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Untangling the Racialization of Disabilities: An Intersectionality Critique Across Disability Models1

  • Alfredo J. Artiles (a1)

This article advances an intersectional perspective in the analysis of racial inequities in special education so that theoretical refinement of this problem will strengthen educational equity research and theory. Racial disproportionality in some disability categories continues to affect a sizable number of students in the United States, with dire long-term consequences for the educational trajectories of these learners. After more than four decades, the problem continues to be debated in research, practice, and policy circles. There is consensus among researchers that the racialization of disability embodies complexities that defy linear explanations. But this debate has overlooked the potential of intersectionality to document complexity and to transcend the individual-structure binary that tends to permeate previous scholarship. Indeed, intersectionality's explicit attention to how the complexity of people's everyday experiences is connected to larger historical processes could offer key insights. I analyze how disproportionality research has addressed the intersections of race and disability (along with other markers of oppression) through a contrapuntal reading of works framed with medical, social, and cultural disability models. I conclude with reflections for future research on racial disparities in special education that is mindful of intersectional complexity.

Corresponding author
Professor Alfredo J. Artiles, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University, Interdisciplinary B, Room B353, 1120 S. Cady Mall, Tempe, AZ 85287-1811. Email:
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I acknowledge the support of the Equity Alliance and I am grateful to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University for the residential fellowship that allowed me to research and articulate the theoretical foundations of this analysis. Endorsement by these organizations of the ideas expressed in this manuscript should not be inferred. Earlier versions of this article were presented as keynote lectures/plenary talks at the Emerging Scholars Conference, Chapman University (September 2011), the 2011 annual meeting of the National Association of Multicultural Education, and the Race and Disability Lecture Series at the University of Illinois-Chicago (February 2013). I am grateful to Phil Ferguson, Kris Gutierrez, Elizabeth Kozleski, Tom Skrtic, Stan Trent, and the Sociocultural Research Group for their encouragement and substantive feedback and suggestions. I also acknowledge the feedback of three anonymous reviewers; their critiques and suggestions improved the quality of this article. I remain responsible, however, for the shortcomings of this work.

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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
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