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Differently Abled: Africanisms, Disability, and Power in the Age of Transatlantic Slavery

  • Jenifer L. Barclay
Chapter
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)

Abstract

Indigenous religious beliefs and traditional cultural practices among the people of many West African ethnic groups suggest a precolonial logic that cast some individuals considered “disabled” by contemporary Western standards as, instead, uniquely empowered. These more positive interpretations of embodied forms of human difference resounded in the social ethos, healing practices, and folklore of enslaved peoples throughout the New World, underscoring a facet of African cultural retentions —perceptions of the body and mind in relation to structures of power—that scholars have long overlooked. By centering on precolonial West African views of those with “differently abled” bodyminds and how they echoed in some New World slave societies, this chapter calls attention to the culturally and historically contingent nature of hegemonic Eurocentric categories like “disability” and challenges ahistorical assumptions that these conditions always signaled weakness and social inferiority.

Keywords

Critical disability studies Cultural retentions Disability and coloniality Indigenous knowledge 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers who provided incredibly helpful feedback and suggestions that strengthened this chapter in important ways. She would also like to express her deep gratitude to Nwando Achebe and Pero Dagbovie for their support, encouragement, and advice. Additionally, a generous predoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Institute and postdoctoral fellowship in African American Studies at Case Western Reserve University directed by Rhonda Williams allowed me to complete the initial research on this project and develop many of these ideas. I remain deeply grateful for both of these opportunities.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race StudiesWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA

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