A Fordham law professor has taken identity politics to a whole new level. Kimani Paul-Emile recently penned a piece for the Georgetown Law Review that puts forth the idea that blackness should be considered a disability under the law.
Yes, you read that right.
In the piece, entitled “Blackness as Disability,” she suggests that we should combat racial inequality by using “disability law,” rather than other means. Under this new system, the government would mandate that black Americans receive special accommodations similar to the types that are provided for individuals with physical or mental impairments.
I can almost hear you groaning, but let’s walk through this, shall we?
Blackness As A Disability?
Professor Paul-Emile’s piece contends that the American government should recognize blackness as a disability. The reason why, of course, is racism. “Racial categories were created explicitly to serve as a caste system to privilege some and disadvantage others,” she writes. “Within this system, racial minority status was devised to limit opportunity, participation, and achievement, and it continues to do so in many areas of social and economic life.”
Paul-Emile also points out how blacks are disabled:
“To be Black means facing increased likelihood, relative to Whites, of living in poverty, attending failing schools, experiencing discrimination in housing, being denied a job interview, being stopped by the police, being killed during a routine police encounter, receiving inferior medical care, living in substandard conditions and in dangerous and/or polluted environments, being un- or underemployed, receiving longer prison sentences, and having a lower life expectancy.”
The professor does not explore any other potential explanations for the disparities in the experiences of blacks and whites. She assumes that the origin of each issue is racism.
The author goes on to state that while civil rights laws have counteracted Jim Crow, they have not been effective at addressing other forms of discrimination such as unconscious bias, structural inequality, and stereotyping. These are examples of discrimination in which people unintentionally treat people of other races differently, even if they are not racist.
According to Paul-Emile, civil rights law requires that plaintiffs in court cases involving discrimination prove that the defendants treated them differently because of their race. Obviously, this isn’t easy to accomplish, and this puts blacks and other minorities at a disadvantage. However, if these types of issues were addressed by disability law, it would be different.
Paul-Emile puts forth the idea that disability laws deal with “conditions that ‘substantially limit a major life activity.’” They provide “reasonable accommodation” for people who deal with these types of situations. Moreover, they would shift efforts at addressing discrimination from “battles over liability,” to proactively implementing measures that ensure equality. If blackness is viewed as a disability, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) would require organizations to proactively remove barriers that could prevent blacks from accomplishing their objectives.
This Idea Is Problematic
Paul-Emile’s assertion that blacks should be considered disabled is troubling for a myriad of reasons. Not only will this fail to improve the lives of black Americans, but it will also reinforce the crippling sense of victimhood that plagues many members of the black community. While the author clearly does not intend to be demeaning — her ideas are nonetheless. It implies that there is something inherent in “blackness” that makes black Americans inferior; we are flawed in a way that impedes us from achieving our deeply-held ambitions despite the impact of racism.
One thing that can be said for the author is that she doesn’t trot out the all-too-common trope that whites are racists who want to prevent blacks from succeeding. Instead, she acknowledges that if there is racist behavior, it is not intentional.
This is the principle upon which the idea of unconscious bias is built. However, it is not clear how much our unconscious biases impact our decisions. Some studies indicate that they play a significant role while others imply that they don’t. The reality is that it is not clear that implicit bias is responsible for the problems most black Americans face. By adopting this approach, we could be trying to address the plight of blacks by attacking the wrong issue.
Instead, it would be more productive to look at the real causes of the issues that Paul-Emile lists in her article. These are problems that can’t be simply explained by bigotry. Indeed, most of these issues are rooted in other factors such as the breakdown of the black family, welfare programs that promote poverty, and an unhealthy fixation on victimhood.
Another flaw in Paul-Emile’s argument is that by her logic, pretty much anyone who is a part of the left’s intersectional hierarchy could be considered disabled. The left states that women do not earn as much pay as men because of sexism and misogyny. Why shouldn’t they be considered disabled? Members of the LGBTQ community supposedly endure high levels of discrimination due to their sexuality. Are they not disabled as well? If we adhere to the left’s dogma regarding intersectionality, anyone who is not a straight, white, Christian male has a disability for which we need to make special accommodations.
Blackness Is Not A Disability
Let’s face the facts. The poverty rate among black Americans is too high. But the majority of blacks do not live in poverty. Most of us raise families and provide for our children. Do we experience racism? Sure. Does it have an impact? Yes, but not to the extent the left wishes us to believe.
Paul-Emile is correct in her belief that we need to combat the effects of racism. However, focusing solely on bigotry will not solve the problem because it is not the foremost cause of the issues we face. Many blacks can find success in the United States.
This is particularly true of blacks who immigrate to the U.S. from other countries to start new lives. They tend to earn 30% more than blacks who were born in America. Apparently, these individuals are not disabled, and racism does not prevent them from living the lives they want to live.
Instead of accepting a sense of victimhood that keeps so many of us trapped in a cycle of poverty, we should fix the issues in our community while addressing racism. It makes more sense to focus on the true cause of our troubles. Only then will we make the progress we wish to make.