The Federationist In Connecticut, Winter/Spring 2021
Executive Editor: Brianna Rigsbee
National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut
111 Sheldon Road, Unit 420, Manchester, CT 06045
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FROM THE EDITOR, By Brianna Rigsbee
JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER, By Isabel Rosario
MIXED RACE AND HIGH PARTIAL: CHOOSE A GROUP, By Justin Mark Hideaki Salisbury
BEING DISABLED and WEARING MY BROWN SKIN, By Veronica Alston
SETTLER COLONIZATION AND THE BLIND INDIAN, By Justin Mark Hideaki Salisbury
Greetings, Federationists, and welcome to a new installment of The Federationist in Connecticut. As most of you know, my name is Brianna. I am your new Executive Editor. I have been an active member of the Federation since joining in 2017. I have served on the Connecticut Association of Blind Students Board as both the Secretary and then Vice President. I identify as a blind, African American woman. Within the few years of being involved in the NFB, I’ve taken a huge liking to this publication. I love what it represents—camaraderie, and the willingness to come together to share experiences and stories. I love that it causes us to think and reflect on what our fellow members have to say in their pieces. Recently, there have been a few very timely and important issues brought to the forefront of the Federation: sexual assault and intersectionality. Both issues, unfortunately, causing most members to question their place within the Federation for various reasons, creating less of the camaraderie and togetherness that I, and others, have come to love about the organization. This divide has shifted the way we feel about one another, and has undoubtedly stilted our motivation to continue advocating alongside our fellow members who have become some of our best friends. This affiliate prides itself on being a family. Therefore, by keeping this publication going strong, I hope that we can bring just a little of that togetherness back.
In this issue of the Federationist, I thought it would be a great idea to talk about intersectionality, and how as people, our various identities (whatever they may be) define us. Some of our members have contributed by sharing with us their stories of strength and determination within their communities as disabled and colored people. They have shared their lived experiences as a disabled woman of color, how being blind has shaped their thinking when it comes to judging other people based on voices, and how they allow their different identities to define them as people. In each of these stories, we get the chance to learn a lot about the people we call “family”. I think that by reading their stories, you will find it admirable of them to want to share with us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the latest issue of the Federationist.
If you would like to submit an article to The Federationist in Connecticut, please send it to me at email@example.com. This publication cannot exist without your contribution. I encourage you all to reach out to me. Whether you need help writing, help with your technology, or just want to float an idea by me, please do not hesitate to contact me. We can do this together.
Thank you, and happy reading!
By Isabel Rosario
Often times when we meet someone, we immediately judge them based off of how they look or sound. However, it is impossible to truly grasp who someone is without knowing their background or what intersectionalities lie beneath the surface. I myself identify as a Blind Hispanic American woman. While my family is Hispanic and my mother was born in Puerto Rico, I did not grow up in a traditional Hispanic home. My whole life we practiced American foods and traditions. I speak some Spanish and can hold conversations but I am not fluent. There have been times where I have visited Puerto Rico and wished that I could fully grasp the language where my family is from. Not knowing the language in its entirety has definitely impacted how others in the Hispanic community view me. There have been times when I am out and a Spanish speaker approaches me because I look Hispanic; however, if they’re asking me for specific directions, I struggle to help them fully and I can feel their frustration when they realize that I am not fluent. My family does celebrate the traditional Puerto Rican holidays, and when we have those celebrations, it helps me feel more connected to my roots.
Blindness is merely a characteristic that does not hold me back from living my life. However, because I am blind, I have been reminded that I cannot judge someone solely on how they sound. I had an experience in which I was hanging out with some friends at my university. My friend John mentioned that we were waiting for his friend Jeniffer. While we were waiting, someone approached us and engaged in our conversation. Based off of how the person sounded, I assumed that the person was a male. In my head I wondered where Jeniffer was because we had been waiting for a while. I was extremely thankful that I did not speak my question aloud because I discovered that the person I thought was a male was Jeniffer. She identifies as a transgender woman. This interaction taught me that I cannot base who someone is by how they sound. If I would have voiced my question aloud, I would have inadvertently offended Jennifer. Although it would not have been done maliciously, it was still wrong because I assumed who the person was without understanding what intersectionalities they identify with. There is always more to a person that meets the eyes or ears, and it's important to discover what that is before making a judgment.
By Justin Mark Hideaki Salisbury
In the broader blind community, many of us are familiar with the idea that society often wants to sort us into groups based on the extremes. Society often wants to consider us totally blind with no light perception, or fully sighted, ready to fly a fighter plane. Logically, we all know that there are people at every level of that spectrum, but society struggles to recognize that we exist. We are often asked to choose whether we are totally blind or not blind at all. In my case, it is proper to call myself blind even though I do have a substantial amount of residual vision. Some people would call me a “high-partial.” As Dr. Jernigan taught us, “an individual may properly be said to be ‘blind’ or a ‘blind person’ when he has to devise so many alternative techniques—that is, if he is to function efficiently—that his pattern of daily living is substantially altered.” If you watch me going through my daily life, I do a lot of things differently—by using alternative techniques—than I would if I were still sighted, so I am blind.
