Jina Kim, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, came to the University last Thursday to present on a topic that is not widely discussed: the intersectionality of race, disability, and infrastructural neglect. She views infrastructural neglect as a type of state-sanctioned racial violence, focusing on New Orleans and Detroit in particular.
Kim is currently in Michigan’s joint program of English and Women’s Studies, writing a dissertation entitled “Anatomy of the City: Race, Infrastructure, and US Fictions of Dependency.” Taking excerpts from her dissertation, she constructed her presentation into three separate parts.
Focusing the first part of her talk on racialized disability, she connected the lack of resources for the minority as a form of state-sanctioned violence. This resulted from state neglect of these certain populations.
She said she first became interested in this topic after taking classes from what she called figureheads in disability studies.
“Through those courses, I began to claim disability as an identity,” Kim said. “Rather than something I had just neglected or tried not to address throughout my life, it became something that I was actually trying to think about, and so that really informed my own scholarship.”
She began reading more into disability studies as an undergraduate student, eventually asking questions and making connections between race and disability.
“As I was reading in disability studies, I noticed that a lot of the work done in the field was implicitly centered around a white, middle class subject,” Kim said. “So I began thinking, what changes, how do our theorizations or understandings of disability change when we bring race and class into the picture, [and] that jump-started this project.”
In her presentation, she continued to talk about her “crip-of-color” critique of the treatment of certain races during Hurricane Katrina. She calls this critique a response to a discourse of dependency that devalues racialized, impoverished, and disabled lives.
The second part of her presentation, entitled “Slow Violence and Infrastructural Neglect,” showed many pictures of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. She linked the fact that some races and economic classes were not as prioritized, thus they were not receiving the healthcare that some other populations were receiving.
She connected this concept to Anna Deveare Smith’s production “Let Me Down Easy,” in which Smith explains the discrimination that was occurring in New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, a public hospital which catered mostly to the poor.
In Smith’s production, she talked about how black nurses were the ones who were able to connect to most of the patients there. She also talked about how some of the doctors at the hospital did not care much for their work at Charity, and even gave a graphic example of an insulting remark given to a 12-year-old patient with pelvic inflammatory disease by a resident physician.
Kim connected Smith’s production to racialized disability through explaining the discrimination exhibited at Charity Hospital.
Kim’s visit to the University was prompted by the American Studies department, which invited her to speak as part of the Disability Studies Course Cluster Lecture series.
“I was invited to participate in this disability course cluster lecture, and I was just really thrilled to do so,” Kim said. “It’s always just a great opportunity to talk about one’s work, but also, I’ve heard really great things about the Wesleyan student body in terms of being very smart, very engaged, and I thought it was the perfect audience to share my work with.”
Elly Blum ’18, who attended for her Race and Medicine in America class, thought that the talk was not only interesting but also helpful for her understanding of disability.
“I thought this talk was helpful to tie in the connection between race and disability, and geography too,” Blum said. “I think she did a good job of tying those three very separate spheres.”
Another attendee, Shardonay Pagett ’18, talked about how she found the talk well-informed and led her to think about aspects of health that she hadn’t previously considered.
“I never thought about [disabilities] in relation to race,” Pagett said. “It was interesting that the Charity Hospice actually provided more racial reproduction, and without the black nurses, black and brown bodies would have not had access to the adequate healthcare they needed.”
Kim connected the facts that healthcare was not universally accessible to all the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and that some populations had access to better healthcare than others.
During the Hurricane, those with private healthcare had access to helicopter transport to rescue them. Those with public healthcare, such as those at Charity Hospital, did not have access to the same opportunities. According to Kim, this created both economic and racial fissures.
“The nurses already knew which populations were going to be left behind, and that the people in the Charity hospital weren’t going to get the same treatment,” Pagett said.
Pagett also talked about the racialized treatment of the black and brown bodies in relation to the Hurricane.
“The support that could’ve been given is not given to the same particular types of people, most of the people who came in were poor and black/brown bodies,” Pagett said. “It’s the similar groups of people who experience the same types of aggressions, always.”