The I'm not colorblind, I'm TOTALLY BLIND!
thread at coffeeandink
's journal pushed my "frustration with disability-as-metaphor" button. (Let me open my jacket, you'll see it's the large bright red target that covers my entire belly.) I rudely hijacked that thread
, and so have moved the discussion here.
I think Micole is right in her analysis of "color-blindness": its metaphorical strength depends on two stereotypes: "blind people are unable to discriminate because they can't see someone's skin color" and "blind people are inherently noble because they're living a fate worse than death."
The antiracist critique says that's crap because American 'race' consciousness is not about physical appearance; one can't "unsee" 'race'. Happily this has been recently addressed in the abundance of IBARW posts.
A gaspingly awful instance of literal blindness as racial acceptance is the 1965 Oscar-winner A Patch of Blue, where the white 18-year-old sexual innocent Elizabeth Hartman makes friends with a "gentle Negro" in the person of Sidney Poitier. She falls in love with him because "love is blind." He helps her break free of the abusive, controlling relationship with her drunk mean mom, Shelley Winters. This movie strongly imprinted me at age 10. I'm afraid to rewatch it forty years later given all I've learned since.
The disability-rights critique is that when blindness is equated with ignorance or defiant refusal, then people who are actually blind are similarly devalued. First off, we know that race isn't about skin color. It's not hard to find White people who "talk black" as well as African American people who must learn to "talk white" (if only to get a chance to see the apartment). Actual blind people can perceive racial identities.
People with disabilities end up dealing with positive and negative stereotypes. Blindness doesn't endow one with greater spiritual insight nor better hearing than sighted people and (just like African-Americans) they're not all musical, neither. In fact, the meaning of blindness is culturally determined.
Micole ponders whether it's possible for humans, who experience life in bodies, to eliminate any somatic metaphor.
And I'm not sure I *want* to undo that metaphorical link--I think (and you may correct me on this) that all English (I suspect all human) words for thought, understanding, recognition, and knowledge contain some sensory, tactile, or motion metaphor in their geneaology, because our thoughts are based on and shaped by our physical experiences.
I believe it depends on the use to which the metaphor is put. To overlap what I said the starter thread, I agree that countless words for understanding and knowledge reference all the physical senses people typically come with. They are deeply embedded in our language and literature. That's why the blind people I know use "see" freely: I see your point, she spied an error in your logic, he looked on my resume with great enthusiasm.
I object when blindness, or any impairment, becomes an epithet unto itself. Perhaps the metaphor entanglements might be easier to spot in another area of power relationships. I find all these similarly offensive:
- He's not ill-informed, he's Polish.
- She's reluctant to buy a new car, but then, she's Jewish.
- Of course you crashed, you let your wife drive!
- He's not colorblind, he's totally blind
Here blindness is synonymous with someone who's stubbornly racist and proud of it. Both these sorts of negative metaphors and the positive stereotypes create a barrier between us when we meet. Not only does this suck, but, as I've discovered, it's even true of people who acquire an impairment like blindness later in life. Unlike 'race', but definitely like queer folks, people can change from "normal" to "outcast" overnight. It was very challenging for me to unlearn all the normative values I'd grown up with. One of my life projects is helping people avoid that pain.
Nine fifteen! That's bed time for me! Those interested in disability studies from the front lines, please check out the monthly Disability Blog Carnivals listed at this site (scan the 22 so far at the "Past Posts" tab). If you read just one disability-related blog, make it Ballastexistenz by A M Baggs