Obama’s Inaugural Address, Music & Social Justice, Lessons For a D…

Obama’s Inaugural Address, Music & Social Justice, Lessons For a D…

Is bigotry really dead? If not, can music help? Obama’s inaugural celebrations featured Queen Latifah talking about African-American contralto Marian Anderson. Eleanor Roosevelt invited the singer to proportion her music at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. The DAR had banned her from Constitution Hall. Today, Anderson’s story has significance for another minority, virtually invisible, experiencing enormous unemployment, discrimination and bigotry.

The media, which has played a vital role in civil rights, however, rarely covers their issues or the debates about resolving them. The only female representative of this group known by most people died over fifty years ago. There are, however, women entertainers in all genres ready to do for their group what Anderson did for hers. So far, no Eleanor Roosevelt has stepped forward to make the invitation.

What minority? Blind Americans. Over two-thirds of working-age blind Americans are unemployed. Blind women are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed and living in poverty. Nonetheless, there are blind women lawyers, chemists, journalists, teachers, engineers, entertainers, etc.

The disparity springs from social attitudes. Ironically, Negative stereotypes of blindness impact those who keep up them. Generally, men don’t wake up as women and whites don’t just turn black. However, this is exactly what happens with blindness. Most blind people grew up sighted. If society teaches that blindness method a life of uselessness and dependence, that’s what they become. Any rehab counselor will tell you that the biggest obstacles to rehabilitation are not learning to use a talking computer or guide dog but one’s own prejudices about blindness.

Bigotry takes many forms. Blind people, especially women, frequently encounter strangers who don’t respect their right to make their own decisions. People become angry when they are told to ignore guide dogs, a practice taught by all guide dog schools. Despite the ADA, issues with Taxis and restaurants persist. Many blind people report that medical professionals treat them like children. Less than ten percent of blind kids are taught to read Braille, the only tool offering true literacy.

Blind people also report many interactions – often at job interviews – in which the sighted person is overly focused on “how exceptional it is” that the blind person can do simple responsibilities. Imagine trying to interest a prospective boss in your skills and talents when they can’t get over the fact that you got to the interview by yourself and can keep up a conversation without staring off into space.

Blind Americans have much to offer. Most want to be included in the group to which President Obama referred when he said, “All deserve a chance to pursue their complete measure of happiness.”

Welcoming blind Americans into the fold is not just the right thing to do. It’s the pragmatic thing in addition. The CDC recently projected a three-fold increase in diabetes-related blindness among working-age Americans by 2050.

Without meaningful changes in social attitudes, America faces substantial increases in disability costs. As Obama said in his inaugural address, “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our wealth; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our shared good.”

Minority entertainers, like Ms. Anderson, have changed public opinion, leading to improved understanding and opportunities for their minorities. There hasn’t been a new blind American superstar, however, in decades. Worse in addition, the only blind woman most people know is Helen Keller, who died in 1958.

A small, volunteer-run nonprofit is trying to change this. The Performing Arts Division of the National Federation of the Blind (PAD, NFB): http://www.padnfb.org

PAD’s president, Dennis Holston persuaded eighteen blind recording artists — including some excellent women — to donate tracks to PAD’s multi-genre “Sound in Sight” CD, which supports the scholarship fund. Decide for yourself if any of them are worth backing. Listen free at: http://cdbaby.com/cd/padotnfotb

Hip hop fans, download a free MP3 at PAD’s site. To e mail Donna, look under Cabinet Posts, Head of Media Relations on PAD’s Contact page.

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