Archive for January 17th, 2010

A blind eye to race

Blind JusticeBlindness doesn’t bring a whole lot of advantages. So I relish the ones I have. I walk arm in arm with people all the time. My dog goes with me everywhere. And when friends drive me somewhere? we park in handicapped parking!

Best of all, I can’t judge people by the way they look. Fat, skinny, beautiful, homely, young, old, White, Black– it’s all the same to me. I judge people “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

From what I’m told, my friends these days have many different skin colors. I don’t always realize this when I first meet them. And the longer I am blind – nearly half my life now –, the less it matters to me. It’s getting where I don’t bother figuring out what new friends look like. I think of people more as impressionistic paintings, blurs and swatches of colors. And those colors are not always skin tones. Minerva, one of my favorite students in the writing class I teach for senior citizens, was violet. Dignified. Royalty. Billy, our bartender friend, is blue-green: thoughtful and funny, both at the same time.

Here’s the irony, though. While I am unconcerned with what people around me look like, I am paranoid about how I look to others. I was 26 years old when I lost my sight, and a Vietnam Vet who was blinded in a military training accident was assigned to teach me how to cook. A friend who visited me at Braille Jail (that’s what I called the facility I was sent to in order to learn new blind skills) told me what this teacher looked like. “Beth! You wouldn’t believe it! This guy has long sideburns and long hair. Bell bottoms! He looks like a rock and roller from the 70s!”

The year was 1985. I was horrified.

Right away I started fidgeting with the buttons on my denim jumper, wiggling my toes against the flat cotton shoes on my feet. These clothes I’d bought when I could see would wear out sometime. What would I replace them with? Would I forever DRESS as if it were 1985?

We didn’t have much money back then, but Mike saw to it from the start that I shop at the most expensive and exclusive clothing store in town. My first time there, I paraded out of the dressing room in a tight pair of leggings. The store owner gasped. “Oh, honey – you’ve got some big hips!” Now here was a woman I could trust.

I’ve never put on leggings again, but most of the clothing I’ve worn since has come from that store. I especially like buying dresses. No need to memorize which shirt matches which pants, or worry whether my top goes with my skirt.

I don’t want people to feel pity when they stare at Hanni and me. The staring doesn’t bother me that much anymore, I’ve gotten used to it. But as long as they’re watching, I want to look good. Apparently, I do. That’s what people tell me, at least. And Without being able to look in a mirror and judge for myself, I have the luxury of believing them.

Some sighted people work a lifetime to overcome visual prejudices. Blindness has given me an advantage. A handicap. I’m ahead of the race.


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