Long before the English became involved in the African slave trade, they imagined Africans as monstrous and deformed beings. The English drew on pre-existing European ideas about monstrosity and deformity to argue that Africans were a monstrous race, suspended between human and animal, and as such only fit for servitude. Joining blackness to disability transformed English ideas about defective bodies and minds. It also influenced understandings of race and ability even as it shaped the embodied reality of people enslaved in the British Caribbean.
Dr. Stefanie Hunt-Kennedy provides a three-pronged analysis of disability in the context of Atlantic slavery. First, she examines the connections of enslavement and representations of disability and the parallel development of English anti-black racism. From there, she moves from realms of representation to reality in order to illuminate the physical, emotional, and psychological impairments inflicted by slavery and endured by the enslaved. Finally, she looks at slave law as a system of enforced disablement.
Audacious and powerful, Between Fitness and Death: Disability and Slavery in the Caribbean
(University of Illinois Press, 2020) is a groundbreaking journey into the entwined histories of racism and ableism.
Adam McNeil is a third-year PhD Student in the Department of History at Rutgers University. McNeil regularly contributes to the academic blogs Black Perspectives and The Junto.