Proud Blindness And Race


Proud Blindness And Race

     “You are sitting here on the sidelines scowling with a mighty mean face, kid, while your classmates are out there trying jump shots. All alone and different and scowling. I’ve been there.
Being blind should not be the reason why you don’t feel good about yourself, life.” said the tall man with the dark black skin. He sat down on the bleachers next to the ten-year-old boy, a kid that functioned with very reduced visual acuity. This year for “Enrichment Day,” the fifth grade class was mingling with a local college basketball team in the middle school’s gym.

     “Well, how would you know what I feel? You don’t know how the other kids treat me.” said the boy. “You aren’t the one that is going blind!”

     “No, I didn’t say that I knew what it is like to be blind. To be blunt--which is a habit of mine that my father use to warn me about--I am making a comparison of society’s reaction to race and to blindness. That sometimes either one of those characteristics can be a reason why some people will treat you different, maybe even disrespectfully. And where I’m trying to go with my point is that, no matter what you have that sets you apart, you cannot allow it to negatively take you over. You’ve got to make that or something else about you a positive or you’re in trouble, dude.” The man leaned over, giving the boy a comradely punch to the shoulder.

     “Yeah, sure.... how do you do that?” said the boy, his voice showing his irritation.

     “Well, there is more than one way it can be achieved. The trick is finding the path, the way that works for you. Like...say in accomplishments. For example, in my case, I play ball and I’m good! I take pride in that.”

     “Ahuh! Not going to do me much good. I can hardly see the basket when I’m standing under it!” said the boy.

     “Yes, I know. However, we have to look at all you have going. Let me ask you this, how are your grades? Pretty good?” Catching the boy’s tentative nod, he went on, “All right, then there is a possibility. And if that is not enough, look to see what else you are good at or could feel good about. How about the history of what blind people have accomplished? Blindness would not rule out a person from creating things or ruling lands or making a lot of money or stuff like that!”

     “I don’t know.” The boy said, showing only half a willingness to give the argument serious consideration.

     “Consider my situation again. Do you think that all I have is this round ball full of air going for me? I have my culture, my people’s history! We’ve done a lot. Think I am going to play ball all my life? College is giving me a foundation for a future off the court, beyond the hoop. But that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes feel the pressure of all the people that look down on me for being dark-skinned. That is where I am coming from, when I say I can understand what you feel.”

e-mail responses to

**1. Sure, I'm blind and a person of color. I think the two are very similar in the
way described in the thought provoker. One cannot change one's skin color,
just as blindness is unlikely to go away. Bigotry exists in both cases.
Somebody's going to think ill of you or someone else who has the same skin
color as you if you are, say, black and most people around you are not. The
same goes for being blind. We are a minority in much the same way as
racial and ethnic minorities. We even have a history. African Americans
who descended from slaves brought from Africa have a pretty clearly defined
history. Sure, blindness cuts across lines of color, religion, gender,
ethnicity and sexual orientation but we have a history as a group too. We
can either draw inspiration from that history, or choose to let the physical
trait of our blindness rule our lives in a negative way.

Something which strikes me as pretty interesting is this. I and several
other blind people of color I've spoken to agree that people tend to look
past our skin color and see the blindness fairly often. The downside to
that is this: They often see the blindness in a negative way. So my
question is this: Are you looking past the fact that my skin color is
different from yours just to find something drastically wrong with me
because of my blindness? And if I wasn't blind, would you still think ill
of me because of that other little physical trait I can't change?

Just some thoughts of my own.

Harmeet Sekhon

**FROM ME: Robert Leslie Newman- is blindness the larger defining characteristic? Is a disabled person less threatening? Does Humanity start with the weak?

**2. I agree in part to this idea. I feel that to an extent anything that may
not be considered "NORMAL" by the general public could be a "stigma" or

I often wonder how the small numbers of vision disabled persons could
"teach" the general public, government and politics in particular, that to
have "needs" is no different from the masses.....just different needs. We
all want to work. To contribute to society. To be a part of our world. I
believe that it is inherent in the human mind to conform to the world around

Often, I feel that the world we live in definitely sees us as an albatross
for business and society. I'm not sure that blind and visually impaired
persons are covered with the same type of venom spewed out by racists and
bigots of race or ethnicity. But, to some extent, I feel that it is there.
I think that all disability is seen as a drain on the coffers of finance and
society, because often it is only the thoughts of demonstrations and
demanding equal rights that come to mind for some folks that have no
knowledge of disability.

