Lauren Reiff’s thoughts on “Here Are The Marks Yet”

In “Here Are The Marks Yet” Dea H. Boster examines the intersection of African American history and disability, particularly during the period of slavery. She argues the benefits of viewing disability as a social construct rather than a physical or psychological condition. Originally, I did not agree with this approach because I believe in order to accommodate people with disabilities we have to recognize their individual needs (for example ensuring a blind person has access to braille.) However, as I read deeper into the text I found myself understanding her point of view. Boster argues the benefits of differentiating between disability and handicaps, asserting disability goes beyond physical or psychological impairments. The root of disability is not solely a person’s condition rather a combination of personal experiences, cultural assumptions and the reaction to those conditions. She examines several examples that support this claim throughout her introduction, especially in regards to the treatment of enslaved people. She opens with an example of a former slave, Tom Wilson who endured beatings, being shot, attacked by dogs and had is arm mutilated to decrease his ability to defend himself. The fact his disabilities emerged from the living and working conditions forced upon him provides insight to the intersection of slavery and disability and the benefits of examining disability in the context of life experience. Boster notes how the concept of health during the Antebellum period differed between white people and black people. The concept of what made an African American person healthy was not just an assessment of their physical and mental health, rather depended heavily on how much they would sell for at a slave market. This belief was deeply engrained into society, transcending the grounds of plantations and the minds of just slave owners. Due to assumption that African Americans were inherently mentally inferior, psychological disabilities were not taken seriously. Rather, African Americans with psychological disabilities were used as conformation bias by southern society to continue the practice of slavery, even if their condition emerged from the working and living conditions an enslaved person was force to endure. I have a natural inclination to associate doctors as healers or “good people.” This view was challenged as Boster discussed the difficulties she faced when researching for her writing. She notes the institutionalized racism in medical records she came across when attempting to assess the relationship between slavery and disability. Due to the fact slaves were treated as property as apposed to people, there is a lack of traditional medical records documenting disability. A good deal of her primary sources accessing disability were obtained from bills of sale, records of labor loss resulting from condition, and medical journals from forced human experimentation. Although I was initially hesitant to agree with Boster’s assertion disability is a social construct, by the end I thought she made valid points I found myself agreeing with. There is clear connection to how disability in African American people was a result of societal expectations.

Leave a Reply