Keith Mayes



Keith Mayes is a Professor of Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara who received his Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. Hailing from the University of Minnesota where he was the former chair of the Department of African American & African Studies; the Director of the Center for Race, Indigeneity, Disability, Gender & Sexuality (RIDGS); Associate Dean of DEI Initiatives in the Office of Undergraduate Education; and the Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor, Mayes’ area of research is on post-war black social movements but has expanded to include how white psychological, medical, and educational epistemologies invented and shaped narratives about the black experience as an exercise in biopower. Mayes is interested in the narrative construction of reality and how African Americans have found ways to resist impositions of white meaning and emplotment.

His latest book, entitled, The Unteachables: Disabilty Rights and the Invention of Black Special Education (2023) examines the discriminatory labeling of black students and their overrepresentation in classes for the intellectually disabled (ID), the emotional and behavior disordered (EBD), and the learning disabled (LD). At the heart of this study is the intersection of the civil rights movement, the educational disability rights movement, and the resegregation of black students in white schools. By bridging the fields of black studies, critical disability studies, public policy history, and the history and sociology of education, Mayes demonstrates how academic discourses shaped policy debates inside the federal government and K-12 schools, and why black grassroots mobilization responded to the application of psychological knowledge on black children.

Mayes is currently working on a follow-up, entitled, Clinical Badness: How the Behavioral Sciences Invented ‘Bad’ Black Behavior, looking specifically at the history of anti-blackness in clinical medicine and how conceptions of school and societal disorders evolved into conduct disorders that helped construct the early versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM I-III).