David Claeson’s Response to Chris Bell’s “A Modest Proposal”

Right off the bat, Chris Bell introduces the idea of “White Disability Studies” and what most stands out about this introduction is the method with which Bell argues his point. The 10 point list he sketches out paint a wide picture that makes clear the lack of further diversity within Disability Academia and representation.

One of the strongest arguments that caught my eye in Bell’s argument for why Disability Studies is really White Disability Studies at the current moment was his point #4 on how to “keep White Disability Studies in vogue” in which he states there should be no allowances made for liminality and hybridity. Here Bell challenges the idea of viewing the Disability community as one “big, happy family.” Often the Disability community (and other marginalized communities) are viewed by outsiders as homogenous and insular, when in reality all people exist as multitudes, parts of various differing groups. The experience of a straight Black man and a lesbian Hispanic woman, both of whom are a part of the Disability community, are incredibly different, and to put them in a box and claim they are exactly alike is dismissive and dangerous.

Bell makes the point that if you were to make a film about “crip culture” and populate it with an entirely white cast, that film would easily be accepted, lauded with praise and showered with awards. The idea of intersectionality, especially within the Disability community, is one that complicates already difficult issues, and as such gets ignored in academia and film. More than not being actively worked on, the state of Disability Studies as White Disability Studies is not even acknowledged at all, Bell argues, and as such people believe that White Disability Studies are all-encompassing. Forcing that name into use in order to describe the current state of academia is important to push the issue into people’s minds and make them look at how intersectionality within the Disability community is suppressed and underrepresented.

It should be noted that since “A Modest Proposal” was published in 2006, significant strides have been made, especially within the Disability Community, to recognize intersectionality and the different issues that people within the same community may face. While there are still serious issues within mainstream perception, media, and academia, awareness of intersectionality is on the rise, and with a rise in awareness, already the first few steps of “How to keep White Disability Studies in vogue” are crumbling.