I think we will be "teaching" society for the rest of time to overcome this
stigma and to ensure knowledge and success for ourselves. The general
public doesn't know that when our needs are met, we are just another happy
and contributing member of this world.

Max ACB-L list
OOPS! Didn't scroll down my screen reader and didn't read the story. Makes
a big difference.

So many folks with vision loss are looking for someone to blame these days.
I know that statement will draw lots of heat. But, being a person of
later-in-life vision loss, I'm not sure that I have the perspective to
comment from this point of view. Folks with later-in- life vision loss may
tend to hold their anger and depression closer and often do not verbalize
it. The competition of things in youth and school would, I'm sure be a
whole different situation. It would, in my humble opinion foster a lot of
anger and resentment. It seems that it would be difficult to be positive
and find those qualities that would give one the boost of self esteem and
worthiness in the turmoil of youth. Thank God for strong and wise parents,
teachers and counselors!

As Kermit the frog says: "It ain't easy being green." And, I'm sure as a
child it must be horrendous!


**3. Hi Max, Very well said; too bad society and the employers don't realize that we would cost them less if we worked and paid taxes, too.

Sometimes, I have found people of differing races or ethnicities can readily
identify with some of the problems we face; on the other hand, most of the
African-Americans where I work don't seem to like the blind employees at
all. I used to try very hard to get along with them, but I have decided
it's their problem, and I have 80 plus clients to serve; I refuse to expend
anymore energy on them, so I deal with them as little as possible.

Darla ACB-L list

**4. Discrimination manifests itself differently depending upon the minority
group being discriminated against, and the attitudes of those doing the
Anger, fear and contempt are the usual combination of attitudes that come
into play.
I know blind people who feel that they are fortunate to be blind because
they have been spared the hatred and violence that many other minorities
have suffered.
In fact, I know many blind people who say that they have never been
discriminated against at all. "Why, everyone is so nice and helpful to me".
Condescension is another name for contempt. When folks are so helpful that
they do not allow you to do anything for yourself, they are sending you a
message, regardless of how well meaning and kind.
They are letting you know that you do not belong to their world. As surely
as the bully boys in white sheets told the blacks that they did not belong,
or the sexist remarks tell the female employee that she is not "one of the
good old boys".
Perhaps syrupy sweet, smothering kindness is easier on the bones, but it is
every bit as effective at "keeping us in our place".

Carl Jarvis RPlist

**5. True enough Carl. Another form of discrimination often overlooked in these
discussions are the routine denials of reasonable accommodations. Sure as
shooting the blind student in this illustration does not receive all of his
educational materials in accessible formats at the same time as his sighted
peers, for example. Sure as shooting if he has the knowledge or the temerity
to point this out he is called a "whiner", even by some in our own community
just like Parks was called a "whiner", "agitator" and so on for demanding
equality in her context.

It is more than ironic that these sorts of accommodations are not only civil
rights, but they are the very tools for allowing us to act independently;
without non-disabled assistance after the initial accommodation is given in
this instance.

It is not our responsibility to manufacture our environment including our
educational environment. Yet, years after passage of the ADA and 504 some
seem to think so.

Yes, rights and responsibilities are intertwined. Once receiving the
accommodation this child must read and work just like everyone else.

But, what is missing in this story is that his elderly mentor likely doesn't
have a clue to this aspect of a blind child's civil rights.

By the way relating to sports activities I have worked with sports camps
pioneered by Paul Ponchillia from Western Michigan University. These camps
educate not only blind students but teachers and so on in the community
about the abilities (sometimes with simple modifications) of blind students
to participate in school athletics and physical education. This child may or
may not be able to engage in the basketball illustration. Certainly, however
he could engage in track and field, swimming, wrestling and a host of
competitive sports in the mainstream with proper training and opportunity.

As a further digression I participated in regular school sports years ago
like football (even though I'm pretty skinny) in spite of visual impairment.
I was not legally blind but did have the impact on peripheral vision of RP
at the time. And like Forrest Gump I learned to run fast from an early age.
But I digress...

Joe RPlist

**6. Sometimes, we are not aware of our potential until we meet others who are blind who are accomplishing goals they have set for themselves. This boy doesn't
need to be thrust into a room of college basketball players, where he feels inferior and incapable. He needs to see other blind people who have jobs,
who are successful in life and who are dealing with their blindness in a positive way.

Sherri from Orlando

**7. As a sighted person I notice the similarities between non-whites and the
blind. Both are pre-judged, and their abilities are questioned in ways
the sighted and white are not. It is unfair, no question about it, but
unless more is done to educate the masses, the unfairness will continue.
Awareness of blind people, as with minorities, is key to understanding
their needs and also to what they can contribute to society.

