Opening my eyes one morning and rolling out of bed before pulling back the curtains to bathe myself in sunlight, I started to feel strangely uncomfortable.
As I surveyed the blossoming trees, the swooping and diving of red-breasted robins, and the pacing of the homeless man who likes to stand outside my building while humming cereal jingles and frottaging passersby, a sense of discontentment rose sharply in my chest. Why, during the peak of such a glorious springtime, was my typically sunny disposition suddenly so colored by anxiety and doubt? And what was the source of these feelings? As I looked into the mirror that I usually masturbate in front of, it hit me like a misfired money shot: I could see everything.
Sight privilege is real, whether we acknowledge it or not. While you bitch to your beautiful life partner that there’s nothing good to watch on Netflix Instant, the blind are in darkness. While you complain at a concert that you can’t see the band from the terrible seats you cheaped-out on, the blind are in darkness. While you stroll through the zoo lamenting that all the tigers are asleep, the blind are in darkness. At least you can Google Image a tiger and marvel at it that way, you privileged little ninny. How would you even describe a tiger to someone who was born blind? It’s big, orange, and covered in stripes? Wow, how very fucking illuminating. This is all without even mentioning that the blind run an increased risk of being killed by a tiger while commuting to work or at the club—a marginal one, yes, but then you would say that, wouldn’t you?
At this point in the conversation some of you may be saying, “Well, I have 20/100 vision—does that make me less privileged?” and I can’t believe that I’m still having to explain to you people that it’s NOT THE SAME THING. You can put on a pair of glasses, or even contact lenses after the fifteenth try. Blind people can’t just “put in” somebody else’s eyes, and if they even tried to go about stealing a pair they’d be arrested and sent straight to prison. That is fucked-up, and it’s time somebody had the eyeballs to say it.
During my research for this article I watched the Oscar-winning 1992 motion picture Scent of a Woman, and I was physically disgusted, not only by Al Pacino’s ridiculous Cajun accent and hammed-up delivery, but by the decision of the movie’s casting directors to hire him, a SIGHTED man, to play a member of the blind community without so much as forcing him to donate his entire salary to a relevant charity or special-interest group. I mean, why didn’t they hire an authentically blind actor to play the part of Frank Slade instead of recruiting some privileged A-list douchebag? Did they think that a blind person wouldn’t have been able to find the studio on time? Their ignorance truly astounds me. And why did they choose to write the character in such a way that suggests all blind people are suicidally depressed retired military servicemen with unsuspecting personal assistants from shitty Batman movies? The power imbalance in play here is so evident that even the blind could see it.
After I was done punching the DVD jewel case into a thousand plastic pieces, I decided that since nobody else in the world is doing jack shit for blind people (it’s not “visually impaired,” by the way—they CAN’T SEE), it was up to me to raise awareness and to set my sights on a state of equality for my unseeing comrades-in-arms. I thought about using toilet cleaner to chemically eradicate my vision, but upon realizing how painful and permanent that would be, I stopped short at donning a thick black blindfold and venturing out for a week to find out how people would treat me. What I discovered will shock you, but I demand that you read it and weep from your privileged, fully functioning eyes:
Monday: Went grocery shopping for cabbages and peppermint vodka. Came home with a box of energy-saving lightbulbs and a copy of the latest Dean Koontz paperback. Cried until I had to change my blindfold and cursed myself out for compromising the experiment.
Tuesday: Decided to talk around my local park for seven straight hours. The day was fairly uneventful, although a couple of people yelled “Marco!” at me as they passed by, and it took me a long time to realize that they hadn’t simply gotten my name wrong. Being blind is hard.
Wednesday: Remembered that I had booked myself for a speed-dating workshop at a nearby community center. Told several people that their voices sounded sexy, but didn’t receive a single “I’m interested!” on my name card. As I started to come to grips with just how difficult those with sight privilege make it for the blind to find love, I suddenly became enraged and decided to start a fight with a stranger. She sounded like a woman, but I lost anyway. Being blind is still hard.
Thursday: Got kidnapped on my way to buy a newspaper. As I struggled in the backseat of a packed vehicle, my captors remarked how convenient it was that I’d already blindfolded myself. When I told them that I have neither friends nor family in my life, they punched me in the stomach and left me in the clearing of a local forest. As they also stripped me naked, I now have poison ivy rash all over my dick and balls. The struggle continues.
Friday: Visited the bank to apply for a small business loan. Did not get the loan. Spat at the clerk and apparently missed. Being blind in jail is hard.
Saturday: Convinced my drug dealer to post bail. Told him I’d been blinded while paintballing, and he gave me a tab of acid out of sympathy. Tripping is more intense with a blindfold on, though the intensification of the rest of the senses is hardly worth the exchange. Woke up on the roof of a downtown McDonald’s—at least I think that’s where it was.
Sunday: Went to see a movie. Realized halfway through that I couldn’t see the movie. Started singing to entertain myself and got showered in a blizzard of popcorn and fists. As I limped home I swore to myself that I would never take my sightedness for granted again.
So there you have it. The next time that you’re thinking of being content with your perfect existence, remember that there are those out there who would happily slaughter a million innocent children just to experience for five minutes what you do all of the time. Remember that you spend almost half an hour blinking every day, and consider spending more time doing so in order to better approximate the struggles of people who would do the same for you if your roles were reversed. The next time a blind person decides to confide something in you, don’t just listen with your ears and don’t just listen with your heart.
Listen with your eyes.