For those of us who belong to multiple racial groups, we often find that society wants to split us into pieces in order to sort us into one group or another. Part of privilege is not needing to think about one’s minority group memberships. If you are a mixed-race person, people are often misclassifying your race and treating you accordingly. Maybe they think you belong to only one racial group. Maybe they perceive you to be something that you are not. If you are half black and half white, but completely not Latino, some people might think you’re Puerto Rican even when you’re not. People have so many false ideas about how to classify someone else’s race, and it can create so many problems.
Sometimes, a mixed-race identity can be an advantage. In my case, I have that the benefit of being exposed to different cultures within my family. I suppose I occasionally get invited to gatherings related to a certain cultural identity that might not come my way if not for that part of my identity. As we move forward in diversity and inclusion work in many parts of our society, I believe that mixed-race people hold a lot of the keys to the answers needed by the rest of society. We grow up learning how to blend different cultures. We know how things work on one side of our family and how those themes vary versus the other side of our family. Unfortunately, as I have talked to many other mixed-race people about this, we are almost always excluded from diversity and inclusion work. If we are invited, we are supposed to act as translators to help the monoracial people communicate with each other, but we are not supposed to share our perspective. When we do share our perspective, the people around us often panic and try to push our commentary aside because they don’t know which monoracial group we represent. The problem is that they come to diversity and inclusion work assuming that everyone must represent only one racial group. This assumption is not only wrong; it undermines diversity and inclusion work.
If we are mixed-race people in a blindness-related setting, we do sometimes face discrimination based on our mixed-race identity. I have been denied vocational rehabilitation (VR) services by a VR counselor who insisted that “American Indians aren’t eligible for VR.” Then, when I went to complain about it, I was told that this could not have happened because I was also white. The problem was not resolved, but the mixed-race identity was leveraged to cloud the issue and deny me the VR services I needed. Furthermore, I was accused of being racist against the Asian-American VR counselor as a white person for complaining about Asian-American racism toward American Indians. Mixed-race people face this problem all the time. Racism between minorities is very real, and the mixed-race people take shots from all sides.
I have also found myself in settings where being white-passing made monoracial white people feel comfortable speaking in racist ways in front of me. When we are blind, sometimes people feel comfortable speaking as we are not there, like our blindness makes us unaware of what is going on, or maybe so powerless that we cannot do anything about what they are saying. I remember riding in a shuttle in Oklahoma with a white driver who went on a rant full of racism against American Indians. I don’t look like the Indians of Oklahoma because I’m not one of them, but I had to endure his racist rant. I have been in the room when the other people of color have left, and the feeling in the room changed. I have been asked to participate in a racial purge, purging people who looked like my family members. Sometimes, people welcome me into a group or relationship thinking I’m white and subsequently expel me when they realize I am mixed. Mixed-race people find ourselves in these situations more often than monoracial people may realize.
Some people think it is best for a white-passing person to just assume a monoracial white identity and blend in that way if they can. This is like telling a high-partial to pretend to be sighted; don’t do it! For me, it causes me problems when people assume I’m white. For example, marriages between men and women in most American Indian, Black American, and Puerto Rican families are matriarchal. Marriages between men and women in most White American families are patriarchal. If people assume that I am white, they often assume that I will come from a patriarchal family and find that structure most intuitive. The fact is that I do not, and a patriarchal structure is still unnatural to me. The way people perceive my race affects the assumptions they make about my culturing, which affects how they treat me.
As a mixed-race person, I have often wondered what my group is. Maybe it’s other mixed-race people, but then someone who is a different mix than I am might come from different traditions. As a blind person, I know who my people are. The Federation teaches us that all blind people belong together. If you’re blind enough to seek out the Federation, you belong in the Federation. I suspect that mixed-race blind people would be easiest to recruit to the Federation because we want that community that knows that we completely belong in it. I have had my share of clashes with monoracial blind people who become angry when I do not fit into the boxes that they have available for me, but I stick around because the Federation is the only organization I know that understands blindness and offers inclusion in the blind community. I also suspect that monoracial white blind people feel this about the Federation, too, as they do not belong to a racial minority group. I will let monoracial white blind people tell their story, and I hope they let me tell mine. One key ingredient in raising expectations for the blind is making sure that the Federation is completely welcoming to mixed-race people.
