‘Coolie’ Capacities and the Government of Able-Bodied Work, Allan Lumba, Virginia Tech
This paper explores the profound way ableism has materially shaped the life and labor of racialized migrant workers under capitalism. I concentrate on the experiences of Asian migrants—so-called coolies—working and struggling in the settler colony of California from the 1870s to the 1900s. I look primarily at archives of public and expert discourse over the mental disorders and public health threat of Asian migrants. I research how supposedly scientific concerns over the lack of Chinese physical and “mental hygiene,” were used as grounds for white supremacist legal and extralegal violence during economic crisis and depression.
This paper hopes to have a broader public resonance, particularly regarding contemporary issues of mental health, incarceration, and global inequalities based on race, wealth, and disability.