Bill Heaney Philadelphia

**8. I wanted to respond to the most recent (today) thought provoker.
For me, I do see being blind as very analogous to being a racial minority. Being an NFB member, I've seen very very striking parallels between the organized
blind movement and the civil rights movement. That is why I really appreciated the idea (as a staff member at an NFB training center) of going to a Martin
Luther King day observance. I thought it was very fitting.
If you've read "walking alone, marching together", you know what I mean.

Alan Wheeler Nebraska

**9. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn't develop athletic skills
that would allow me to gain the confidence, health benefits, and joys that
such activity brings. Part of it is that I grew up female in the forties
and fifties when girls weren't allowed to sweat. It was also believed that
when you got to be thirty five or so, it was all over.

I did do yoga for a few years, then stopped. Then there was physical
therapy for specific ailments, but nothing that led me to make physical
activity part of my lifestyle.

Like the child in the story, I was left out. By the time I was in fifth
grade, I wasn't allowed to take PE. My parents encouraged me to go
horseback riding, but I got discouraged the second time I fell off the
horse. I did do swimming and diving, even sync swimming, but not in the

as children overcame the
misconceptions about blindness and enjoy regular physical activity in their
lives. Of course, there's always walking. I enjoyed that until peripheral
neuropathy made me afraid of falling.

Abby ACB-L list

**10. Dear Abby and list members: As a young child, I had some useful vision, as I could recognize faces
and travel fairly independently, but driving and reading were never options
for me. From that point until my mid fifties, I steadily lost the vision I
had and light perception ceased at that point. When I was in the Tennessee
School for the Blind, I participated in wrestling and track along with
swimming classes dance classes and other activities which were not
necessarily competitive.
From the time I left college in my twenties until age 60, I had not gone
on to a dance floor, fearing that I would collide with other dancers, but
two years ago, when attending a dance hall to listen to a class mate strut
his stuff
at the keyboard, I was invited
to dance by a brave lady, and assuring me that she could give me clues
which would minimize collisions, as some collisions are inevitable even with
sighted patrons. I accepted her invitation and that started a trend of
sorts. I now attend the dance hall regularly with the same friend, even
though the fantastic keyboard player has moved on, and there are roughly a
dozen brave ladies who will do me the honor of joining me with a waltz, two
step, or the lazy man's favorite, the box step. The three and a half hours
of exercise I get from this activity is helpful, and recommended by my
I also learned to use a cane in my late forties and when walking around
the valley where I live along rural roads, I have learned to use a hiking or
trekking pole which is heavy enough to hold my 260 pounds, and by touching
the ground each time the foot on the side where the pole is held, I can keep
a close contact with the edge of the road, which I evacuate entirely when a
vehicle passes. My O. and M. instructor was not too thrilled about this
method, but walking five miles at the pace I choose would give my wrists
carpel tunnel if I used the cane in the standard way. I have only had one
collision with a parked vehicle over a six year period.
I am afraid falling is one of the risks that we must take when walking.
Over the same six year period, I have managed to fall at least eight or ten
times, but thankfully, I have not had any permanent serious injuries. By
wearing appropriate hiking boots, I have learned to protect my feet and
ankles. I realize that we ugly men don't have to worry about getting
scraped up as much as you lovely ladies, but I would encourage everyone to
push the envelope so long as your life and limb are not being unduly

I can assure you that the dance floor does not present much in the way
of dangerous hazards, and I would imagine that you ladies would have an
easier time of it when it comes to finding willing partners.

Yours Truly,

Clifford Wilson ,

**11. I had enough usable vision to play some sports in high school, be it not
all that well, but I had a reintroduction to athletics and sports through
someone that we know well, namely, Bernice Kandarian. She introduced me to
blind bowling in 1977. I never did it well, but I enjoyed the activity and
comradely. Then she introduced me to Ski For Light in 1982. I attended
several times, and never was a good skier, but I did learn a lot about
living a healthier lifestyle, and the importance of exercise in maintaining
good physical and mental health. I then had another opportunity to improve
my physical condition after my accident, when I received 6 months of
aggressive physical therapy. I mastered several pool exercises, and every
machine in that gym. I came out in the best shape of my life. I am
fortunate to have a room in my home that is perfectly suited to being a
gym. I have a treadmill, Health Rider, Life cycle, and free weights, and work out as close to daily as I can manage with my schedule. I know
several blind people who work out at health clubs, but with my busy
schedule, that would just be another place that I would have to find time
to get to. What I am trying to say, abbey, is that it's never too late to
start. I remember Winifred Downing attending SFL, and she was in her 70's.

