The Politics of Slavery, Ableism, and White Supremacy
This chapter argues that pro- and antislavery advocates mobilized disability rhetoric behind political discourse to garner support and deride opponents. John C. Calhoun, George Fitzhugh, and others constructed proslavery arguments based on benevolent masters’ supposed care of dependent, disabled bondpeople. Others absorbed medical discourses of black defectiveness, cited suspect U.S. Census records as evidence that freedom would lead to insanity and physical degeneration for blacks, and made disability central to their rationalizations of racial slavery and inequality. Abolitionists and fugitive slaves also deployed sentimentalized and often gendered disability rhetoric to underscore the brutalities of slavery. Their persistent reliance on constructing and sentimentalizing disability in their efforts to denounce slavery, however, left them and their audiences with a stigmatized view of race.
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