Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Lead into the Story I Really Wish to Tell

When I graduated from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired fifteen years ago, I made a little vow to my seventeen-year-old self that I would never return to Austin ever-ever again. Well, I'm older, wiser, and employed now. So, I've made a few business trips to Austin in the last four months. And guess what... I survived it, and Austin survived me. The bitterness, resentment, pain, and sorrow that I had in my heart when I graduated from high school is deflated and no longer a major issue.

Why was it an issue in the first place?
Well, mostly because I was hurting. I was sinking into an abyss of sorrow due to the very traumatic event of losing all of my sight. I wished to divorce myself from TSBVI, simply because TSBVI was the home of blindness and all things related to blindness. In my pain and teenage immaturity, I didn’t want anything to do with that. Still don’t… But now that I realize I don’t have a choice, I find ways to deal with it. Back then, dealing with it was not an option. And TSBVI’s staff insisted that we, the students, dealt with the obvious, our visual impairment and the functional limitations caused by the impairment.
Secondly, I was very sad and deeply wounded from being separated from my beautiful parents for years. The strain of growing up in a dorm with people that didn't love me, and sometimes didn't like me, was exhausting.
Thirdly, I hated that TSBVI was not designed for talented and gifted children. I feel like my experience at tSBVI may have introduced me to greater expectations and standards for living independently, despite my blindness. But I felt that it really stifled my growth academically and socially. (I'll explain the social part in a minute.)
And lastly, I was sick and tired of dealing with racist white folks that thought they were better than me, only because they were white. Here's my thing... If you are going to think you are better than me, that's fine. But please have a good reason why you are better. Let it be because you are the freaking bomb for whatever reason. But because you are white... Please!

There were so many people, whether it was staff or students, that did not think that I had any real worth, just because I was a black girl. They celebrated the substandard accomplishments of this other white girl, while acting like my accomplishments were nothing. They provided certain white students with opportunities for mentorship and advisement, and left me to figure out my career path myself. And when they did finally start making recommendations about what I should do after high school, the guidance counselor suggested that I enroll in a community college, and if I achieved there, then I should apply for a four-year-university. Can you believe that it was said by a professional counselor at the school for the blind that it was very unlikely for me to succeed at a large university, like University of Texas?

Now, don’t get me wrong. It was some white staff members and faculty that treated me with love and kindness/equally to the white students. Miles Fain, Susan Osterhaus, and Nancy Voots are a few that come to mind… Each of them was very kind and supportive. But there were some others… I won’t even mention their names. I’ll just say that they made it clear that my white classmates were more worthy of support and guidance than I was. In all fairness, most of the prejudice attitudes that I encountered came from the staff, rather than the faculty. I am left to presume that because the faculty was more educated than many of the staff, the ignorance that causes racist views was less. Or maybe their education helped them be more advanced in covering it up. Who knows...

One situation that really rubbed me the wrong way when I was in high school occurred my senior year, a few months before I was to exit TSBVI as a graduate. All the years that I was at TSBVI, it was two of us that were at the top of our game academically that were in the same grade. That other young lady that I’m speaking of was the main person who was getting more support, guidance, and merit, only because she was white. Well, that’s my opinion…

This young lady was very competitive, and she worked very hard to try to get ahead of me in every area. She beat me in sports, physical fitness, cooking, cane travel, and fraternizing with the staff and faculty. But the one thing that she couldn’t beat me in was academics. And guess what, I didn’t even try to be on top. I just tried to do my best. And my best placed me in front of her. Sadly, she didn’t like me there. And I’m not sure if some of the faculty liked me there either.

Well, our senior year we were thrown a little off in the ladder of scholastic achievement. A young lady that had been a senior a couple times before was reclassified for whatever reason, giving her a chance to be in the 12th grade yet again.

So, the administration sacrificed the other young lady’s salutatorian status, just to make sure that my black behind wasn’t valedictorian. (At least, that’s how I interpreted it then. And honestly, I feel the same way now. Perhaps I am wrong.) They placed this 12th grade repeater, who had a ton of classes to count and average in her GPA, at the top of the ladder, and crowned her valedictorian of our class.

I remembered feeling betrayed and bewildered that this young lady, who had been reclassified/not given the opportunity to graduate with her class two years before for social reasons, was honored with an achievement that should have been mine. But since I don’t get off on entitlement attitudes, I learned to brush it off and get on with my life. I had bigger fish to fry than to worry about avenging my honor as the “smartest student.” I had a life of blindness at my feet, and I had to figure out how I was going to live it outside of the safe, protective walls of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

**This retelling of events is going to be much longer than what I initially expected. So, I’m going to break this one down. Really, the information in this post is to set the stage and tone for the post that will come after this one. Stay tuned. This story gets good.**


Ensayn1 said...

Hi Angie, did u happen to take note of David Patterson being sworn in as the new governor of New York today?

Angie said...

Yes, Ensayn. I'm ashamed to say that I failed to comment on it on my blog. Procrastination and stress distracted me from getting on it. But I will certainly be commenting on it soon.