Hello readers. You may remember that I wrote an entry about a month and a half ago about an extremely narrow-minded response by an internship coordinator for my local zoological society whom I contacted inquiring about accommodations for an internship next summer. Well, I meant to post an update on how I responded to this lady and the outcome of my response two weeks ago. But between school responsibilities, family commitments and a nasty cold, it occurred to me that I never posted the promised update, and since you readers gave me such valuable advice and support, I think I owe it to you to post an update on the outcome of this ordeal, even if it is late.
As I mentioned in the original entry, I was so conflicted about how I should respond because I have a sound reputation in my community and family as a kind, compassionate, forgiving person, and didn’t want to jeopardize these values by writing something I would later regret. On the other hand, in light of recent incidents I have heard about, most notably the heartbreaking story of the blind couple whose newborn baby was taken away by social workers for no other reason than the fact that they were blind, it occurred to me that I need to practice being assertive and not take it lying down when sighted people like this lady automatically make the assumption that because I am blind, it is amazing that I can do anything, especially go to college and pursue internships, a stepping stone to meaningful employment in a sighted world. My vision teacher whom I talked with the week after posting the original entry agreed because she said she has encountered people with these negative assumptions too, and is outraged by the fact that while there has been so much progress in changing other negative assumptions in our society, but when it comes to attitudes regarding blindness, it is as if this country is still stuck in the 1700s. So when I read my fantasy letter posted in the original entry to this teacher, and another blind friend who had also been the victim of narrow-minded sighted people, to my amazement they loved it and enthusiastically encouraged me to send it as is. In their view, it is high time that people’s attitudes about blindness progress to the 21st century, and being assertive, even bitchy, may be what it takes to show these narrow-minded people that I mean business and am just as intelligent and capable as any sighted person.
But the good girl in me was still scared to death about sending such a scathing letter, and my caution was supported by the comments two of you posted on the original entry. So for two weeks I did what I do best: I put off sending the letter and tried to forget about the whole thing. But two weeks later when I was still thinking and praying about what to do, it became clear that I couldn’t forget about it, and felt like if I didn’t make up my mind and send a reply to this lady soon, I would be letting this lady win by leading her to believe that she had shattered my confidence, and I would always feel guilty for passing on an opportunity to try to right this injustice. I think it was either Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandella who said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, a quote that resonated with me more and more every day I put off replying to this lady. Although the injustice of how I was treated by this lady was nothing compared to the injustice of the persecution of a race or having a baby taken away, but it was still an injustice worth addressing so that maybe if she deals with other blind people in the future, she might be a little better informed about blindness. So on the morning of Tuesday October 5, I made the decision that by the end of the day, I would break down and send my reply.
I ended up compromising based on the advice I got from you readers. I sent my letter pretty much as it was written in the original entry, but after being away from it for two weeks, I decided to make the tone of my final paragraph a little gentler, so that hopefully her last impression of me would be a little more positive, but I could still get my point across and at least get her thinking more about the capabilities of blind people even if I couldn’t change her attitude. The original paragraph said: Don’t worry. I won’t apply for this internship because while the visual aspects of the internship could be adapted, an internship where I would have to deal with such narrow-minded attitudes would not be appropriate for me. You are welcome to have your opinions about blindness, but I think you might want to consider educating yourself better and thinking more open-mindedly about the capabilities of the blind before making these negative assumptions in the future. With my mom’s input on the drive to school that Tuesday morning, we decided to send the following revision for the final paragraph: I have found other internship opportunities more appropriate for me, so I do not intend to apply for this internship. I just felt I needed to educate you about the capabilities of blind people in case you deal with other blind people in the future. I know that one of you advised me not to tell this lady that I would not be applying for this internship in case she has connections to other people I could potentially work with someday, but my mom really felt it was important for me to show this lady that her nasty remarks had not shattered my confidence and that I would find an internship and a place in the world despite people like her, and I had to agree.
So at 6:30 that night, just before finishing my shift at the switchboard, I clicked send. The next morning, I woke up to this reply from the lady: Dear Allison, Thank you for the education. I am glad to hear you are doing so well in college. Sincerely, (her signature) It wasn’t exactly the response I had hoped for, and definitely not an apology for her negative assumptions or an admission that they were wrong, reconfirming my suspicion that she is a narrowminded person and I shouldn’t waste a summer internship trying to change that when there are so many wonderful open-minded people that I am sure would love learning from me and having me as an intern. The scenario that I might encounter people with connections to her is possible, especially since my dad did a google search and found out she was a former editor for a newspaper, exactly the field I would like to get in to. (He also found out that she owns a spa salon near our house. I don’t go to spa salons, but if I ever do, I will make sure not to go to her salon). If she tells other people about me and my letter, a few people might think negatively of me. But ultimately, I think most people will view my confidence to not be afraid to stand up for myself and correct negative perceptions as a positive attribute. And although my statement that I have found other opportunities was somewhat of a white lie since I have not looked in to other internship possibilities yet, when a well-known alderwoman in my community who also goes to my church and knew about me since she has children around my age, approached me after church two weeks ago and invited me to make occasional contributions to a news blog she writes, any vestiges of lacking confidence were quickly forgotten as I realized that the zoo lady really is only one person, and there were so many people in my community willing to look past my blindness and realize that I have something to contribute. So I am filled with confidence that I will find an internship, a meaningful job and a way to contribute to society, and will not let this lady, or other people like her I will surely meet in the years to come tell me otherwise.