By Veronica Alston
We all at times take things for granted. For example, the ability to see, hear, speak, and walk are second nature and allows individuals to function normally on a daily basis. What about individuals who contend with life’s challenges and circumstances beyond their control? What about individuals with physical and intellectual challenges? Is it fair to say that just because a person who is disabled, has the wrong skin color, or both should be deemed incompetent? Every human being, regardless of their disability, ethnicity, or race, has the right to live their lives to the fullest potential without the fear of being bullied or discriminated against. We all encounter hardships in our lives. It takes courage and strength to overcome obstacles and barriers surrounding employment, public transportation, and accessibility to public places.
Those who have never walked in the shoes of someone who has been discriminated against due to a disability or race will never understand the fight for continuously working toward securing equality, independence, acceptance, and respect for all.
My name is Veronica Alston. I would like to share a little of my life story. I was born into circumstances beyond my control. My mom gave birth three months prior to her expected due date delivering me at only two pounds. The doctors suggested that my parents start planning my funeral service. They also said that if I did live, I wouldn’t have any vision by the time I was four years old. I stayed in the hospital for the first five months of my life and had to undergo two eye surgeries before going home for the first time.
I received my primary and secondary education in the New Haven Public School System, then went on to college with plans to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education. I figured that would be a good career since I could relate to needing special accommodations in the classroom. I was in my sophomore year at Southern Connecticut State University when I developed Glaucoma at the age of 19. I had to take a break from school in order to adjust from having usable vision to total blindness.
Before I lost my sight, I had enough vision that would allow me to see colors, ride a bike, take the bus and had the ability to complete normal daily tasks with minimal assistance. Socially and physically, I was fine but at times felt ostracized. Having to adjust to total loss of vision was one of the most difficult and darkest times of my life. I cried for weeks, listened to people tell me that everything would be ok, giving me advice on how I should do this and how I should do that. Some felt sorry for me, some didn’t. Some tried to get over on me, some genuinely cared.
It was 11 years after losing my sight when I returned back to school deciding to change my major from special education to social work. During that period I had to figure out on my own how to put back the pieces to the puzzle, finally realizing that life goes on whether I picked them up or not. I don’t have the solution or all the answers to living with a disability. I haven’t walked in anyone else’s shoes but my own. I will share what works for me and what I had to learn in order to function in life. It doesn’t matter if people can’t accept me for who I am. I learned to love myself from the inside out. I don’t look for validation because I know my worth. I don’t let my disability or the color of my skin define me. The biggest challenge is getting people to understand that yes, I am AN African American WOMAN with A VISUAL IMPAIRMENT, but that doesn’t make me incompetent. Here are some of my accomplishments since graduating from Southern Connecticut in May 2001. There were bumps, scrapes and bruises along the way, but I brushed myself off and kept it moving. I worked for a nonprofit organization for 14 years, had two children, bought a home, currently married and doing outreach with community organizations to help make a difference in the lives of others.
Thank you for taking the time out to read my story. I hope it can inspire, motivate and encourage someone who is looking for light at the end of the tunnel.
By Justin Mark Hideaki Salisbury
First off, I want to pick a word for indigenous North American identity. For almost everyone I know who share this identity, we are open to multiple different words for it. The way you treat people is a lot more important than the word you use. I often just say “Indian”, and I have learned to do so from other Indian people. I like the term Indian because it has fewer syllables, so you can say it faster. In Indian communities, it is normal for us to talk about ideas like oppression and settler colonialism. I am going to bring up some themes here which may be new to our readers.
To discuss Indian identity, it will help to explain settler colonialism. Settler colonialism is a mentality and a process of trying to replace the original population of a place with a new society of settlers. It involves replacing the customs and culture of the original people with those of the colonizing culture, which are believed to be innately superior. There is often some kind of support from the imperial homelands of the colonizing culture. Once settler colonialism becomes established somewhere, members of the dominant group just assume that it is a fact of life. Settler colonialism has been a practice of British, German, French, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Chinese, and Japanese settlers, just to name a few. American popular culture tries to teach us that a craving for conquest is a natural human desire, just like hunger or thirst, but this is not the case for indigenous people. To most indigenous people, it is unnatural to think about conquest. We just want to live.
Blind people and Indians both encounter others from outside our groups who try to invalidate our identities. For both groups, there is a misperception that we are given some kind of advantage because of our minority group membership, and people outside our group don’t want us to have it. A lot of people think that all Indians get a check, but we don’t. Our reservations continue to be very much impoverished, but it was worse before we realized that we could open some casinos on our tribal lands. Then, settler people became green with envy and started opening up their own casinos because they didn’t want us Indians getting that money. Those casinos have offered jobs in the tribal communities. I have been denied vocational rehabilitation (VR) services and told to seek VR from my tribe, since my tribe surely has money for VR. That VR counselor made so many false assumptions but was fixated on driving a wedge between Indians and the resources we have. We also face accusations of ethnic fraud from those settlers who feel like our existence gives them less claim to the land that their ancestors stole from ours. If they can argue that we do not exist anymore, then there is nobody left to take the land back from them. Since I am both blind and Indian, I am accused of fraud for both reasons.
