[nfb-talk] Fw: [leadership] Blindness and Perspective, The Protests Harm Our Image

Jim Marks blind.grizzly at gmail.com
Thu Dec 18 17:28:23 UTC 2008

In choosing the kind of person I want to be, I think it's better to be among
those who confront prejudice about blindness than those who confront those
who confront the prejudice.  It makes sense that some may choose a quieter
path, but the irony of claiming tolerance while putting down protest is a
bit much to swallow.  Personally, I'm proud the NFB stands up and asserts
the right of blind people to live freely in this world.  And I think it's
terribly sad that others compound the negativity evidenced in the SNL skit
and the movie, "Blindness," with more of the same negativity.  The protest
isn't silly in the least, but the protest about the protest is.

Jim Marks
blind.grizzly at gmail.com
-----Original Message-----
From: nfb-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:nfb-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On
Behalf Of Sherri
Sent: Thursday, December 18, 2008 6:11 AM
To: Nfbf Leaders
Subject: [nfb-talk] Fw: [leadership] Blindness and Perspective, The Protests
Harm Our Image

I'm just passing this along, because I for the most part agree with her 
perspective., though I'll probably incur someone's wrath for doing so. 


> From: Penny Reeder <penny.reeder at gmail.com
> Subject: [leadership] Blindness and Perspective, The Protests Harm Our 
> Image
> Dear ACB Leaders,
> Here's a copy of my latest blog at "Penny for Your Thoughts," on 
> GettingHired.com.  If you decide to circulate what I wrote, please include

> the link, as follows:
> Blindness and Perspective, The Protests Harm Our Image!
> Members of groups which call themselves "the organized blind" are hopping 
> mad.  It's
> been a tough year for them.  First it was the movie, "Blindness," that 
> infuriated
> them.  Now, it's two skits on the December 13, broadcast of "Saturday 
> Night Live."
> During October, many members of these groups protested against the movie, 
> "Blindness."
> "It portrays a terrible image of The Blind," organizers of the 
> demonstrations against
> the film ranted.
> I guess it did.  Certainly those poor wretches who were struck, by virtue 
> of an epidemic
> that paralyzed a fictional Latin American city by making every citizen but

> one instantly
> blind, didn't cope very gracefully, or graciously, with their instant 
> disability.
> The newly blind protagonists couldn't manage even the simplest tasks. 
> Fear and repression
> were the government's response, and quarantine.  And those 
> blind-from-birth  people
> who already knew how to live independently were transformed into society's

> criminal
> element.  They had an extortion racket going on in the quarantine 
> facility, and that
> was just the least offensive aspect of the ways they violated the 
> newly-blind  detainees.
> It was a grim portrait of an epidemic, but as a blind person, I did not 
> find the
> specific portrayal of disability in the book, "Blindness," which I read, 
> or the movie,
> for which, I have to admit for the sake of full disclosure, I saw only the

> previews,
> offensive. I don't think that the blind men and women of the book or the 
> film say
> anything about me or the other people I know who are blind.  I think the 
> novel by
> Jose Saramago,is a brilliant portrayal of a society paralyzed by terror, 
> and the
> epidemic of blindness could just as easily have been an epidemic of 
> instant paralysis,
> or speechlessness, or swine flu, or extreme paranoia.  How would any of us

> react
> to a deadly or disabling or terrifying epidemic?  How would our government

> respond?
> What would we let the authorities get away with?  These are the questions 
> that the
> Nobel-prize winning author engendered for readers of his compelling 
> novel.  These
> are the questions I asked myself, as I read the book, and later as I 
> thought about
> the movie, and the organized demonstrations against the film and theaters 
> showing
> it.
> I found their demands for censorship to be an assault against many of the 
> values
> and freedoms in which I believe, and I thought the organizations and 
> people who demanded
> that the movie theaters refrain from showing the film were embarrassingly 
> narrow-minded,
> and that they did nothing to improve society's image of people who are 
> blind or the
> disability of blindness.  They are not speaking for me, I told anyone who 
> knew about
> the demonstrators, or anyone who asked what I thought.
> Now, it's "Saturday Night Live" that has inspired the wrath of many in the

