Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 July 2022
A considerable historiography now details the racism upon which immigration restrictions are formed. My first argument here is that disabled people were also refused entry first to the colonies in the British empire and then to Britain itself, exclusions which have often continued to be naturalised. Secondly, I argue that exclusions of disabled peoples should not just be added onto our understanding of restrictive legislation on racial grounds, but that disability and race intersected. Disability was used to justify racial exclusions, and differences of disability were often raced. Particular kinds of bodies were being constructed as ‘valuable’ to the nation. These bodies were to be white and North European, but they were also to be mentally and physically ‘fit’ and that ‘fitness’ was defined in rigid terms. The values attached to race, ability and gender were mutually constituted. Masculine bodies were to be independent, working bodies. Whether or not a deaf or disabled person could work, their body was read as dependent, incapable and as a liability. Feminine bodies were read in terms of their reproductive value. Disabled women, infantilised and desexualised were not always read as capable of reproduction. And when they were, this too had frightening potential.