Almost all Indians today are mixed with something else. Settler colonialism urges us to identify with that something else. If we are blind but have partial vision, we may use that partial vision to draw conclusions about another person’s race, but this can lead us astray. I once dated a white woman who, using her partial vision, had concluded that I was white. Her sighted family seemed to concur, but they were from a community that was almost universally white. When she learned that I was not fully white, this created a major problem. She had been raised to believe that white people should only date other white people, and she had taken pride in the fact that she had only ever dated white men. Things went downhill in our relationship from there, and it eventually ended. Part of me felt a lot of pain over her commitment to segregation, but I also felt bad for her that she had been fallen into the trap of depending on her residual vision. If she had used the nonvisual technique of asking me about my racial identity early on, we could have spared ourselves the trouble.
I want to bring up another problem we face—one that often invokes a strong backlash from the neoliberals who get into the business of diversity programming in the first place. American Indians have not only taken abuse from people of European ancestry. Other ethnic minorities give us grief, too. The first slaves in the Americas were not African; they were Indian. We worked as slaves right next to the Africans, but very few history books report it. We were forced to interbreed with the Africans so that the masters could refer to us as black, and the settlers could argue that we no longer existed. After the slaves were freed in the 1860s, many of the freedmen were offered employment as Buffalo Soldiers, whose primary job was to clear the west of the Indians. The history books often depict massacres of unarmed women and children as battles in which the militias and soldiers fought valiantly and eventually overcame us. Unfortunately, centuries later, we still face the Buffalo Soldier effect from the black community, where the black community has been taught that their liberation requires serving as agents of settler colonialism, a conflict designed by the settlers. In other words: if you want to be first-class citizens, you need to help us crush the Indians. My Indian grandmother has the hair of a black woman because she is partly that, too, and I see myself in both communities. Another group of settlers whose settler colonialism gets almost no attention from the neoliberals is the Asian Americans. Pointing out their settler colonialism does not require hating them, just as pointing out the settler colonialism of European Americans does not require hating them. Asian settler colonialism is just as real, but we get no protection from it from the so-called social justice activists. How do these intergroup tensions affect us as blind people? For starters, anytime we need anything related to our blindness, it comes up.
Indian mascots perpetuate a stereotype that we are stoic and warlike people. The history books often describe all Indian men as warriors, and almost all the stories about us focus on some kind of violence. Violence was used as a means of stealing our land and controlling our people. That stereotype of us all being warriors helps the settler people justify their claims that they won the land fair and square and helps them justify their entitlement to the fruits of our oppression. Unfortunately, in the blind community, we have some sports teams with Indian mascots. As the Federation works on diversity and inclusion, I hope that we will reach out to blind sports teams like the Austin Blackhawks and Aztec Warriors and ask them to change their names. When Indians object to the Indian mascots, we are often portrayed by the settler media as offended or angry, thus reinforcing the warlike stereotype that the mascots embody. Our emotional juice is too valuable to spend it on getting offended every time someone puts up a racist depiction of Indians, so I encourage other Indians to scrub those words from our vocabularies. We cannot afford to feed the trolls with the word “offended.” The warlike stereotypes affect us when we apply for jobs. I am a teacher of the blind, a profession where a person labeled warlike is not particularly desired. I speak out against the mascots because I want salvation from the stereotype. Since we have mascots in the blind community, I hope we can do our part. Decolonization and the liberation of the blind do not only complement each other; they demand each other.
Central CT Chapter -Deb Reed, President
Our January 16 meeting included the Hartford Chapter. Our guest speaker was Ollie Cantos, a former NFB leader, disability advocate, Attorney and federal employee for the Department of Education in the civil rights area. We enjoyed his presentation with guidance for how to find blind children to participate in our BELL program as well as the parents of blind children division, which we are hoping to start this year in Connecticut.
Currently, all National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut chapters are meeting virtually. For meeting information, please contact our chapter presidents:
|At-Large Chapter:||Jim Cronin at 860-593-7063|
|>Central Connecticut Chapter:||Deb Reed at 860-973-3679|
|>Greater Hartford Chapter:||Gary Allen at 860-607-6774|
|Shoreline Chapter:||Shonda Rosetta at 860-951-6107|
|Southern Connecticut Chapter:||Marchele Davis at 203-314-5298|
|Greater Waterbury Chapter:||Josefina Martinez at 203-578-6471|