> so-called
> movement of the organized blind.  SNL, apparently searching around for 
> someone new,
> to replace Sarah Palin as an object for humorous exaggeration, chose David

> Patterson,
> the Governor of New York, who happens to be legally blind.  In addition to

> addressing
> telling questions of the day like who will be replacing Hillary Clinton as

> senator
> for New York State, and what can repair a self destructive economy, they 
> focused
> on his blindness as a suitable topic for typical SNL ridicule.  The 
> skits - there
> were two on last Saturday's SNL - damage our image, the protestors 
> complain.  The
> writers and the cast portrayed Patterson as incompetent, and as a buffoon,

> that's
> what they say.  Well, maybe they did, but here again, I part company with 
> my enraged
> colleagues who claim to speak for everyone who is blind.  I thought both 
> skits were
> funny.
> When Patterson held up a printed chart, upside down, I laughed-because I 
> have done
> the same thing countless times.  Better to laugh than to cry, or pretend 
> it never
> happens, or regret that it does, or berate myself for something over which

> I have
> no control!  Sure, if I've had time to prepare for a presentation, I'll 
> mark the
> top of a printed chart with a paper clip or a staple or figure out some 
> way to keep
> from displaying it upside down, or backwards.  But, if I haven't had time 
> to prepare
> in advance, I'm just as likely to hand you a printed sheet of paper upside

> down as
> right side up, or with the print side down.  So what!  It doesn't say 
> anything about
> my character or my competence, and the best way to respond graciously is 
> to see the
> humor in the incident and move on!
> I'll bet that David Patterson, the real Governor Patterson,  does just 
> that when
> something similar happens to him in the course of his real life.
> In the second skit, Patterson wanders in front of the camera, spoiling the

> shot.
> Of course, he doesn't realize what he's done, and the pretend host of the 
> pretend
> "Week End Update" doesn't know what to do either.  "Just keep walking I 
> guess," she
> says with a mixture of confusion and annoyance and regret.
> Not funny, those people who are blind with the huge sense of personal 
> effrontery
> and outrage say!  You can't portray one of us that way!
> Why not?  Again, I hate to admit it, but this kind of thing can happen to 
> a person
> who can't see with alarming frequency.  Or is it just me?
> I live near Washington, DC.  That means that every once in a while, I 
> visit one of
> the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, or one of the monuments on the 
> Mall, and
> it happens every so often that my guide dog and I, walking down the 
> sidewalk in front
> of a famous monument, or waiting to meet a family member or a friend 
> outside a famous
> building find that we're in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You need 
> to move,
> a sighted companion might murmur, and then, by way of explanation, say, 
> "You're in
> the way.  They're trying to take a picture."
> So, I smile and tell the family group trying to create a Washington memory

> that I'm
> sorry, and I move.  That's it.  No big deal and no problem!  An occurrence

> like that
> says nothing about my ability to walk around independently or my awareness

> of my
> environment, or my ability to get a job, or to do a job.  (Certainly I'm 
> not applying
> to be a truck driver!)
> The news releases from the blindness organizations, and the angry op ed 
> pieces say
> much less about SNL's understanding of what it means to be blind than they

> say about
> their own inability to see humor in the ordinary, sometimes a little 
> annoying happenstances
> that occur because people who are blind really cannot see.  Again, I say, 
> they are
> not speaking for me!
> Am I disloyal to the other members of the community of people who are 
> blind because,
> when I was a kid,  I used to laugh at Mr. Magoo?  He always reminded me of

