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‘This place is not for children like her’: disability, ambiguous belonging and the claiming of disadvantage in postapartheid South Africa

Abstract

This paper presents an exploration of my experiences and unique positioning as a blind, White South African woman. It explores the complex intersections of multiple axes of identity in my own experience to do with disability, race, class and language and, in so doing, presents some ideas about the ways in which disability complicates and disturbs simplistic identity categories. It draws, in particular, on the experience of my first year of formal schooling which took place in 1994 as South Africa held its first democratic election, bringing a politico-legal, if not actual, end to decades of racial segregation. Using this experience, I explore the ways in which, against the sociopolitical backdrop of apartheid’s racial segregation, ideas about race and disability, that is, Blackness and blindness, became entangled and how this entanglement impacted my ability to claim a place as either blind or sighted. Through this critical engagement I hope to be able to offer a perspective, not only on how the apartheid system operated, forcing the projection of negative characteristics onto Black people, but also on how this legacy continues to impact those of us who occupy unstable positions, at the intersection of privilege and marginality. Central to the argument is the position that the wholesale binding up of social disadvantage with race in the South African context prohibits and manages the status that persons with disabilities are able, or not able, to claim.

  • disability
  • social anthropology
  • medical humanities
  • education

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