Caribbean Journal of Philosophy, Vol 11, No 1 (2019)

Ontologically Legitimated Ableist Language against Disabled Persons in African Traditions

Elvis Imafidon


There are ample evidences to show that a disabled person in African traditional (indigenous) communities such as a person with albinism, a person with angular kyphosis, a person with mental illness, or a person with physical disability go through a difficult life of intense social discrimination and stigma. One obvious evidence for this is to be found in the deeply normalized and socially accepted ableist language used against disabled persons in many African communities. The linguistic representations in forms of terms and phrases culturally and socially accepted as terms and phrases for disabled persons clearly shows the disdain for, and discriminations against such persons. For instance, among other terms and phrases, a person with albinism among the Yoruba people is termed ‘afin’ which means ‘horrible.’ In this essay, I defend two positions concerning the ableist representations of disabled persons in African languages. First, the normalized status of the ableist language against disabled persons is legitimated through an ontology that largely excludes disabled persons from the accepted community of beings and generally portrays disabled persons as entities lacking human personhood. If this is the case, then the moral obligations toward a fellow human being such as fair treatment and care for a disabled person is blurred in such an ontology. Second, I argue that nothing much would be achieved in any attempt to overcome the ableist representation of disability in African languages if attention is not first paid to a critique of the ontological representations of disability within African framework of thought, representations that legitimate the use of such ableist terms and phrases. I conclude that it could be a source of harm if certain moral guidelines are absent in its use.

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