The writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a very good lecture on the danger of a single story. In essence, she talks about how skewed someone’s view of a certain country, people, issue can be if you just see the one side of it. I agree very much with her assessment. Take the issue of being privileged for instance. It can be that somebody is rich, belong to fortunate ethnic groups, or that somebody is simply being blessed with enough good confidence to take their life in their own hands and shape it to fit their dreams.
The flipside of being privileged however is to be envied. And from the point of view of the so-called privileged, that is not nice. Because proper envy is far from admiration. We all have, at times, wished we were a little richer, smarter, more creative etc. And that’s healthy, because it gets us working towards improving ourselves. Envy however, is just consuming like hate. And being in a position of privilege when being envied gets you into an unprivileged position.
I am currently experiencing being a target for unhealthy envy. My privilege, at least as a blind person, is that my blindness is very uncomplicated. I was born with a detached optic nerve. And the only part of my brain that’s affected, is only the parts where my optic nerves should have been connected, meaning it has had no domino effect on other brain functions. Because of this, and also because I’ve had the right support growing up, I enjoy a very independent life. I need a very minimal amount of help.
Not all blind people are as lucky as I am, not necessarily because of bad support, but because their blindness affects their brain in such a way that certain things are hard to comprehend. I know many blind people who are born prematurely, and just like everyone else who are blind, their levels of independence vary. I know prems who function just as well as I do, and I know prems who freak out when you try to explain simple concepts like ‘twice as much’ or ‘half as big’.
I have a friend who is a prem, and who is in between the high functioning and the lower functioning, although she actually manages very well. She’s fun to hang out with and I value our friendship. However, she has of late, told me that she’s envious with my total independence and I feel that when I have a bad day, I cannot tell her because she’ll point out that “But its ok for you who is so independent”. Another problem is that she is trying to explain things I find difficult away with my blindness to try make us as similar as possible in her own head. However the truth is that although we both of us, along with the rest of humanity, have problems, hers are much more directly related to her disability than mine. The bottom line here is, we are very different and are faced with different challenges. She is putting me up on a pedestal because to her, I may seem perfect and always self-sufficient. And this envy will soon destroy our friendship unless she realizes how well she is doing in her own rights and how much she actually manages.
This friend is not the first and only blind person, differently affected by their blindness that has put me in the supercrip category. And even though I feel privileged to live the way I do, being classified as a superblindy and being envied is not something I cherish.
Another, perhaps more relatable example to some, is that of my friend who, because of her interest in salsa, was declared a gringa by one of her salsa mates. ‘Mates’ is perhaps not the right word to use here, because from the two of them met, she felt that he didn’t like her and the fact that he constantly was minding her moves and steps, made her feel bad – and nervous for messing up the dance classes. Then he started spreading rumors about her. Consequently, she started avoiding him and all direct contact with him. Then SHE – mind not he! – was advised to reconcile with HIM.
The reply she got back was shocking. I can’t recall it word for word, but to sum it all up, he said that “You have no respect for people from poor countries with no money and no education.”
I am personally convinced, as is she, that his problem is himself and just being a difficult person. Had he been a “gringo”, he probably would have found something else to complain about regarding her.
But the “gringo card” is so easy to play for somebody who has grown up in poverty, or relative poverty.
Mine and my friend’s stories are virtually one and the same. Being verbally attacked for who we are by somebody who is envious. It doesn’t matter how much or little you can see, or how wealthy you may be. Life is not without problems and we should all think twice before shouting gringo, supercrip and alike. There is, after all, never a single story.