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Diana Paulin, “Blackness, Autism, and the ‘Neurocolorline’”

February 28 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm


5:30pm – 7:00pm EST


Cogut Institute for the Humanities


Cogut Institute, Pembroke Hall



In this talk, Diana Paulin will address the intersecting histories of the Black/white colorline and the divide between neurotypicality and “neurodivergent” bodyminds in the U.S. She considers how the marginalization, incarceration, and policing of Black bodyminds, starting at least as early as the antebellum period, has contributed to the intergenerational disablement of many members of the Black population that persists in the 21st century. This pathologizing perception of Blackness intersects with disability discourse that relies on the same logic of ableism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism that legitimized slavery, as well as the subsequent segregation and containment, of Black bodyminds, deemed out-of-control, historically and contemporaneously.

Through the comparative lenses of Black studies and disability studies, Paulin will explore how a relational understanding of Blackness and autism challenges entrenched binaries that overshadow the nuances of both categories. Her intersectional approach has both representational and pragmatic implications; it highlights the limitations of diagnostic labels by identifying hidden or overlooked experiences of Black autists, and it invites a more flexible and inclusive formulation of what it means to live in a world in which Blackness and autism are mutually constituted. This perspective not only locates creative and alternative viewpoints and experiences, it also amplifies and animates Black autistic voices. In doing so, Paulin’s approach works to dismantle the isolation, misinformation, invisibility, and forced segregation commonly experienced by many Black autists and their familial constellation.

Diana R. Paulin is the Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of English and American Studies and affiliate faculty in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Trinity College. She is also the coordinator of Trinity’s African American Studies minor and codirector of its Global Health Humanities Gateway program. She is the author of Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), and winner of the American Society for Theatre Research’s Errol Hill Award for outstanding scholarship in African American theater and performance. She is coeditor of the forthcoming MLA collection Neurofutures, which includes her chapter “Autistic Blackness: An Interrogative Essay.” She is working on a monograph Black Autism/Autistic Blackness and on a collaborative digital archive Locating Black Autism.

For questions or to request special services, accommodations, or assistance, please contact humanities-institute@brown.edu or (401) 863-6070.

Presented by the Disability Studies Working Group at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities.


February 28
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


Pembroke Hall
172 Meeting St 02912 + Google Map