The following rant is dedicated to Ralph Ellison.
There are a lot of blind people who traffic in what I call, outrage porn. Those are the long, rambling Facebook posts from the likes of Sassy Outwater who, not only point
out some legitimate issues that might annoy us as blind people, but who love to wallow in their own sense of offense. It’s not even so much about what
they say, but the tone in which they say it; or write it, as the case may be. I might agree with some or most of their points, but I find the entitled sanctimony off-putting.
I try not to engage in this behavior. I don’t want to be another faux social justice warrior with thin skin, carrying my minority
status like a badge of honor, all the while acting as if it’s a cross. I’ve found that you can have far more of an impact if you educate with civility
and humor, rather than acting butt-hurt every time someone knocks on the door of the office bathroom while you’re taking a piss with the lights out.
That said, almost every blind person knows of a common set of behaviors by sighted people that vex us no end. One of them is a classic I call, the invisible
blind guy scenario. Yes, ladies, you can switch the gender if you wish.
If you carry a cane or use a dog, you’ve likely been there. It happens when you
are traveling with a sighted companion. You go into a restaurant, bank, store, etc, and the clerk or a passer-by will talk to your sighted buddy as if
you don’t exist. They may ask your companion what you’d like to eat, or ask them to sign for you, or carry on an entire conversation, all the while barely
acknowledging your presence. Everyone does it. No one is exempt. The only common denominator is sight. Men do it. Women do it. People of all races and
sexual orientations do it. Rightists do it. Leftists do it. They are the worst, because they think they’re above it after all kinds of sensitivity training and college education about intersectionality, but it goes right out the window when a blindie approaches.
Today at work, we hosted a videographer who came in and filmed various aspects of our workplace for some documentary or other. I have no idea of the nature of it. My boss brought her into the
control room, introduced me and continued to talk to her. I was in the middle of hurridly editing a file for a political candidate, so it was kind of time
sensitive. Perhaps I appeared busy, but the filmmaker said to my boss, “Can I get some shots of him editing?” She didn’t ask me. She asked my boss.
Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the subject of various TV and newspaper puff pieces that were well-intentioned, but which actually
served no purpose, other than to ladle out a heavy dose of inspiration porn about the amazing blind kid/guy. Without exception, every photographer or cameraman
(or woman) talked to my parents, my teachers, my coworkers or some varient, while barely speaking to me at all. “Can he turn this way?” “Can he smile a
bit more?” “Let’s move him over here. This way. This way. That’s a good boy.”
Today, when the lady asked my boss about filming me, I wanted to say, “You
can talk to me, lady. It’s not 1950, we’re not in Alabama and I’m not the kitchen nigger.”
There are three reasons why I suppressed this comment:
1. I love my job.
2. I respect my boss.
3. We live in an increasingly reactionary world that now has little use for context. Megyn Kelly is a perfect example.
She just got railroaded out of NBC after making a racially insensitive comment; a comment for which she apologized. Twice.
No, I kept my thoughts to myself and decided to express them here. No outrage or sanctimony. If anything, I’m just weary of being treated like the invisible blind guy. I know why it’s
happening, of course, People are very tribal. If a sighted person sees another sighted person with a blind person, they will naturally respond more quickly
to the person with whom they have more in common. It’s similar to a person in a foreign country who will gravitate toward someone who speaks their own
language. It’s not so much about bigotry or insensitivity as it is about comfort. Like it or not, differences make us uncomfortable. This filmmaker is
probably a very nice lady who did not mean to be dismissive, but she has likely never encountered a blind person in her life. Should she be expected to
know exactly how to behave when she encounters a situation for which she’s never been prepared? I think not.
Just because I understand what’s going on, however, doesn’t mean I don’t get sick of it. In her memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People. Condoleezza Rice says, “I would rather be ignored than patronized.” I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. All things being equal though, I prefer neither option. I would just assume have a respectful dialogue.
Anyway, I need to actually get back to work before I get fired for slacking on the job, so I will close with this thought. All of you sighted folks, if you see a blind person with a sighted person, please don’t ignore us. Your courtesy is just as welcome for us as it is with anyone with whom you can make eye contact. And if you choose to engage with us, please talk to us as if we are human beings, not animals or overgrown children.
One last thought… I think Megyn Kelly’s firing is a blessing in disguise.