Word Count: 1053
Rachel Grace Chaos
Doctor Chris Foss
ENGL 384: Section 01
December 9, 2021
Jordan Grunawalt’s Idea of Necropolitics and How it Relates to Mel Baggs’ Cultural Commentary on Autistic Experience
Jordan Grunawalt’s ideas in “The Villain Unmasked: COVID-19 and the Necropolitics of the Anti-Mask Movement” provide an insight into how conservative politics contain a necropolitical undercurrent in their rhetoric. Grunawalt discusses the emergence of the anti-mask movement in conservative spaces across the United States of America since the emergence of COVID-19. In their discussion, they examine the breadth of the anti-mask movement and how people view masking as a sign of “weakness” in an individual. Necropolitics, the use of social and political power to dictate how some people must die and others may live by disregarding disabled bodies as valuable, reinforces ableist notions and illustrates similar struggles Mel Baggs discusses autistic people face in an inaccessibly designed world in “Cultural Commentary: Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours”.
Grunawalt defines “necropolitics” as “the ultimate expression of sovereignty where sovereignty is characterized as the power or capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not” (Grunawalt), which ultimately designates some bodies “as lesser than, and inferior to others” (Grunawalt). A main idea in their discussion of necropolitics during COVID-19 is that “hospitals discriminated against people with disabilities more than any other singular factor” (Grunawalt), which oftentimes during peaks of COVID-19 cases left disabled people without a bed. The idea that some bodies are more important than others is a main discussion in disability studies as the discussion of personal freedoms often overlooks “vulnerable groups” who political powers do not see as a “necessary facet for protecting” (Grunawalt). Necropolitical ideas infiltrate all areas of political discourse and often alienate key minority groups.
Within their discussion of necropolitics, Grunawalt discusses the harmful re-politicizing of minorities’ powerful phrases and how that affects said minorities. Re-politicizing phrases meant to bring awareness to minority political issues carries a necropolitical undercurrent in the rhetoric that is harmful to the underrepresented groups. Protesters at rallies dedicated to removing mask mandates demand a rationale that “masks make one look (or actually be) weaker and weakness is bad, so masks must be resisted” (Grunawalt), while they hold signs demanding: “’Sacrifice the weak: Reopen TN’” or the appropriated phrase “’My body, my choice’” (Grunawalt). The discussion around mask mandates focuses on the idea that “the ‘healthy’ bodies are rhetorically differentiated from the ‘sick’ bodies” (Grunawalt) and should not be subject to equal limitations. Furthermore, the demand to sacrifice “weak” bodies communicates that it is not the “healthy” people’s job to accommodate the vulnerable bodies, which harrowingly relates to discourses surrounding accommodations for other disabled bodies, specifically the autistic bodies Mel Baggs discusses.
Baggs notes that although “there are so many injustices, large and small, that affect autistic people” it is “wheelchair accessibility” and language that “galls” [Baggs] the most “on an everyday basis” (Baggs) because no matter where they go, “the very structure of the environment” (Baggs) aims to exclude them. Ignoring the demands of autistic bodies in both physical and social environments illustrates a common thread throughout the discussions around disabled experiences. For Baggs, language is a common inaccessible facet in daily life as “language was built mostly by non-autistic people” (Baggs). For Baggs, they are met every day with “stereotypes about functioning levels” (Baggs) and the stereotypes communicate nothing but misleading experiences in their life. Focusing on the absence of abilities relating to both language and physicality results in contradicting views of autism. Baggs’ discussion of the inaccessibility of language patterns and physical environments communicates their conclusion that:
The richness I experience of the world is not merely a more limited version of other people’s experiences. My experiences have their own richness that other people may not be able to see, and they are far more than a mere lack of movement, conventional thought, speech, language, or perception. (Baggs)
It is impossible to determine one life as more enriching than another, as an individual’s perception of their own richness does not relate to other people’s experiences.
It is in the anti-maskers’ discourse that “alleged masks impeded their civil liberties and violated their rights as ‘healthy’ bodies” (Grunawalt) that the idea of the ableist and inaccessible “structure of the environment” (Baggs) within the United States of America emerges. Powerful people ultimately determine how to build and structure everything in society, which leaves “wheelchair users… a particular and awful difficulty” when “the powerful people are not wheelchair users” (Baggs). In the same breath, a society structured around powerful people leaves COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths to “hit BIPOC (Black Indigenous, and People of Color) elderly, poor, and disabled lives the hardest” as “local and federal leaders [are] unwilling to take mask measures seriously, even at the cost of their constituents’ lives” (Grunawalt). Overall, the idea of necropolitics that Grunawalt discusses relates to all aspects of the disabled experience and how disabled bodies do not receive the same accessibility as non-disabled bodies in all environments, from politics and healthcare to specifically the environments that Baggs outlines from their own autistic experience.
In examining Mel Baggs’ experience navigating the world with autism and Jordan Grunawalt’s discussion of the ableism in anti-mask discourse, the connection between necropolitical demands and ableist designed environments is apparent. Language and physical environments alienate autistic bodies. Anti-mask protests appropriate minority groups’ protest statements with signs that read “’Freedom to breathe’” and leave disabled bodies further alienated. In the greater environment, powerful and often non-disabled bodies structure environments that leave autistic bodies to struggle in adjusting to environments that refuse to accept that one body cannot represent all bodies. In the end, these factors prove that necropolitics, the use of social and political power to dictate how some people must die and that others may live by disregarding disabled bodies as valuable, reinforces ableist notions and illustrates the similar struggles Mel Baggs discusses autistic people face in a world designed to aid non-disabled bodies above all others.
I Pledge: Rachel Grace Chaos
Baggs, Amanda “Mel”. “Up in the Clouds and down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours.” Disability Studies Quarterly 30.1 (2009). Print.
Grunawalt, Jordan. “The Villain Unmasked: Covid-19 and the Necropolitics of the Anti-mask Movement.” Disability Studies Quarterly 41.3 (2021). Print.