[nabs-l] Blindness vs. Other Minority Groups

Darian Smith dsmithnfb at gmail.com
Wed Nov 2 14:40:30 UTC 2011


Hi all,
  I’m just throwing out some thoughts here, so please keep that in
mind when reading, if you will…

I identify  as being both  blind and African-american.  I find that
(as you can imagine) people notice both my dark skin tone and  the
not-so dark NFB cane I use.  It seems to me that when  I interact with
 people, they notice my cane way before my skin tone (you can argue
both good and bad for this if you really wanted to).  In many
situations, I find that if I am  going to find myself in a
discriminatory situation, it is about 98to 99  times out of 100 that
it’s due to my blindness.  As I think about it,  there might have been
a few times that the race card has been pulled, but blindness was
being used as a cover in those situations.  Does   blindness blur
color lines?  Sometimes I feel like in Pan-disability gatherings
blindness is the one disability that people really get most worked up
over.   The assumptionis made on some level that the blind person
needs the most assistance because they can’t see, or their cane is
viewed as a weapon – something to be really concerned about as a
wheelchair user may figure.
 This is a really really  interesting  thread (thanks again,
Arielle!).   Unfortunately I don’t  have a great amount to  contribute
but a few thoughts.
 Have a wonderful  day folks!
  Darian


