“The Blind Leading the Blind”: Watch your language.

I’m standing in the hallway, talking to J and K, two girls from class. J and I stand, enthusiastically discussing the merits of “Downton Abbey” while K, seated against the wall, reviews the 40-page article we had to read. A lull in our conversation gives me the opportunity to notice two guys standing just behind J. I cannot help overhearing their exchange, a mutual complaint about the lack of clarity in their instructor’s syllabus. The next few lines of their dialogue matter to me.

First Guy: Oh man do you even know what our homework is for next class?
Second Guy: I dunno man. It’s like the blind leading the blind.

I reiterate, I am standing right next to J and this guy is standing behind her. My white cane is visible. I want to wave it in the air and call to Second Guy, “Are you seeing this?” I start to estimate the distance between us—I want to smack him with my white cane so badly. But a familiar train of thoughts comes to me. If you hit him, he won’t know why, and he’ll think you’re just an irritable blind girl. And who knows what “wisdom” he’ll think he’s learned about blind people in general.

I’m not the only one to note the rudeness (if we’re being honest) or awkwardness (if we’re being generous) of the statement. J. sees my face and says, “I heard that too, Emily. And I saw your expression.” She sighs. She gets it.

So let’s dissect your statement, Second Guy. Let’s do the mental linguistic examination you seem incapable of performing.

For you, “It’s like the blind leading the blind” means “I have no clue what my homework is because my instructor is unclear (to me) and I am ignorant/ill-informed.” So why didn’t you just say this? Granted, my rendering of S.G.’s thoughts is a bit long-winded. Clearly a shorter version could be derived.

Is it because this cliché idiom (“like the blind leading the blind”) is just so appealing? The idea of two people with the same impairment working together—what a joke! As if disabled people could achieve ANYTHING when they work together! Hilarious! Good thing they have us normies to guide them around—they certainly can’t guide each other. I mean, could you picture that? What a laugh!

Well let me tell you something, Mr. Oblivious. Your lack of knowledge about things for which you are responsible does not give you the right to insult me or my people. And if you’re thinking, “Oh Emily, you’re taking this too personally. Blind doesn’t always mean blind—sometimes it means dumb or ill-equipped or just plain clueless.”

So then, why didn’t you say, “I dunno man, it’s like the ignorant leading the ill-informed!”

Because the (hysterical) image of the blind leading the blind has more slapstick appeal.

Allow me to enlighten you further, if you can bear it.

IF the blind were to lead the blind, it would NOT be a slapstick scenario. In case it has escaped your notice, Second Guy, blind people are infinitely more careful when navigating their surroundings. We know our visual limitations and we compensate for them with canes, with dogs, with sighted guides. And yes, occasionally, with other blind people.

When the blind lead the blind, we do a damn good job. We are meticulous. We tell each other what to expect. We guide our fellow blindies as we would like to be guided.

And when the blind lead the blind  by example – by action, by speaking out against these stupid, ill-formed sayings – we show that we deserve respect.

Do you, Second Guy, feel that you would be a better guide? You who can’t even remember what homework is due? Trust me, man, if I had to pick between you and a blind person, I’d let the blind lead me.

So do me a favor. Stop saying that phrase. It doesn’t achieve anything worth saying. With all of human language at your disposal, come up with a phrase that a) says what you really mean and b) doesn’t implicate me and other members of the blind community in your personal ignorance.

Watch your language.

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