Andy ACB-L

**12. Hello, I am from Indiana. I have been blind for 19 years now. It has not
been real easy. In my state it is hard. Indiana is so far behind on
things for the blind. The NFB chapter here is trying to get things
change things for better. I would like to hear from other blind people

Tandy Madden National Organization of Blind Educators list (NFB)

**13. Well, the first thought that came to my mind is that we, as out of the norm people, need to develop our individuality and personal strengths. I am a social
person and still find it difficult at times to stand out in a crowd. But I like me and that is somehow communicated to others in a positive way. Perhaps
our "training centers" should work more on that issue than sending us out in herds of blind folk. Just a thought?!

Pam McVeigh
Ruston, LA.

**14. I participated in PE activities until third grade, when I had retinal
surgery. I rarely felt included in PE activities, even when modifications
were made. My self-esteem booster was choir.

Sarah J. Blake
Personal mail to:

**15. Wow, that was powerful. Apparently the B-ball player has found one of the secrets to being happy, which is to be proud of yourself and what you can do.
Forget about what you can't do, learn to do what you can and then shine your best doing it. It's funny, but when we're babies, most of us, if we're lucky,
have parents who praise just about everything we do. In fact, new parents brag about their child's ability to walk and talk, or celebrate the arrival
of a new tooth, in fact, we even reward children


**16. Oh, I'm coming to really LOVE this part.... A chance for me to speak out
and make trouble! so! here we go! *gleeful grin*

The analogy between blindness and race, in the context of cultural
continuity, at least, is about as sound as that between a Goodyear all-season
tire and one of those donuts that cars often come with instead of a spare
tire. They're both round. They both have some amount of air in them. They
both taste TERRIBLE, even with BBQ sauce. However, one gives out after 50
miles, and is just so much rubber crap.

What I mean by this is simply put by reminding you that the "blind
community," is composed of ALL races. Conversely, the bigotry and
condescension that we all rail about on this and other similar lists is
heaped upon the "blind community," by ALL races! Once, in a laundry room,
after a Black woman had rudely grabbed me and tried to "escort," me to a
washer, she abashedly said to me, "Well, it's just that I’m not used to
seeing... you people ... walking around, you know?" On the street, many
Oriental first-generation Americans often won't even speak to me or, when
they do it is to anyone around me who might better help me. I'm merely
pointing out that the "blind community," cannot identify a specific cultural
heritage or any such genetic common denominator. While I understand the
need for a certain amount of cohesion, in order to work with the political
and legal systems and so that we are not, as individuals, overwhelmed, and
while I realize that education of the blind by the blind requires a certain
amount of group identity, to go around yelling about "blind pride," seems to
be a bit extreme. If blindness were universally cured for everyone right
now, such that no one on this Earth was blind, nor would they ever be again,
would anyone weep a tear for the "loss of the blind experience?" Would
anyone cry about the rights of Braille users if no one needed to read it any
more? Now, if all members of (insert a minority here) were to be forever
wiped from the Earth, would we mourn? You bet we would, and rightfully so.
The blind are NOT a race, nor should we be perceived as one. That's too
much separation. What we ARE is a bunch of individuals who need to convince
all the individuals around them, one at a time and with a unique strategy
every time, of our strength and the lack of our need for their handicap. At
times, that means allying with other blind people for resource sharing and
greater strength. But that's all it means.

Mark Baxter blindlaw mailing list

**17. As one who has experienced low self esteem and depression since as long as I
can remember being aware enough to realize it, I think that had I been given
more to do that gave me exercise that matched my poor childhood health, but
yet got all the feel good chemicals flowing through my body, I may have
grown up feeling much better about myself and the world.

I went to a school for the blind but didn't have the physical education
pitched just at or even a little above me never gave me the feeling of
achievement which would have compensated for my feeling behind it
academically because of the amount of school I missed through being such a
sickly kid.
And this was at a school for the blind! imagine how throwing in being even
more different could have been!

Susan ACB-L list

**18. There are certainly some parallels in that stereotyping and making assumptions of who and what you are are made about both racial groups and the disabled.
However, society recognizees the culture and heritage of racial groups more readily than it does the culture of the disabled. I think it is harder to
look at the exceptional blind person and see ourselves accomplishing what they have. Because Eric can climb Mount Everest doesn't tell me much about my
potential to achieve except that if I want to achieve something, I know I will have to work hard and continue to strive. I love music, but am not a composer
or even a musician. Just because there have been many blind musicians doesn't mean that I am cut out to be one. The only point I can agree on here is
that we must not let others define us or accept negative evaluations of our worth but carve out our own niche in society based on what qualities and skills
we have or can develop.

