My Second Project: Coming in Like a Long Lost Child

Hi hello. This semester has been Very Weird, so here’s me second project (finally).

“Rub Him About the Temples” by Justin Shaw illustrates the importance of something called “Care Work”, referenced briefly but carrying significant weight- especially now in times of racial tension and economic downturn. The author talks about the failure of Othello the play to develop an effective plan of care for the black, disabled main character, and it’s essential to analyze the ways we can actively protect our vulnerable populations. Ideally, I’ll create a running dialogue to develop a plan- using Othello as a sort of anti-framework- which can accomplish this. Hopefully I’ll be able to, additionally, make specific recommendations to move towards a system which incorporates care networking more consistently. This essay aims to address the failings of existing American systems and how the attitudes of the participants can be the difference between life and death. 

As quoted in Shaw’s essay, “Care, as Eva Feder Kittay reminds us, is ‘a labor, an attitude, and a virtue,’” (Shaw, 172). He summarizes this sentiment as Care with a capital C being “A mode of thought and being… and a fundamental good.” From what I gather, this needs to be a principle of society (as much as I hate to use that word). Just as Justice and Freedom are vague signifiers, it is proposed that a more specific virtue, this model of Care, should be a foundational mindset among human beings, but especially American people. This larger failing is a small part of what contributed to both the deaths of Othello and Eric Garner. So what does this care with a capital C actually look like?

The concept isn’t new. Generally, care work is all work dedicated to the service of others, often without expectation of financial compensation, but the definition is deceivingly straightforward and does not critically address all angles and factors, such as motivation, race, models of disability, and socio-economic stance. In recent years it has resurfaced as a form of disability justice. Justin Shaw primarily quotes Eva Feder Kittay as a major voice in this conversation. 

To examine this more closely, Eva Feder Kittay- the author whom Shaw refers to- states in her own essay “The Ethics of Care, Dependence, and Disability” prefaces with her understanding of autonomy and dignity: “…People with disabilities have wanted to insist on their right to live independent lives and to be granted the same justice that is bestowed on people without disabilities, that is, the “temporarily abled.” The need for care, or as many would rather say “assistance,” is viewed not as a sign of dependence but as a sort of prosthesis that permits one to be independent,” (Kittay, 50). That is to say the physical reliance on others is not necessarily dependence, but an accommodation which allows disabled people to make their own, autonomous decisions, rather than ones borne out of desperation to survive. She observed a funky relationship between disability, physical dependence, autonomy, and dignity. Essentially, we seem to conflate physical dependence with a lack of personal autonomy and dignity. We often consider caring for the disabled a chore or labor without considering or appreciating their contributions, which often exist outside of a capitalist context.

What is fascinating about Care Work is the individualization of disabled people, which allows for a more open model of disability. Othello has epilepsy, and in some studies is thought to be neurodivergent, but is largely not considered among popular circles to be disabled because he functions independently. With this framework, much of the conflict in Othello may have been avoided. A combination of Othello’s race, disability, and position of power with a striking lack of attentiveness from those around him led to his downfall, and no small dosage of forced internalized anti blackness. Shaw compared this to the Eric Garner case. To do this, Shaw says, “…requires attention to Othello that resists re-centering him as the hyper-visible centerpiece of curiosity and anti-black harassment while resisting the impulse to homogenize and elide all types of difference, since doing so would render the needs and desires of the titular Moor of Venice invisible, inaudible, and unnecessary,” (Shaw, 172). Eric Garner’s case was primarily rooted in a racist police force, but it was also, to some degree, a lack of a Caring component on the part of societal structures and the police. What Shaw proposes is that both of these narratives are exemplary in a lack of fundamental, ethical Care Work in a capitalist society.