On 11/1/11, Beth <thebluesisloose at gmail.com> wrote:
> YEs.  That makes sense.  People tell me one thing, and I see
> another.  Deq is a very able person, and I see a lot of
> discrimination against Africans, African Americans (who didn't
> come here straight out of Africa) and Latinos being discriminated
> against in the education system because teachers say, "These
> people are not intelligent."  The blind are also discriminated
> against in the same ways.
> Beth
>
>  ----- Original Message -----
> From: Jedi <loneblindjedi at samobile.net
> To: nabs-l at nfbnet.org
> Date sent: Wed, 02 Nov 2011 00:15:44 -0400
> Subject: Re: [nabs-l] Blindness vs. Other Minority Groups
>
> Beth,
>
> Could you clarify what you mean by the following?
>
> Deq, my Somali friend, is so sweet, and so intelligent, I forget
> about
> the whole Somali thing.
>
> The only reason I ask you to clarify what you mean is because
> this is
> exactly the comment that Arielle is so frustrated with. Are you
> saying
> that you forget about the stupid things people say about Somali
> people
> because of how sweet and intelligent your friend is? If so,
> you're
> saying the same thing that people say about us as blind people.
> So, it
> would sound like "My friend is so sweet and intelligent that I
> forget
> how some people say that the blind are incapable." Does that make
> sense?
>
> Respectfully,
> Jedi
>
> Original message:
>  Try being Blind, Muslim, and Somali.  I converted to Islam and
>  associate with Somalis, who are viewed as "violent, bombers,
>  people who just want to absolutely throw you into a ditch."  Not
>  that anyone has ever said that.  But the news views Somalis as
>  "confidants of Al Shabbab" and so on.  Deq, my Somali friend, is
>  so sweet, and so intelligent, I forget about the whole Somali
>  thing.  Being a Muslim is not a bad dea at all.  Jedi, I see
> what
>  you've got in the "unusual religion" category.  I don't think
>  your stuff is too unusual.  Your religion could be categorized
> as
>  "super Buddhism".  My religion could be classified according to
>  interpretations of the Quran.  To those who practice
>  Judaeo-Christian heritage, I don't think it's a bad heritage.
>  I've been there.  But I didn't feel it was appropriate because
>  the charismmatic Christians in my family didn't feel that
>  blindness is something bearable.  Islam believes that if you
>  "suffer", or if you really are suffering from mental illness or
>  blindness, then if you are also patient with what you have, then
>  you are bound for Heaven or Paradise as we call it.  Being blind
>  AND a Muslim is a bad idea in some states like Florida, but not
> a
>  bad idea in Colorado, where the Somali population is third
>  largest only to one other state ad Minnesota.  I don't remember,
>  uh, I think it was Maine I was thinking of.  I'm not Somali
>  myself, but since Deq is a Somali, people tend to say things
> that
>  aren't so nice about him, blind or otherwise.  I usually stop
> and
>  defend him.
>  Beth
>
>   ----- Original Message -----
>  From: Jedi <loneblindjedi at samobile.net
>  To: nabs-l at nfbnet.org
>  Date sent: Tue, 01 Nov 2011 23:27:07 -0400
>  Subject: Re: [nabs-l] Blindness vs. Other Minority Groups
>
>  Arielle,
>
>  I think you're right that speaking about blindness in such a
>  negative
>  way is no different than speaking about other minorities in this
>  fashion. I think the problem is twofold. First, people honestly
>  feel
>  that they are being kind to us, but they understand on some
> level
>  that
>  negative comments about other minorities are not kind; most
>  people
>  don't understand how their kindness impacts us. The other
> problem
>  is
>  that, up to this point, we haven't spoken with a clear voice on
>  the
>  matter of how we're treated by the sighted. Yes, there are our
>  banquet
>  speeches and our public announcements, but we're pressured into
>  everyday politeness by both blind and sighted persons so much
>  that
>  we're afraid to tell the sighted how their so-called kindness
>  really
>  impacts us; the end result is that the sighted have no idea how
>  we
>  really feel about their behavior and we continue to have the
> same
>  old
>  issues we've had forever. Other minorities have done a much
>  better job
>  of voicing their frustrations than we have on an interpersonal
>  level.
>  We've conditioned ourselves into thinking that we owe the
> sighted
>  some
>  form of special courtesy since we're so afraid that they're
> going
>  to
>  judge us all based on the reactions of one person. If you want
>  evidence, consider "Don't Throw the Nickel" and "The Nature of
>  Independence."
>
>  Let me say now what I've personally decided to do when it comes
>  to this
>  very issue. I stressed myself out to the point of needing
>  counseling
>  over whether or not the sighted would judge all of us based on
> my
>  actions; I stressed out because i was afraid of how the rest of
>  you
>  might judge me if you ever found out about how I handled this or
>  that
>  interaction. That's a hell of a lot of pressure! I personally
>  internalized the frustrations of all of us and this obsessive
>  need to
>  educate the sighted. I felt it was my responsibility to be an
>  ambassador for the blind. I'm not kidding when I tell you that I
>  emotionally hurt myself and physically drained my personal
>  resources.
>  After a lot of soul-searching and some professional help, I've
>  decided
>  to abdicate my role as ambassador for the blind unless I
>  willingly put
>  myself in that position (e.g. a meet the blind month activity or
>  presentation on blindness). I have also abdicated my role as the
>  educator. I've decided to stop dialoguing with the sighted
>  through
>  education and I've decided to start educating through dialogue.
>  This
>  needs explaining. If a sighted person says "You do so well that
> I
>  forget you're blind," I say (if I think it's important enough),
>  "I feel
>  stuck when I hear you say that I'm so good at X that you forget
>  that
>  I'm blind. First, I feel forced to thank you for what you
>  perceived to
>  be a compliment because, if I don't thank you, I'm the rude one
>  here.
>  But at the same time, I feel hurt that you would say something
>  like
>  that because I hear you saying that you don't expect me to do so
>  well
>  because I'm blind and so are surprised, or that you somehow
> think
>  that
>  I'm better than whatever image you've created of me and my blind
>  friends. This isn't to say that I don't recognize your attempt
> at
>  kindness, but I'd rather you tell me that you appreciate
>  something I'm
>  good at because I'm good at it, not because I seem to go beyond
>  an
>  expectation I perceive you've set for me." Use whatever words
> you
>  like
>  folks. If you're genuinely grateful for the comment, say so. If
>  you're
>  angry, say so. But for goodness sake, don't just be quiet
> because
>  you're expected to be polite. This is a great way to stack these
>  things
>  up in your heart. And if you can't say whatever you need to say
>  to the
>  person you need to say it to, find someone to say it to like a
>  friend
>  or a colleague who understands you. Put it in an e-mail message
>  or
>  whatever you need to do. That's what other minorities have been
>  doing
>  with comments like this, and I don't understand why we've not
>  caught on
>  except that we somehow seem to think we don't deserve this kind
>  of
>  equality. And you know what, some sighted people won't get it no
>  matter
>  what you do or say. But some will, and they'll appreciate your
>  heart-felt honesty a hell of a lot more than whatever platitude
>  you offer.
>
>  Arielle, you asked some of us to talk about our other minority
>  statuses
>  if we have them. I fit into the "unusual religious belief"
