Sunday, June 16, 2013

Blasting into the Future

From my boyfriend in the 1970's for a short time, and the father of my son, these cogent comments which I mostly agree about the article and our place in history and society are thus: Looking back some forty plus years, one can look at things somewhat more dispassionately.  Of course, as you know, the Blind Power movement faded away not too long after this article appeared.  On that score, unfortunately, Dr. Jernigan was right.  The NFB itself is still very much around, but it has lost all touch with its real mission.  The Blind Power complaints about the agencies could, with some justification, be leveled against the NFB today.  The Lighthouse, the Jewish Guild and the AFB have all changed beyond recognition.  They have all followed the money where it leads: mainly to multiply disabled individuals and government grants for them. 

A few things Dr. Jernigan says should not be dismissed out of hand.  Much of the progress which had been made in rehab and education of blind persons at that time could be attributed to the work of a few dedicated and very persistent individuals in the NFB, especially Dr. TenBroek.  Among those accomplishments were gaining entrance into Federal employment, accomplishing reform of Social Security to facilitate persons who were blind to go to college and to be able to pay for readers, and defending the rights of workshop workers, a task that no one wanted to undertake, including the ACB.  There is no doubt that his dismissive remarks missed the mark and an opportunity to bring the Blind Power group into the NFB.

I guess I was one of those who chose to go it alone, according to Robert Scott's formulation, and one who earned the gripe of Dr. Jernigan.  Not that I did not try to help other blind persons: I did quite a bit of advocacy on my own and on behalf of others.  I see now that I could have learned a lot from belonging to either ACB or NFB long before I became involved.  But at the time I found that both the agencies and the organized blind wanted to have me conform to certain standards that I, like you, resented.  In fact even when I took an active part in the NFB, I always felt uneasy about many of its policies and attitudes.  In a real sense I decided to go my own way about working within the NFB and I think I did a lot of good while I was in the organization, but especially in the New York Affiliate. 

There were many little groups that came into being in those days and soon fizzled out.  The Black Power movement, though with more resources and larger in numbers, shared with the Blind Power contingent some of the same weaknesses: a strong tendency to the melodramatic, a lack of a unified set of principles that could hold the group together beyond rebellion for its own sake, and a self-absorption that left out a huge number of people who were subject to the same kinds of discrimination.  In the black power movement there was rampant sexism, a good dose of anti-Semitism, and a lack of historical perspective that eventually destroyed it from within.  In our little group, which I joined very late, personality idiosyncrasies and the vagaries of youth were perhaps what made it impossible for us to achieve any real change.  It would have been helpful if older persons had been able to participate: youngsters are by nature mobile; they go to schools in different parts of the state and country, they fall in love and start families, they get jobs and start careers.  All these impede group cohesiveness.

Today we are going back to that previous era when each blind person tried to fend for her/himself.  The ACB and NFB are becoming irrelevant, made up mostly of old folks who are jealously guarding their positions and play a much more diminished role in the lives of blind people.  As then, these organizations had little to offer younger people.  Younger people, in turn, fail to see what they have to gain from these oldies.  I, of course, am no longer young in the chronological scheme of things, but I can't help but feel that that goes on in ACB and NFB just does not seem relevant to anyone outside their closed circles.  People rely so much on technology to bridge the gap between the blind and the sighted.  This, I believe, is a fallacy.  For both sighted and blind alike technology is more empowering while alienating people from each other and weakening our communal bonds.  Coming back to the States after a five year absence I have been struck by the prevalence of insensitivity to how to treat a blind person in many public settings.  Somehow I had remembered people here being much more comfortable with disability, and blindness in particular, as that is my personal experience.  I am not sure if it is that people were always this way here and I had forgotten it, and probably compensated for it when I lived in the U.S. before, or that things have gotten actually worse.  When I go to doctor's offices, to restaurants and other places, I find it something of a shock that people are so ignorant about blindness.  That in itself demonstrates to me that agencies for the blind and rights organizations are not having the kind of impact for the better that they should, and which they claim credit for.

Well, I hope I haven't bored you by now.  If your friend Kitty might be interested in these comments, feel free to share them with her, or with anyone else that might be interested.

David My old friend, Caryn, says the article brought back a lot of memories.  We talked aobut people we knew and who had died etc. Gerry, who I have been e-mailing with for the past few days said in part:

I don’t think people realize just how bad things were and how bad things are.  Most of us think that we haven’t done our jobs well enough or that we just haven’t been nice enough or nice to enough people.  The problem is that we just don’t  fit anywhere.  To many people it doesn’t matter how competent we are.  To some, our competence diminishes the competence of people who are not blind.
    Sorry to go off like that.  I’ve been told in so many subtle and unsubtle ways that my blindness is a major stumbling block to prospective colleagues so I work alone.  How did I become a street entertainer?  A blind woman came over to our house.  She was bad-mouthing a blind man who played music on the streets of Boston.  I was working in a small factory doing the one and only job that they believed a blind person could do.  You know how that goes.  It was 1981.  President Ronny  was into budget cutting.  He cut the budget of our town bus company.  I couldn’t get to work because the street in front of the factory just wasn’t safe to cross.  A cab would have cost me 7 to $10 a day.  I was making minimum wage.  It
just wouldn’t have worked.  When that woman told me about
that gentleman playing on the street, a light went on.  I’m so glad I did what I did! He also said:

Lynne, there were a lot of things most of us didn't know.  We all thought we'd find a group of understanding sighted people to help us and understand us and befriend us and all that.  I now have as much use for sighted people as Malcolm X had for white people during his most alienated and angry stages. Lynne agrees about disappointment and well-meaning sighted people and agencies. I have known some fantastic people, but we have a long way to go especially in Alaska. Those of us who are congenitally blind are not treated as we should be, and I agree with Gerry about our disappointments and mistrust of most sighted public people. He mentioned  the limbic system also as follows:  

Many of us don't finish things because of something I read about known as limbic a.d.d.  As I'm sure you know, the limbic system deals with how one's brain handles emotions and one's self-worth.  What happens to blind people is that we don't feel--we absolutely know that for the most part it doesn't matter how well we perform a job, a task, a duty.   ...  Sorry!  I'm ranting.  Hugs. Lynne says:  That's enough reaction for now.


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