What’s important to remember is both figures’ (Othello and Eric Garner’s)  relationship with the state. Eric Garner was victimized by the state, while Othello faced insubordination while acting as the state. Othello, in a position of leadership, suffers from the insincerity of others, and the expectation of a transactional relationship. We see this come to life in Act 3, Scene 4, when Cassio says, 

“If my offense be of such mortal kind

That nor my service past nor present sorrows

Nor purposed merit in futurity

Can ransom me into his love again,

But to know so must be my benefit.” (Shakespeare, 161). 

As Shaw puts it, “While [Cassio] seems sincere in his desperation, this pretension of care is self-serving as he expects continued reciprocation for services rendered and increased social capital for tending to and procuring the black body. Moreover, he fears a loss of access and proximity to Othello…” (Shaw, 175). This increases the fragility of the care web in Othello, and thus the expectation of an equal return on invested interest in Othello and his disabled body is ultimately dangerous. This is the reason caring ethically is so vital to the concept. 

In many ways, for both Othello and Garner, the network of care and the threat were one and the same due to racism. However, for Eric Garner, the issue was not insincerity or subtle social isolation, but outright cruelty. It was not the failed attempt at care or the insincere deliverance of it, but prejudice of the black psyche, as quoted by Shaw, as “…preternaturally irrational, unruly, criminal, and insane,’” (Hilton, 233). Garner was a victim of the state, and in this distinction lies an important consideration when establishing ethical networks of care. The lack of care was systemic rather than social, in that the supposed mantra of the police, “Protect and Serve,” is neglected in favor of some imagined efficiency- through the presupposition of the police that black bodies and minds are inherently dangerous and the lack of emphasis in training on the care and concern aspect of the position, the police are a dangerously failed network of care. There is equity in understanding the socio-economic situation of the person in question. 

The racism and violence we see due to modern politics is, in a way, impeding the physical function of many POC folks in urban areas. They are afraid to leave their houses, rendering them, in a way, temporarily disabled. This offer borne of compassion and concern, falls under the umbrella of care work. The video has thousands of likes and shares, with people offering similar services. This kind of compassion is exactly the foundation of the Care work that must be integral to society. Some of you may have seen this video:

*Insert video*

This was posted just before the 2020 presidential election, because many POC feared for their safety and the repercussions of either presidential decision. It’s also a great example of how we can- and are- weaving care work into our everyday lives. His attitude is not to take control of anyone’s life or to limit their autonomy, but to complete physical tasks so that they might still be able to make choices on their own, without the limitations of the threat to their safety. This is essentially the same process that would take place in an ethical network of care: gearing intentions away from simply keeping the disabled alive and towards freeing them from making choices solely based on their immediate physical needs. Othello was reacting to some of the potential internal processes that accompany his disability and maybe neurodivergence. Eric Garner died partially due to a lack of care, and partially due to his breathing problems and condition as a lager man. It’s not that care work will fix all of our issues per se, but it is a necessary component to add to our society, if not a consideration when rebuilding it.

On a systemic level, placing the same importance on care as justice or freedom- vague as those words may be, could be a tool in adjusting the severe division and violence erupting in America. Instilling emphasis during the training of the police force- if there must be one- on the greater good of the community and carefully addressing all needs of alleged and victim alike may weed out some of the more insecure and power hungry agents who overpolice black and poor communities. Theoretically, this may have a ripple effect. It could, if only on a miniscule level, begin to eliminate some of the existing racism by lowering the rates of arrest for POC populations and teaching compassion more deliberately. 

Works Cited

Kittay, Eva Feder. “The Ethics of Care, Dependence, and Disability*.” An International Journal of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law, vol. 24, no. 1, 22 Mar. 2011, pp. 49–58., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9337.2010.00473.x. 

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Othello : 1622. Oxford :Clarendon Press, 1975.

Shaw, Justin. “‘Rub Him About the Temples’: Othello, Disability, and the Failures of Care.” Early Theatre, vol. 22, no. 2, 28 Dec. 2019, pp. 171–181., doi:10.12745/et.22.2.3997. 

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