Racialized Disablement and the Need for Conceptual Analysis of “Racial Health Disparities”

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DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12979


It is well established that racial health disparities are impacted by structural racism, but the imbrication of racialization processes with processes of disablement remains underdeveloped. This essay advocates for a conceptual lens that looks historically and politically at the co-constitution of “race” and “disability.” Racism and ableism intersect in ways that manifest what I call racialized disablement, a key heuristic for building a fuller understanding of “race” and “racial health disparities.” This terminology, I propose, helps illuminate the following about race and racism in healthcare: first, racialized disablement seeks to denaturalize both race and disability to focus on their political production. Using process-based terms related to both race and disability heightens the sense in which neither inhere in particular, individual bodies, but rather persist in contexts of ongoing structural oppressions, materializing populations subject to racialization and disablement. Secondly, and relatedly, racialized disablement aims to identify racism and ableism as co-constitutive—historically, politically, and conceptually intertwined. Without an awareness of the fluidity of race- and disability-based markers and the systems of power generating their materialization, our understandings of racial disparities in health and healthcare are incomplete.


Bioethics, Vol. 36, No. 3 (March 2022): 336-345. DOI.