Scapegoat has been called “the most important book you will read all year”. That’s the quote on the cover from Tom Shakespeare, a disability academic of questionable politics who refused to take disability hate crime seriously until he personally experienced it on the Newcastle metro.
The problem, as the author Katherine Quarmby powerfully exposes, is the separation between disability and mainstream society that allows discrimination and harassment to go on under our noses yet remain largely hidden. Hugh Gallagher, a disabled American academic, writes how “The usual rights and privileges of citizenship do not apply here… A great wall surrounds this place, and most of what goes on within the wall is unknown to those outside it.”
The book centres around eight cases of disability related torture and murder, and seeks to put these into a wider understanding of attitudes towards disabled people through history. Quarmby makes the link between extreme examples of disability hate crime and general social attitudes towards disabled people which see us as less able and less worthwhile.
Quarmby’s quest since she started reporting on the murders of disabled people has been to wake people up to the existence of disability hate crime. Through Scapegoat she pushes her audience to question their own prejudices. The frustration of the book is the missed opportunity to get to the roots of the oppression that leads to hate crime.
Class struggle, a fundamental factor in any understanding of disability inequality, is entirely absent from what little analysis she presents. Even more frustrating is the fact that the clues are all there. She mentions in passing the pattern of economic deprivation within the communities where the disability murders occur and the fact that many of the perpetrators were themselves disabled.
In her historical overview Quarmby acknowledges the industrial revolution as a pivotal moment only to then list individual instances of the exclusion and mistreatment of disabled people. The implication is that aversion to impairment is inevitable, with the consequence, unless checked, of the scapegoating of disabled people for society’s ills. The role of capitalism in the degradation and extermination of disabled people is left untouched.
The final section, where Quarmby attempts to provide answers toward redressing the problem, is the most disappointing of all. A fundamental shift in how people with impairments are valued, included and placed within society will never be achieved by the list of random project work she gives.
One of the most effective methods for combating negative attitudes to disability would be to invest in inclusive education for all, yet Quarmby evades any solutions that would rock the status quo. Projects to develop disability hate crime reporting packs, to give disabled people social opportunities and to train the Crown Prosecution Service in how to spot disability related incidents will only ever deal with the symptoms of the problem and never succeed in achieving full equality and inclusion for disabled people. For that we need a revolution.
Scapegoat is published by Portobello, £15.99
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