"Can't Nobody Even Spread Their Wings Here": Thinking Disability Alongside Environmental Racism, Collectively Acquired Impairments, and Injustice in Flint, Michigan
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The unjust production of impairments has historically posed a theoretical and political problem for a Disability Studies committed to normalizing and de-stigmatizing disability. This discursive schism serves to reinforce the discipline’s tendency towards “epistemic whiteness” (Puar, 2017, p.xix). However, it is imperative that the field consider situated experiences of disability inextricably linked to contexts such as environmental racism currently invisibilized and/or overlooked in the field. The following paper attempts to address some of these gaps by studying the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that began in 2014 - and resulted in 30 000 children being exposed to lead poisoning, along with a Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak that killed twelve people - as a case study on collectively acquired impairments. How does the Flint water crisis challenge Disability Studies theory to better account for impairments acquired – or more accurately, imposed - through environmental racism? I pay particular attention to the phenomenology of living with collectively acquired impairments, and utilize the concepts of disorientation, disposability, and debility in my analysis to foreground the varied implications involved when already marginalized and racialized populations acquire impairments. Experiences of Flint residents call on the discipline of Disability Studies to pay greater attention to how situations of injustice affect embodiment in ways that may not neatly fit into the rubric of impairment.