Although I seldom express my political, social, or religious views in such a public forum, I feel compelled to break that fundamental edict today. Here, in the good old US of A, one of the most highly developed countries in the world in terms of economics, education, and political power, we as a nation, are still struggling with the social problem of racism. It saddens me to think that we haven't moved beyond this; it also disgusts me to know that some people still hurt others, talk badly about them, discriminate against them, judge them, and distrust them based on their religion, ethnicity, race, disability, and other factors simply because we are different and have differences. We are all different in some ways, aren't we?
I am one of the fortunate ones, (I may not always see this as a positive!) but my lack of vision, (yes, I’m blind), has given me the distinct advantage of meeting people where they are, how they are, for who they are, and not what they look like: not age, or race, or gender preference; not appearance, their mode of dress, disability, or any of the other factors that sometimes influence perceptions of those that are not just like me….
Many years ago, at the age of 25, I enrolled at the State School for the Blind. I was newly disabled, blinded by a disease that took my sight and left me terribly frightened, and alone. I didn't know anyone at the state school, or what my uncertain future might hold. My first evening at “blind school”, I met a young man named Fred.
Fred had been at the school for several weeks, and he greeted me in the cafeteria line at dinner. He offered to show me the ropes. He was well-spoken, interesting, and intelligent. He seemed kind and genuine, and I felt safe and comfortable accepting his offer.
"You are going to be OK, Lindy," he encouraged me when all seemed hopeless. He listened to my heartaches, my fears, and my frustrations. He taught me to laugh at myself, and to pick myself back up when the sidewalks rose up and kissed me on my forehead. He bandaged my bruised nose when I ran into the walls, and told me that in his eyes, I was still kinda cute, despite the booboos.
Fred and I laughed together, we cried together. He was a rock for me when I needed a pillar to lean on and someone to hold me up when I was too weak and afraid to hold up myself. I like to believe that in some small ways, I did the same for him.
Over time, Fred and I became close friends. We sat together in the evenings, listening to “Who done it?” books on tape. We struggled with our mobility and braille reading lessons. We shared the goody boxes his mother sent him weekly and we both gained more weight than we would admit. We cursed at our speech- enabled computers and shared our love of Etta James music and the rock and roll renderings of Queen and Aerosmith. Fred made my time at “blind school” not only tolerable, but quite pleasant and gratifying.
One evening, Fred appeared at my dorm room door. “Lindy, I have a problem, can I talk to you for a minute? I could really use your advice.”
“Of course. Come on in Fred. What’s up?”
“Well, I’ve told you about my girlfriend Lizzie, and how much I love her, but there’s something I haven’t told you.”
Curiosity overwhelmed me as Fred continued, “I want to marry her. She's the best thing that ever happened to me. She loves me, Lindy, as much as I love her, but both our families are very much against us being together, much less getting married.”
“Oh Fred, I’m so sorry," I lamented aloud. I thought for a moment, "Fred is amazing! How could anyone not want their daughter to marry this great guy?'
“Does it have anything to do with you being blind?” I asked. We had never talked about that or about people perceived that blind people are different; somehow, flawed or substandard.
“No, Lizzie is blind, too. We met in a program for people with disabilities.”
“Then what in the world is the problem?” I simply couldn't imagine anyone not liking Fred.
“It’s a mixed-race relationship and they just don’t approve. Her family or mine. They are dead-set against our relationship.”
“Oh no Fred, I didn’t realize that Lizzie is black! I’m so sorry!” (Talk about putting my foot in my mouth!)
Fred began to laugh; a boisterous, rowdy laugh. “No Lindy, I am black. Lizzie is white…. Didn't you know that? And by the way, there is nothing to be sorry about. I don’t have the plague or some incurable disease or anything. I’m just black.”
We talked for a long time, and after Fred left my room that evening, I searched my heart and my soul, deeply questioning myself. Would my relationship with Fred have been any different had I known that he was black? Would I, an upper middle-class white girl raised in the deep south in the very prejudiced backdrop of 60’s, have felt comfortable getting so close to a young black man had I known he was black? I vowed that night that never again would I let ridiculous old biases, preconceptions, or bigotries influence my way of thinking about people.
Today, I look back and Oh! What I would have missed had I let our outward differences color my thinking or my behavior! I would have missed knowing one of the kindest, most intelligent, caring, and loving people I’ve ever known. I would have missed unparalleled friendship, good times, great memories, and unconditional support.
Yes, thinking about the death of George Floyd in Minnesota saddens and disgusts me. It outrages and appalls me to know that some people still hurt others, talk badly about them, discriminate against them, and distrust them based on religion, ethnicity, race, disability, or other factors simply because they are different. We all have differences.
Maybe all of us need to be a little blinder, to see people, just for a little while, through vacant, outwardly unseeing eyes. Maybe we'd all see a little clearer. Maybe we could change the world.