Fantasies of identification : disability, gender, race by Ellen Samuels

By Ellen Samuels

In the mid-nineteenth-century usa, because it turned more and more tough to tell apart among our bodies understood as black, white, or Indian; able-bodied or disabled; and male or woman, severe efforts emerged to outline those identities as biologically exact and scientifically verifiable in a actually marked physique. Combining literary research, criminal background, and visible tradition, Ellen Samuels strains the evolution of the “fantasy of identification”—the robust trust that embodied social identities are mounted, verifiable, and visual via smooth technology. From birthmarks and fingerprints to blood quantum and DNA, she examines how this myth has circulated among cultural representations, legislation, technology, and coverage to turn into some of the most powerfully institutionalized ideologies of contemporary society.

Yet, as Samuels demonstrates, in each case, the fable distorts its claimed medical foundation, substituting subjective language for claimed target truth. From its early emergence in discourses approximately incapacity fakery and fugitive slaves within the 19th century to its most modern manifestation within the query of intercourse trying out on the 2012 Olympic video games, Fantasies of Identification explores the roots of recent understandings of physically identity.

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Extra resources for Fantasies of identification : disability, gender, race

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William: Sho honey; ain’t I been on the train time and time again wid young Marse, an’ can’t I read and write? ellen: But how kin I be like young Marse? I’m all a shakin’ now. william (soothing her): All you got to do is walk. You don’t have to talk, ellen cr aft’s masquer ade / 43 you don’t have to do a thing but just walk along bigity like a white man. See here. ) Try it. ellen (tries to walk like him): Dis way? william: You doin fine! You see now you is supposed to be sick, you got a toothache, you goin’ to a doctor in Philadelphia, you is nearly deaf, an’ yo’ nigger slave is taking you—understand?

Disability and stereotyped femininity are both stabilized here to supplement the racial pride and empowerment that appear as Johnson’s primary theme and motivation for her play. Like Johnson’s, most narratives of the Crafts’ escape portray William as the primary devisor and motivator of the disguise and Ellen as requiring persuasion and assistance. This is certainly true of the Crafts’ own narrative, in which William tells us, “After I thought of the plan, I suggested it to my wife, but at first she shrank from the idea” (Craft and Craft 21).

The crucial function of disability for the disguise is emphasized by its remarkable proliferation throughout the narrative, which begins immediately after the conversation just quoted. Ellen fears that “the smoothness of her face might betray her; so she decided to make another poultice, and put it in a white handkerchief to be worn under the chin, up the cheeks, and to tie over the head” (24). Then, nervous about traveling in the “company of gentlemen,” Ellen sends William to buy “a pair of green spectacles [tinted glasses]” to hide her eyes (24).

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