In January 2003 BENT published Sighted
People, by Robert Feinstein, a piece that began with these words:
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 goodwill 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.
Bob's strong words evoked strong reactions. The following exchange
documents a surprising and ultimately positive resolution to what
might have been continued misunderstanding, proving once more that
BENT's promise to "provoke, delight, amaze, and offend you"
can have unexpected results.
was a tough
article to read but so well written. As a sighted woman who has
had blind friends, colleagues and lovers over the last 10-15 years,
I hope I am not guilty of this behavior. However, some points struck
chords of recognition!
I think a lot of the avoidance behavior you describe comes from
not knowing what to do. Because I have had some experience with
being around blind people, I do know to identify myself, not hand
over anything (food or packages or money as examples) to a blind
person without an accurate description of what it is, and to ask
first what the person wants (such as in guiding or going through
a buffet line). In stores I refuse to make eye contact when a salesperson
tries to use me as a go-between; I even walk away if they persist,
so they have to respond directly to the blind customer. I have no
sympathy for clueless salespeople because it is obvious my friend
is not the first blind customer ever to come shop at Macy's or Walmart
or Radio Shack, so why didn't they pick it up the first time?!
I have noticed is that sighted people often pay very close attention
to what I do (especially cab drivers, restaurant staff, office workers,
even some of my obnoxious relatives!) and then mimic it in their
interactions. That tells me that many people want to interact in
a more natural way but have no clue how. Some of it, I think, is
gender basedsorry, but most guys just will not ask how to
do something (it's not just about directions). I find women are
much more likely to ask around to figure out how to approach a new
situation. Anyway, I really learned a lot from your article. Thank
you for having the courage to be so direct in your views.
from the perspective of a sighted person, "Sighted People"
makes me think I'm possibly doomed either way. If I speak to a blind
person, I'm probably too dumb to say the right thing, but if I don't
speak that's wrong also.
I don't hire a blind person, I'm wrong, but if I do I'd be too dumb
to assign the proper job responsibility. If I offered you a pen
or pencil, perhaps it was because I forgot you were a blind person
and slipped into thinking you were just a person, and had to readjust
(of course, honestly, that one could have been because I really
was an idiot.) Maybe where you sit is where you stay because I just
don't have a clue as to what to do... the right way. Why not tell
me how to help you mingle, so I'll be a better host or hostess.
I forgot to tell you what's on your plate, because I think you'll
think I'm a jerk if I do. Why not ask in a friendly way, "Say, what
is this awful smelling food on my plate," to remind the average
apparently sighted idiot (which apparently we all are) that you
don't see it.
I'm sighted. NO, I generally don't know what the hell to do, so
why not tell me? Why gripe behind the idiot's back? Just speak up.
Anyone who wouldn't let in a guide dog really is an idiot. Tell
article does not make me want to reach out, but instead run for
cover because now I know that any effort that I try really will
come out awkward, ill-timed, and unappreciated, even though I'm
trying. I realize that this may come across as insensitive and maybe
it is, but I think in reality, sighted people, like blind people,
just want nice people around. Blind or not. But, if every act is
judged negatively without any benefit of the doubt, it sounds more
like blind people don't want sighted people around.
if you do want us around, what could be the harm in just telling
us what to do. But speak slowly, because we're clearly idiots, or
at the very least the biggest jerks on the planet.
I read your e-mail several times and I think you made some very
valid points. My article was something I wrote originally with a
blind woman friend and it was never intended for an audience other
than blind people. Its tone reflects how a group will talk when
they think nobody else is listening.
the editor of BENT asked to publish aversion of the article, I said
Yes, but now I'm somewhat sorry that it was published, because I
don't think it does anything positive. Blind people understand it
and identify with it and like it, but when sighted people read it
it brings out negative feelings and anger, as your response reveals,
I am sorry that my writing has brought about such discomfort and
negative reactions, but I certainly can understand why. I'm actually
a pussycat most of the time!
hindsight, I probably could have written the previous e-mail a little
differently. I guess I just felt kind of helpless, and doomed regardless.
But, perhaps guilty also. Maybe the truth hurts just a bit too much.
There are disadvantages to being the fly on the wall. And, I wouldn't
say that the article was a bad one. After all, it forced quite a
bit of reflection on my part of past behaviors. That's never a good
feeling. But, that's not exactly your problem. That's mine.
the e-mail as part of a confession that would go something like
thisif I was forced:
Bob, I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do. If I seem
awkward and out of place, it's simply because I am. It's frightening
to sit next to you, because most sighted people have always had
some secret fear of the dark. It happens when we're kidswhen
the light's are turned off, all the really awful things happen.
Socks turn into snakes, the shirt on the chair becomes a monster,
even the idea of death wouldn't be so bad if it didn't seem so ...
Bob, don't blame every sighted person for my personal weaknesses
and insecurities. In reality, we have no idea of what you do or
don't see. But, it's just possible that my insecurities mean that
I might sit you in a corner and try to forget you're there (I have
NEVER done this).
I first read your article, I didn't think that I would do that.
I'm a nice person, too. I've seldom met a person I didn't like and
that didn't like me. But, it's just possible that your article did
have me somewhat pegged. I'm not going back to read it again, though.
I'm just going to try to do better the next time. If I have one.
I once sat next to a blind girl and was too scared to say hello.
In fact, I convinced myself that since she didn't acknowledge my
presence either, she probably never knew I was there.
Bob, I definitely would've spoken to anyone else. Yep, upon hindsight,
I have been a pretty good idiot. I
think your article was written with me in mind.
know what you think of this BENT feature.
BENT: A Journal of CripGay