Before you accuse me of malignant racism, this notion doesn’t come from me. Nor does it come from any member of the Ku Klux Klan, the BNP, Front National or any other such organisation.
The originator of this astonishing idea is Dr Kimani Paul-Emile, law professor at Fordham University and a black woman herself.
Fordham Law Review describes her as a “foremost thinker and writer in the areas of law and inequality, race and the law, law and biomedical ethics, and health law,” who provides “a fresh perspective on racial discrimination.”
From the vertiginous height of such qualifications, Dr Paul-Emile argues that a black is disabled in exactly the same sense as a blind person or one missing a limb or two. Therefore this state of affairs must be legally recognised.
Hence, whenever the slightest whiff of discrimination can be smelled, disability laws can be invoked to protect the chromatically challenged. Moreover, blackness “was designed” as a disability. “Racial categories were created explicitly to serve as a caste system to privilege some and disadvantage others,” she maintains.
This complaint is best addressed to God, methinks. However, Dr Paul-Emile’s arguments are so persuasive, and her style so elegant, that I hope you won’t mind a long quotation: changing her prose would only mean making it sound less poignant. So:
“Rather than focusing on malicious intent, disability law accepts the impact of even neutral actions, policies, and programs, directly confronting the ways in which social structures, institutions, and norms can ‘substantially limit’ a person’s ability to perform ‘a major life activity’.”
My command of legalese isn’t perfect, so correct me if I’m wrong. But what I think this means is that disability laws should cover all blacks with an infinitely wide shroud, with no attention given to the presence of actual discrimination.
Dr Paul-Emile accepts that at present race laws are “relatively effective”, which, however, hasn’t been the case “historically”. Begging your forgiveness again for my being slow on the uptake, does this mean that the effectiveness of race laws should be averaged out over the past 200 years?
Is there some quotient calculated by finding the average between today’s “relatively effective” laws against discrimination and the nonexistent such laws prior to the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation? If so, there’s a definite cause for concern, especially for those who take such idiocy seriously.
Or perhaps I only think this stuff is idiotic because I don’t understand what it means to be black in America. Fortunately, Dr Paul-Emile is on hand to provide an explanation, and again I have to give the full quote – one can’t add anything to perfection, nor subtract anything from it:
“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.”
Allow me to see if I’ve got that right. So a black neurosurgeon is more likely to suffer all those awful things than an habitually unemployed white lout. Correct? No?
Then perhaps the issue is class, not race. Having lived for many years in Texas, “historically” not the most racially tolerant part of the US, I never heard the lapidary phrase “there goes the neighbourhood” uttered when a black doctor or lawyer moved in next door.
True, back in the early ‘70s, Mohammed Ali was unable to buy a house in River Oaks, Houston’s most exclusive quarter, even though he was prepared to pay $3,000,000 cash. At the time I thought it was terribly unfair – until I ran into the boxer at the airport.
He was impressive: a tall, handsome man splendidly attired in a three-piece navy blue suit, white shirt and polka-dot tie matching the suit. Strutting regally through the crowd, Ali looked like a man who’d be welcomed at Buck House, never mind River Oaks.
The trouble was that he wasn’t by himself. Following him was a retinue of a dozen men, wearing pimp clothes and gyrating as they walked to the deafening din coming from their ghetto blasters, of which each had his own.
My finances didn’t stretch to River Oaks. If they had, I would have been happy to live next door to Ali. But, knowing that he came packaged with his acolytes, I would have blackballed him too. A sleepy, affluent neighbourhood can’t really accommodate loud, drug-fuelled all-nighters accompanied by what passes for music. And I would have felt the same way if the group had been all-white and led by, say, Rocky Marciano.
But back to my favourite legal scholar. “Understanding Blackness as disabling,” she writes, “brings to the fore a surprising new approach to addressing discrimination and systemic inequality that has been hiding in plain sight: disability law.”
‘Surprising’ is one modifier that comes to mind, but it isn’t the only one. May I suggest cretinous? Deranged? Insane? Fatuous? The list could be quite long. It would certainly include ‘ignorant’, for surely a law professor must know that a raft of racial equality laws already exist in the US, and they even include provisions for affirmative action, otherwise known as reverse discrimination.
And how would black people like to be seen as disabled simply because of their skin colour? If I were black, I’d think that in this context ‘disabled’ is perilously close to racially inferior. Surely the good professor didn’t mean it that way?
But the real question is what a person capable of extruding this gobbledegook is doing teaching law at a reputable Catholic university. Especially considering that it’s run by Jesuits, an order that has produced such great minds as Luis de Molina and Francisco Suárez.
Is this the best they can do these days? Probably. Modernity is a contagious disease against which no inoculation exists.