“Hello Ableds, Is It Vacation Yet?”
Disability, Domesticity, and Digital Alchemy During COVID-19
Keywords:COVID-19, Critical Technocultural Discourse, Disability Advocacy, TikTok
When the novel coronavirus began spreading globally in 2020, people within disability communities marked the term ‘social distancing’ as oxymoronic and ignorant of those for whom isolation, quarantine, and limited public life is common. For many, COVID-19 did not signal a complete upheaval of their domestic lives; instead, it created opportunities to increase disability visibility in digital spaces and to lament the ways the pandemic further erased their existences. The first few months of quarantine saw the digital rise of prominent disability advocate Imani Barbarin, known to her social media communities as @crutches_and_spice. Barbarin’s persona as a Black disabled fat queer woman became distinct subversion to non-disabled people’s frequent social media laments of boredom, loneliness, and/or living in quarantine. Drawing upon Bailey’s digital alchemy theory situating how Black women’s online identity performances combat anti-Blackness and sexism (2021), I assert Barbarin is a purveyor of ‘disabled digital alchemy’ who employs social media for the “construction, constitution, and production of self through identity play and performance” (Marshall & Barbour 2015, p. 2). Combining Bailey’s framework with disability and persona studies conceptualizations of performance, I use Brock’s critical technocultural discourse analysis to examine how Barbarin utilizes social media affordances to challenge ableist notions of disabled people’s selfhood while calling out problematic pandemic rhetoric. Critically analyzing @crutches_and_spice specifically within TikTok enables a nuanced grasp of disabled people’s digital personas, how they are often ignored, and ways they perform domesticity to mitigate erasure in an ableist body politic.
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