>  category,
>  and my legal name reflects that fact. Some of you may know how
>  much
>  crap I've received from some regarding my preference to be
> called
>  "Jedi" rather than my given name "Jennifer." I learned the hard
>  way
>  that going along to get along is a terrible choice. by going
>  along to
>  get along, I felt like some part of myself wasn't being heard.
>  And if I
>  fought against the tide of people telling me what to call
> myself,
>  I
>  felt like my words and reasons were falling into nothingness,
>  even by
>  people who cared about me but couldn't understand how important
>  this
>  preference was to me. So finally, i decided that I need to
>  respect
>  myself, especially because i wasn't getting much from others in
>  this
>  respect. So I changed my name legally and now it's no problem.
>  I'm sure
>  some people were disappointed in me for whatever reason. But I
>  think
>  they learned to respect me more as a person because I stood up
>  for
>  myself and didn't ask their permission to be who and what I am.
> I
>  think
>  the sighted are the same way. Maybe dramatic demonstrations such
>  as
>  mine aren't required in every situation, but I think we need to
>  be
>  ready for those times when they are.
>
>  So in short, when you find yourself in a situation where a
>  sighted
>  person has said or done something to you, think about how that
>  really
>  makes you feel inside. And if it's important to you, make it a
>  point to
>  say whatever it is you feel you need to say. And since the rest
>  of us
>  aren't with you when you're going through this process, none of
>  us have
>  the right to judge you for whatever you do because we might have
>  done
>  the same had we been in your shoes. And if we really support
> each
>  other
>  and our collective bid for freedom, we shouldn't judge you
>  anyway. Only
>  you know what's right for you in how you deal with the sighted,
>  and
>  your experiences will tell you if any changes are needed to your
>  approach. As to the reactions of the sighted, realize that
>  they'll get
>  over it; they're just as resilient as we are, and someone might
>  actually take what you have to say to heart, I've heard it
> happen
>  before and I've witnessed it myself. And really folks, we can't
>  expect
>  ourselves to represent all of us all of the time. We are a
>  people's
>  movement, yes. But first and foremost, we are people.
>
>  If what I say feels right to any of you, let's get in contact
>  because
>  I'm working on some workshops in which ideas like these can be
>  further
>  explored and spread to the Federationists who are interested in
>  this
>  kind of thing.
>
>  Thanks for asking the question, Arielle. It's high time someone
>  did.
>
>  Respectfully,
>  Jedi
>  Original message:
>   Warning-this topic has the potential to start a heated debate,
>  but I
>   also think it is an interesting and important topic for us as
>  blind
>   people to think about.
>   Lately I have been thinking a lot about how the problems faced
>  by the
>   blind are similar to or different from those faced by other
>  minority
>   groups in this country historically and in the present. More
>  than
>   that, I have been thinking about how the general public sees us
>  as a
>   group in comparison to how they view other minority groups. It
>  has
>   struck me that oftentimes members of the general public treat
> us
>  in
>   discriminatory ways or stereotype us without even considering
>  that
>   this kind of treatment resembles stereotyping and
> discrimination
>   against other minority groups.
>   Let me give a concrete example. In his book Freedom for the
>  Blind, Jim
>   Omvig writes of a time when he was directing a training center
>  and a
>   female staff member at the center commented, "You do your job
> so
>  well,
>   sometimes I forget you're blind!" Seeing the teachable moment,
>  Mr.
>   Omvig brought up this incident to his students during a
>  philosophy
>   class, and to illustrate his point he said to the woman, "You
>  are such
>   a good teacher, sometimes I forget you're a woman!" From what I
>   recall, the staff member got a bit upset and insisted that "no,
>  what I
>   said about you being blind was very different from what you
> said
>  about
>   my being a woman. I was just trying to give you a compliment!"
>   Now, as blind people most of us understand the problem with her
>   comment-the implication that being blind must not be very good,
>  so
>   someone who does a good job isn't like other blind people. To
> me
>  this
>   sounds like the same problem as making the analogous comment to
>  a
>   woman-but she didn't see it that way. Why not? Is there a
>  difference
>   here?
>   I have often been quite frustrated when people I know and
>   trust-friends or family members, who have very liberal views
>  about
>   race, would never utter a racial slur or support discrimination
>   against racial minorities, women, gays etc. who nonetheless
> have
>  no
>   qualms about saying negative things about blindness. Like
> saying
>  blind
>   people are all worse than the sighted at something, or that
>  blind
>   people are more dependent or less successful than the sighted,
>  etc.
>   They will sometimes say these things to my face and don't
>  understand
>   why I don't like to hear these things. Sometimes family members
>  will
>   make comments comparing me favorably to other blind people.
> They
>  think
>   they are giving me compliments, and fail to understand that I
>  don't
>   want to hear negative things spoken about the blind as a
>  collective.
>   Yet these same people would never tell an African American that
>  they
>   are "smart for a black person" etc. I remember during the
>  protests
>   against the Blindness film in 2008, I was perplexed by how many
>  people
>   just didn't get it, and didn't see what harm the film could
>  do-and yet
>   an analogous film where everyone developed black skin or female
>   anatomy with such dire consequences would never be accepted in
>  our
>   modern society. And finally, in my research, I have observed
>  that the
>   college students in my experiments have no problem saying on a
>  survey
>   that the blind are much less competent than the sighted, yet
>  would
>   never say such things directly about another minority group-in
>  fact,
>   lots of fancy indirect measures have been developed to tap
> those
>   attitudes because people nowadays are so unwilling to admit
>  their
>   prejudices, unless it's toward the blind.
>   So, what's up? Are stereotypes about the blind somehow more
>  accurate
>   than stereotypes about ethnic minorities? Is discrimination
>  against
>   the blind somehow more justified? Or is it just that we are
> such
>  a
>   small group that we haven't developed the same history, had the
>  same
>   scale of civil rights activism, etc. to raise people's
>  awareness? Do
>   you guys think we deserve the same considerations as other
>  minorities
>   in this country? If not, am I missing something? If so, how do
>  we get
>   members of the public to see this?
>   Also, as an aside, I'm curious to hear from those of you who
> are
>  "dual
>   minorities" being both blind and a member of a minority group
> in
>  this
>   country (ethnicity-wise, or a different group like GLBT,
>  uncommon
>   religious beliefs etc.) How do you think your two identities
> are
>   similar? Different? Do you feel they interact with one another?
>   I look forward to the discussion.
>   Best,
>   Arielle
>
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-- 
Darian Smith

"To dream what is possible and to put oneself in service of that dream is the
formula
for a life well lived."

- Dr. Peter Benson




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