historical contexts and structural conditions within which the identity categories of race and disability intersect" (147). Taking Erevelles' suggestion, I analyze a pervasive and ubiquitous stereotype of African American women-the mammy-in relation to disability, arguing that the mammy is closely connected to discourses and representations of disability in similar and contradictory ways. Exploring the mammy stereotype through disability is one way of de-analogizing disability and race, offering specific historic contexts and cultural contradictions that resist easy analogies.

Investigating the mammy figure also provides historical context for the scarce but developing critical conversation in autism studies regarding race. The anthology All the Weight of Our Dreams identifies a specific gap regarding autism and race and seeks to fill this gap with diverse stories of being autistic in a neurotypical, white-dominant world (Brown et al.). As noted by other scholars, autism is often rhetorically constructed as a white middleclass condition, thereby erasing the experiences of people of color (Jack). Particularly in spheres of mothering and contexts of care, this exclusion is stark. An African American mother named Dorothy Groomer in Refrigerator Mothers, discussing how her son was refused an autism diagnosis, explains, "I was not white, and it was assumed I was not educated. Therefore, he was labeled emotionally disturbed [...] You can't even be a refrigerator mother, the irony of it all." Anne McGuire writes that the figure of the refrigerator mother is a "product of comingling systems of racism, ableism, classism, and sexism" that works "to exclude bodies of color from even participating in the social phenomenon of autism" (41). These intersecting systems reach beyond the refrigerator mother figure, shaping conditions for non-biological caregivers and multiplying exclusions. Exploring the historical context of the mammy stereotype illuminates a background regarding this erasure valuable to developing critical conversations. The mammy is the backdrop for marking and redressing this continuing social exclusion, demonstrating how black women's labor in motherly roles and non-biological contexts of care has historically been made invisible and devalued.

I focus on the graphic memoir The Ride Together, exploring the structural conditions of inequality involved with race and gender in the care of disabled family members. In this hybrid memoir about autism in the family, co-authored by brother and sister Paul and Judy Karasik, they describe growing up with their autistic brother David in alternating graphic and written chapters. The Karasiks are a white American family who employ African American domestic worker Dorothy White for several decades, starting in the late 1940s, to help care for David and the family, which changes over time to include more disabled members. In addition to providing a site for examining structural inequalities involved in care and dependency work, this memoir presents a complicated historical context significant for developing critical conversations in race, disability, and autism studies. …

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