Kianna Quietwater USA

**19. As a black woman who is also blind.
I enjoyed this provoker.
I think it teaches a lesson in pride.
It also brings up a good point.
This little boy didn't know anything about the history of blind people.
I think that its important to know your history.
Finally, it was a really good comparison.
Thank you for that reminder.
Have a blessed day.

Melissa R. Green

**20. Again, another wonderful provoker. As an African American man who is
blind, this is a huge issue. I think that a large part of my strength in
handling discrimination and ignorance is due to my upbringing. My family
always prepared me for being different, disliked, and misunderstood. I am
thankful for it.

On the other hand, being blind is not being black. When I "look in the
mirror", I see a blind man struggling everywhere he goes. Even though it
is tough being a racial minority, there are neighborhoods, groups, and
communities where black people can live where they won't be
different. However, such places for the blind are scarce. I'm much more
likely to be lonely as a blind man than as a black man.

Andre Watson Psy.D., Philadelphia, Pa.

**21. I wanted to first see other people's responses to this Thought Provoker before responding. Many things struck me about the narrative and people's responses.
First, resp. 1 brought up how people see past his color only to see his blindness. Likewise, I have seen blind people look past one's blindness only
to see their color. So, as far as people going after the weakest link in society or seeing one a threat over the other, I think it really depends on the
person and the kind of attitudes they were raised with in their homes, the schools they attended, and the general community around them.
Second, the Black man did what he could to help the little boy reflect on his good grades as he--the Black man--reflected on his talents and having
gone to college and to capitalize on what you're good at. However, he doesn't truly know what it is like to be a blind person of color. All the accommodations
may be right at the Black person's fingertips to work anywhere, but overt and covert racial discrimination still exists. I have applied to many jobs and
had many job interviews only to be rejected. This could be due in part to blindness and/or my color. Likewise, when it came to serious dating, either
the men were fearful of me giving birth to a blind child and/or they were worried about what people would think of them dating or marrying a blind dark-skinned
Asian. Whatever the reasons were, it can be rather hard to separate between the two, especially when you have people who don't outright tell you what
it is that they're afraid of or concerns them about you. One respondent mentioned Kirmit the Frog's song, "It's Not Easy Being Green". As an adoptee,
that became one of my favorite songs. Not only did I feel like a fish out of water in a new culture, but most of the community I lived in was White and
I was the only blind person to attend the public schools I went to. It wasn't until I was in seventh grade, when I attended a very racially diverse school
and eighth grade when there was one other blind student.
Racial and disability education are great, but people have to want to be educated. The best education blind and people of color can give is to live
by example and be role models to children and adults. We've already had our first Black male Secretary Of State. We're now to our first Black female
Secretary of State. What would be nice to see is our first disabled Black male or female Secretary of State. Of course, all these ideas apply to other
parts of the government as well, including the Presidency. After all, Franklin, D. Roosevelt was in a wheelchair due to polio, and nobody knew about it
until his last term. Why can't this be the same way with having a blind president, etc.? People may see the color of that person's skin, but their disability
can remain unnoticed or, if noticed, not capitalized on.


**22. I'm sure that what's holding this blind person back is his sense of difference from others. No matter how you slice it, people see the blindness first.
But it is up to the blind person to make people feel comfortable and at ease with them. If the blind person acts inhibited and uses a lot of blindisms
and feels sorry for himself, he isn't going to attract anyone to his circle of friends. But if he comes across as comfortable with himself, like anyone
in any other majority group, it will show and people will befriend him. I know it isn't easy but I think it is up to the blind person to create the sense
of comfort. I'm not saying to prove themselves because I'm tired of hearing that blind people have to do that. It's just putting people at ease.

Mary Jo Partyka
Trenton, NJ

**23. Like my writing. I'm visually and hearing impaired and I've had short stories, articles, essays published. People are very impressed by that and want
to know who the multiple handicapped writer is.? the outside world, as I've discovered firsthand, does take well to those with positive attitudes and senses
of humor.

Patricia New York USA

**24. I thought maybe you would go into some of the specific areas of similarity of race and disability as minorities; (i.e. employment, education, social life,
etc.). Some of the prejudices pwd's and persons of minority race experience in terms of job promotions etc. (i.e. being overlooked, thought incompetent,
being required to work harder because their work is scrutinized much more closely, etched.). Interesting stuff, -

Blue Rock B&B