> myself,
> and it always tickled me when he crashed into a wall or misconstrued the 
> letters
> on a label!  (I might have laughed even more frequently if the cartoons 
> had included
> a video description track.)
> Maybe I'm a jerk because I used to love "Head Wound Harry," in an earlier 
> incarnation
> of SNL?  Certainly I wouldn't laugh at a real person with a real head 
> wound, but
> the SNL exaggeration always made me laugh.
> That doesn't mean that I wouldn't help a real person with a real head 
> wound, any
> more than I think it would be okay to judge a blind person who wanders in 
> front of
> a TV camera as incapable of functioning effectively or independently in 
> society.
> I know that when I hand a colleague a printed piece of paper upside down 
> that that
> person will judge me on the basis of the words I wrote on that sheet of 
> paper, not
> on the basis of my not being able to physically see the print on the page!
> It seems to me that when they present themselves as humorless and 
> judgmental and
> carrying huge chips on their collective shoulders, people who are blind, 
> and demonstrate
> against an acclaimed novel, or a cartoon character who can't see very 
> well, or a
> film where blindness serves as a metaphor for a societal flaw, or a skit 
> on SNL,
> do those of us who are blind much more harm than they change opinions or 
> modify attitudes
> in the people who are the objects of their outrage.  Discrimination on the

> basis
> of disability is inexcusable, the unemployment rate for people who are 
> blind is six
> times the unemployment rate for people who are not blind (or at least, 
> that's what
> David Patterson said when talking to reporters the night after the 
> Saturday Night
> Live skits), and the attitudes and statistical reality that fact describes

> reflect
> a situation that is truly terrible for many people who are blind.  But, it

> is a sense
> of humor as well as a shared appreciation for everything that makes all of

> us, disabled
> and non-disabled, human that provides a way for us to cope with life as we

> know it,
> and a starting point for working toward shared goals, including full 
> employment.
> When an organization that claims to represent "the blind" defines a novel,

> or a cartoon
> character, or a skit on "Saturday Night Live" as a personal attack against

> every
> person who is blind and fails to find humor in the minor scenarios that 
> result, not
> from any incompetence, but rather from the very circumstance of not being 
> able to
> see, then, as a class of people, they risk being labeled quick to anger, 
> humorless,
> and unlikable.  If people run the other way when they see us coming, if 
> they feel
> like they have to apologize for using ordinary words like "see" or "look,"

> and if
> they would just as soon hang out in places where we aren't so they won't 
> have to
> worry about saying the wrong thing or laughing at the wrong joke, then 
> it's unlikely
> that they will place people who are blind very high on anyone's list of 
> people who
> are employable.
> The blindness organizations are fond of describing the disability of 
> blindness as
> just one characteristic.  It's no different than hair color, or height, or

> ethnicity,
> I have heard their spokespeople explain, and to a certain extent, I agree.

> It's
> not my blindness that defines who I am, it's my capabilities, my 
> intellect, my ability
> to relate to other people.
> It's not my blindness that defines me, but that blindness is an aspect of 
> who I am
> that is a little more important than the color of my hair, because it is 
> my blindness
> that requires my employer to accommodate my need for a screen reader on 
> the computer,
> it is my blindness that excuses behavior that would be described as rude -

> like walking
> through the middle of a photo shoot - unless the people I've 
> inconvenienced realize
> that I did that because I didn't see what they were doing.  It's my 
> blindness that
> causes me to hand you a sheet of paper upside down or backwards.  You need

> to know
> that I can't see so you will understand, and I need to acknowledge that 
> error by
> laughing about the inadvertent slip-up, and letting you know that I 
> understand why
> you have momentarily been taken aback.  It's our mutual acknowledgement of

> my blindness
> that allows both of us to get beyond an uncomfortable situation, and it's 
> the humor
> that lets both of us move beyond the moment of discomfort and get back to 
> the interaction
> that's important.
> So much analysis about two little skits, you're probably saying.  And, I 
> agree.
> The so-called organized blind need to understand that it is our blindness 
> that engenders
> those momentarily uncomfortable situations for all of us and for sighted 
> people who
> interact with us, and it is an acknowledgement of what it means to be 
> blind, i.e.,
> that we can't actually see, and a sense of humor that can save the day and

> allow
> everyone to move forward together to solve the real problems that the 
> characteristic
> of blindness ought not to engender, problems like discrimination, lack of 
> opportunity
> for education, or social inclusion, and an unemployment rate that really 
> is six times
> higher than the jobless rate for people who can see.
> Posted
> Dec 16 2008, 01:44 PM
> For other Blog postings at Penny for Your Thoughts, visit:
> http://community.gettinghired.com.

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