Disability+Intersectionality is a fortnightly reading group based at King’s College London where members meet to discuss key texts in critical disability studies, situating them within the broader context of the humanities and social sciences. Each session will focus on a theme and explore how disability intersects with categories such as gender, race, sexuality, and class.
Christina Lee is a second-year PhD student in the Department of English and a co-organiser of Disability+Intersectionality. In this post she reflects on lessons from the reading group and what intersectionality means to her.
At the Intersection
I am terrified of intersections. There is something about the open space in the middle that petrifies me. Once, while I was trying to cross the road, a car suddenly turned right and the driving instructor – sitting next to the learner in the passenger seat – stuck his head out of the window to rail at me for being on the road. I was actually on the pavement a few seconds before and left to cross to the right. I did not go on the pavement because it was too narrow and had poorly cut curbs. He didn’t want to listen and continued to insist I should be on the pavement. Eventually they drove off, though not before he proclaimed that I ought to be run over by a car. This is what I used to think of when I hear ‘disability’ and ‘intersection’.
Pavements, sidewalks, footpaths, are designed for pedestrians, people who use their feet and walk with an easy, steady stride without canes, crutches or prosthetics.
Paul Gilroy, Professor of American and English Literature at King’s, was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in April 2018 – a prestigious recognition of his work as a cultural historian, critical race theorist and thinker who has shaped black diaspora studies. Founded in 1780, the Academy has a stellar list of former members including Benjamin Franklin (1781), Charles Darwin (1874), Albert Einstein (1924) and Martin Luther King, Jr (1966). Here, Paul speaks to PhD researcher Rachel Bolle-Debessay about receiving this award.
Rachel Bolle-Debessay (RBD): Thanks so much for talking to us, Paul! Our trigger for this interview was your election as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. So could you begin at this point – what does this mean for you and the nature of the scholarship that you undertake?
Paul Gilroy (PG): I was humbled and amazed. I’d say that being taken seriously is the best feeling an academic can have. I worked in the US for some years and one of my responsibilities as a teacher and researcher lay in the field of African American Studies. As an outsider, I faced a significant amount of hostility especially when my work was perceived as interrupting the standard cultural nationalist approaches that have defined that enterprise.
So this award cheered me up. It made me feel that in spite of the antipathy I had endured, the work I’d done had acquired its own life and some people had found it useful. It’s absolutely fine if they use it as something to disagree with and sharpen their intellectual claws upon. It makes me feel that I haven’t wasted my time.