Charis welcomes Jennifer Natalya Fink in conversation with Ralph James Savarese for a discussion of All Our Families: Disability Lineage and the Future of Kinship. A provocation to reclaim our disability lineage in order to profoundly reimagine the possibilities for our relationship to disability, kinship, and carework.
Disability is often described as a tragedy, a crisis, or an aberration, though 1 in 5 people worldwide have a disability. Why is this common human experience rendered exceptional? In All Our Families, disability studies scholar Jennifer Natalya Fink argues that this originates in our families. When we cut a disabled member out of the family story, disability remains a trauma as opposed to a shared and ordinary experience. This makes disability and its diagnosis traumatic and exceptional.
Weaving together stories of members of her own family with sociohistorical research, Fink illustrates how the eradication of disabled people from family narratives is rooted in racist, misogynistic, and antisemitic sorting systems inherited from Nazis. By examining the rhetoric of genetic testing, she shows that a fear of disability begins before a child is even born and that a fear of disability is, fundamentally, a fear of care. Fink analyzes our racist and sexist care systems, exposing their inequities as a source of stigmatizing ableism.
Inspired by queer and critical race theory, Fink calls for a lineage of disability: a reclamation of disability as a history, a culture, and an identity. Such a lineage offers a means of seeing disability in the context of a collective sense of belonging, as cause for celebration, and is a call for a radical reimagining of carework and kinship. All Our Families challenges us to re-lineate disability within the family as a means of repair toward a more inclusive and flexible structure of care and community.
Jennifer Natalya Fink is director of the Program in Disability Studies and a professor of English at Georgetown University. She is the author of 6 books and founder of the Gorilla Press, a nonprofit promoting youth literacy through bookmaking. Fink is the winner of the Dana Award for the Novel and the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Innovative Fiction, as well as a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. First and foremost, she is a mother; the transformative experience of parenting her autistic daughter is the center of her work.
Ralph James Savarese is the author of five books, including Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption and See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-good English Professor. He is also the co-editor of three collections, including the first on the concept of neurodiversity. A fourth co-edited collection, The Futures of Neurodiversity, is presently under contract. His latest book of poetry, which he co-authored with Stephen Kuusisto, Someone Falls Overboard: Talking through Poems, came out last fall from Nine Mile Books. He can be seen in his son DJ’s Peabody Award-winning documentary, Deej: Inclusion Shouldn’t Be a Lottery. He teaches at Grinnell College in Iowa.
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