Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History – Summary And Critical Reflection


 Douglass Baynton’s “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History” is a masterfully crafted essay exploring the concept of disability and all the convolutions surrounding term’s usage. In particular, the author explores the custom of using this concept in the past as a reason for rationalizing the unfair treatment of persons living with disabilities. Baynton endeavors to bring this fact to light while acknowledging the mistreatment of neglected groups.  Disability became a principal reason why inequalities were systematically incorporated in 19th and 20th century societies steeped in unimaginable disparities. Baynton cites the African-American freedom cause and suffrage movement as notable groups with members who underwent a wide range of maltreatment on account of the concept of disability. Moreover, the author also makes a case for occasions when citizenship categories were questioned and elected officials used disability as a way of determining those who deserved acknowledgment or exclusion. Initially, women were thought to have feeble mental capacities in comparison to their male counterparts. Similarly, racial minorities such as African-Americans and Native Americans were often thought to be of a lower tier thus unable to match the intelligence of the white majority. Also, physically disabled immigrants had a difficult time entering the United States. Regulatory medical inspections such as those established in 1917 increasingly made it difficult for them to enter the county without passing through bureaucratic channels seeking to pinpoint the disabled. In writing this essay, Baynton sought to understand why marginalized groups rarely rejected the disability tag as a counteractive argument when seeking self-advancement.

Critical Reflection

From the onset, Baynton states his intent to assess societal inequality using disability as a stricture and why affected groups seldom rejected this tag as a justification for their ill-treatment. He sought answer this pertinent question owing to the fact that the affected group of individual s rarely rejected the idea that they were disabled as a basis for maltreatment.  Societal inequalities have, for a long time, been rationalized using race, gender and ethnicity as defining parameters. It is, therefore, unanticipated that disability was used as a justification for various forms of inequality perpetuated in various spheres in society. The main argument presented by Baynton when seeking to answer this question is that oppressed groups are, partly, to blame for their quandary (Umansky, 2011, p.81). Time and again, they have failed to acknowledge disability as a stricture that has been used to validate political and social inequality. In addition to this, the author also notes that disabled individuals have historically been classified as a minority group that has grappled with the inferior status assigned to them.  Disability was systematically used by authority figureheads and state institutions to justify this form of discrimination that viewed disabled individuals as second-rate citizens. It is commendable how Baynton contributes to this argument by suggesting that disability be regarded as a crucial issue in American culture. Typically, the study of disability has been an area of concern left for the disabled to study. Baynton’s approach is thorough and includes the incorporation of historical narratives about disability in the American context. He also develops his thesis by bolstering it with an informed claim that disability played a major role in the permeation of legally sanctioned discriminatory practices. For instance, Antebellum America was rife with incidents where various arguments were made to discredit black Americans from civic participation and, thus justified.         The assumption that variations are the norm in society was, initially, taken for granted and is challenged by the author. Baynton’s position on this specific matter is that disability was harnessed by a specific section of society with the aim of fomenting disenfranchisement and exclusion. It was for this very reason that those against this state of affairs sought to contradict this logic and present it as a fallacy. The author also challenges all negative stigmas associated with disability in the late 19th century and their effects on the quality of life for all those affected. Baynton successfully reframed my thinking about disability by arguing that it was creation of individuals with vested interests in society. He begins by poking holes at the archaic notion that God had created an unequal society where certain individuals where placed above others with regard to hierarchy. The ideas of persons being “normal” or “abnormal” emerged during this period (Umansky, 2011). White Caucasians and the features that accompanied individuals of their ilk became the accepted norm while foreigners who diverged morphologically were thought to be abnormal. Baynton believes that this practice has been normalized in the United States since disability is viewed as a source of embarrassment for the nation. Adopting Baynton’s paradigm shift would see persons with disabilities treated in a humane manner, different from how they were seen prior to these changes. Even though gender and racial inequalities have been addressed by successive governments, the inclusion of persons with disabilities into the mainstream still remains a challenge that needs to be addressed. Baynton concludes by emphatically stressing on the need for a common strategy when addressing equal rights as a matter of grave concern in modern societies. He centers this approach on reproaching the actual idea of disability as a justification for contemporary inequality. Baynton quintessentially endeavors to highlight factors that contribute to the discrimination of persons living with disabilities and addressing them appropriately to refute their subordinate status. The only gap in the author’s argument is that the federal government is yet to pledge its support for apparatus with the primary aim of removing specific presumptions and facilitating public discourse.

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