At only last sixty minutes instead of the usual seventy-five and three readings on the docket for small and large group discussion this class was on from start to finish.
We dove right in at two o’clock with a reading quiz. This quiz was heavily foreshadowed on Tuesday so hopefully everyone came to class prepared, or at least aware. The quiz was the usual five questions based on the reading assigned for that class period, with three rather morbid questions dedicated to Toni Morrison’s Sula, one question referring to Chris Bell’s essay “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal”, and the final question referring to Ayisha Knight’s poem “Until”.
After a few of the quiz questions were repeated we broke out into the first small group session of the class period to discuss Jasbir Puar’s “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” from The Right to Maim. My group expressed that they had had some difficulty in fully grasping the text, largely because we felt some of the academic terminology used in this piece was not clearly defined. Particularly, we had trouble understanding Puar’s definition of “debility”, which as its relationship to disability and how certain bodies are targeted for debility was the focus of this preface, made the piece as a whole difficult for us to access. Despite this difficulty we did spend some time discussing what we thought disability versus debility meant and how they relate and oppose to each other. My group also discussed how in this preface Puar both urges connection between disability, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, and other pride/identity movements, but also addresses how they can sometimes have conflicting needs.
After some time in small group discussion the class reconvened to address “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” in large group discussion. The conversation opened with several students responding to how relevant the piece feels to the current activism climate and how it addresses some recent history of the Black Lives Matter movement. One classmate asked when it was published and with a quick search it was determined that the book this preface is for was published in 2017.
Discussion then shifted to address the issue of the differing and sometimes conflicting needs of identity groups, both within the disabled/debilitated/capacitated dichotomy that Puar sets forth in this piece, which we compared to a Venn diagram of overlapping and non-overlapping similarities and differences, and between the LGBTQ, Disability Pride, and Black Power movements brought up in the beginning of the text.
My group asked the class for discussion and clarification what they thought debility meant and what they made of the disabled/debilitated/capacitated dichotomy. Much of the class agreed that they had also had some difficulty understanding what exactly Puar meant by debility, but agreed that debility was caused more by social circumstance than disability. Dr. Foss then offered some clarification: Debility is caused by an intentional strategy to maim and wound a population to assert control. It is a conscious action. He also emphasized that the focus of this preface is the ways in which certain bodies are marked for debilitation, particularly black and brown bodies. A classmate then cited the second paragraph of page XV as being useful to understanding Puar’s usage of the term debility and the debilitated/disabled/capacitated dichotomy.
Large group discussion on “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” concluded with another student calling attention to page XXIII, and questioning how phrases such as “Hands up don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe!” relate to disability justice. Dr. Foss responded by asking us to theorize how these phrases could be interpreted metaphorically to apply to disability, and to consider how race and disability often intersect in cases of police brutality.
As the conversation around “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” had tapered off, Dr. Foss instructed us to break out into small groups again, this time to discuss Chris Bell’s “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal”. My group expressed some difficulty with this piece as well, but this time with fully grasping the Bell’s satirical tone. Though the satirical nature of the piece was implied by the subtitle, “A Modest Proposal”, referring to Jonathan Swift’s 1729 satirical piece of the same name, my group-mates who did not recognize reference did not feel like the tone of the piece was satirical or exaggerated enough for it to be obvious that this piece was satire without that hint. While I did understand the subtitle’s reference, I agreed that it was a confusing piece to read as the author did not employ a consistent satirical tone. Instead, Bell shifts repeatedly between a serious and realistic tone when relating their own experiences, and a more comical and exaggerated one when speaking directly to the reader with little transition. We agreed it made the piece feel unbalanced and gave us a bit of whiplash shifting between the competing tones. We also discussed how this piece related to Puar’s, especially in how it addresses how race and disability interact and need for them to be addressed together.
After spending some time in small group, it was time for large group once again. At first there was an “eerie silence”, but then discussion began when a classmate brought up the issue of the difficulties of inclusion, and the extent of which lack of minority representation at events and conferences is caused by the demographics of the area, versus the ability of minority populations to access these events. This lead into a conversation about obstacles to attending conferences and events that may not be obvious at first, especially to those in privilege.
Large group discussion closed with several students expressed their appreciation of Bell’s point #7: “Pay no attention to Ann DuCille’s recognition that ‘[O]ne of the dangers of standing at an intersection . . . is the likelihood of being run over’”, referring to the difficulties of having multiple minority identities and how one identity can be focused on above the other(s) by other people. Many students related to the feeling of having to “pick sides” of which identity to primarily present as and lean into.
We were going to break into small groups in a final speed round to discuss Toni Morrison’s Sula, pages 3-131, but class time ran out.