SIGHTED PEOPLE

By Robert Feinstein

 

In this article I've used the terms "blind" and "sighted" in place of "blind people" and "sighted people" because that's how many blind talk, despite the fact that I know it will sound strange to sighted readers. In truth, I feel a bit funny sending these observations out into the sighted world. To date only blind friends have read them—and liked them.

Despite these misgivings, I feel the need to tell the truth: Sighted don't want blind! They don't want to bother with blind, or have us around. We are not hired willingly. We are not admitted into public places with guide dogs because of good-will or even charity on the part of the sighted. We are a thorn in their flesh, an irritation that they cannot rid themselves of because new, strong legislation gives us minimal protections.

Sighted people condescend to us. They treat us like children or as if we are mentally impaired. They talk louder to us because they think we are deaf as well as sightless. They give directions in a visual way by pointing or saying "over there," or "this way." When we go into a store, sighted clerks try to get out of helping us, and when stuck with the task they do it so badly we seldom get what we need. They often tell us that they don't have a particular item in stock, because they don't want to take the time to look for it. They make it obvious that they are helping us only because they don't have a choice.

At work, blind are given nothing to do, or we are given unfeasible assignments. Sometimes we are offered pens or pencils because sighted don't even have the common sense to realize blind don't use such things. Sighted don't stop to ask themselves what is involved in doing a particular job without sight, and rarely take the time to learn. It never occurs to them to ask us, the blind, how a specific job can or cannot be done. They make decisions for blind without our consent or participation.

Socially, blind are stuck in a corner. As a blind guy once put it, "Where you sit is where you stay!" Sighted don't want blind to mingle--you're too awkward, you might ruin the party. Instead, they pile your lap high with food, but never tell you what's on your plate, or ask what you want. It never dawns on them to offer you a table, so you sit and you eat, and then sighted complain that blind are all too fat, or spill food on themselves.

Sighted stop to say a quick hello, then return to their sighted friends and forget about blind. Most of the time sighted don't even identify themselves, so blind have no idea who spoke. If you ask who is speaking, sighted will say, "a friend." They expect blind to recognize their voice, even though they have hardly interacted with blind, or it has been a long time since blind has talked with them. When blind are with a sighted friend or relative, it is not uncommon for someone to approach and say they know you are such a good teacher, or such a good typist, but blind don't even know who these sighted people are. They are just trying to impress the blind person's sighted friend.

Because of how gay people have experience oppression I once thought that blind might be treated differently among the sighted gay, but this is not the case. When I went to a large gay gathering in New Orleans, I was ignored, and treated just as I would have been among sighted straight people. The fact of blindness is what sighted react to. Whether they are gay or straight makes little difference.

If, by chance, you disagree with what sighted say or do, they become angry. All their false niceness turns to animosity. You are no longer a darling super-blink, some kind of pet. You are an ungrateful blind bastard!

Sighted don't want blind. Either they think of us as superhuman, or they imagine we can't do anything for ourselves and are totally dependent on them. If blind ask for help in doing something that sighted think blind should be able to do for themselves, sighted will let blind know about it and will make blind feel uncomfortable.

The help offered by the sighted is always on their terms and not what blind need. It's either their way, or no way. It's really simple: sighted don't want blind!

My portrayal of the sighted may seem harsh to you, and I can hear many of you saying that I am a bitter, maladjusted blind person. For this reason, I want you to know that a blind woman and I wrote the original version of this piece together. Every blind person I've read it to has agreed 100%. Most have added observations of their own.

What is the point of such a negative piece, you may ask? It doesn't foster understanding. It lumps all sighted into one category. Well, sadly, this is the experience of many blind people, especially those who never had sight. A blind friend of mine loved this piece so much she showed it to her therapist, who called it "hate literature," further proof to me that the sighted don't want to hear how their way of interacting with us affects us. When it is pointed out, they become angry and dismissive, like the therapist.

With all this said, I must add one important truth. Among the many sighted who treat blind like I have described, a very small handful do not fall into this category. I am thinking of my friends in Canada, and a few sighted disabled and non-disabled people I have met. These people are indeed rare, and when I am with them, even if it is not very often, they make blindness what it is: a serious disability, but not one that needs to deny the humanity of those it effects.

Despite the caustic and negative tone of this article, I hope some of Bent's readers will think of the interactions they have had with blind people, and will, if the opportunity presents itself in the future, reach out in a more open, non-condescending way.

©2003 Robert Feinstein


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Robert Feinstein
and Harley live in Brooklyn, NY.
Search BENT's Table of Contents and Archive for other articles by Bob.

 

 

 

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/January 2003