Privilege

The word privilege has come up often this year.  Though it’s not being highlighted in dictionaries as are such words as “deplorables” or “bigly” or “nasty,” it’s certainly been used a great deal, with regard to “White privilege.”

As a White person, I didn’t attribute my privilege recently to a recommendation to go to my favorite shoe store in Shady Side for a pair of “nude” heels.  “The ones Brian has there will go perfectly with the dress.”

But when I thought about it later, I realized that there was a pretty huge assumption with the label “nude.” I began to think of other less glaring kinds of privilege that I accrue because of my skin.  Were I behind a wheel, driving, and in a few years, remember, I might become an Uber driver, I wouldn’t be stopped by a policeman for a broken tail light. People don’t cross to the other side of the street at dusk because of me—or do they?  I do think I give an emotional charge with my disability.  Some percentage of people in the population are afraid of me.  But not because of my expected criminal intent.

This got me thinking about the combination of my Whiteness and my disabilities.  I’m not the garden variety White person.  Disability does subject many people to discrimination in employment, housing, education.  In past blogs Ive pointed out the experiences I’ve had with this, but do admit that I’ve had less than my share.

But I did recently experience discrimination or at least serious oversight. Bob and I attended the Michael Chabon talk at the Carnegie usic Hall December 9.  Though sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s English department, some Pitt group celebrating the humanities, and several other very astute groups, the venue offered no amplifiers.  Now I attend the Drew-Heinz lectures there every season.  Always they have an ample number of amplifiers for the enormous crowd.  And mind you, Chabon was a sell-out crowd.  How can educators not have thought of hearing issues of the public in the 21st century?  I was so shocked.

”We don’t have any,” I was told after pursuing this for a half hour. “We don’t provide them. But you can sit near the speaker.”

 

And I did—probably 35 feet away. I also had brought my amplifying equipment that connects to my hearing aids.But for 90 minutes I couldn’t decipher more than an occasional word.  A friend sat in the first balcony.  He has perfect hearing and said most people had trouble hearing because Chabon was interviewed.  His mic was too far from his mouth and he kept hitting it, making a kind of exploding sound that I did hear.

Attending a lecture that I cannot hear is really torture. In 2016 there’s no excuse for such oversights.

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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